• Views October 19, 2016

We spend a lot of time helping brands become disruptive to their categories, or even to their own marketing routines.

But between legal review, industry regulations, or trying to avoid criticism from Internet trolls, true disruption is often easier discussed than achieved.

There’s parity in every category. Smartphones offer strong hardware, software and carrier options. Hotel chains have apps that let you customize your stay, a signature bed, or some kind of bespoke beverage program. Packaged foods are fresher, less processed and sourced from more local ingredients. Home appliances are Wi-Fi/smart home connected with same-day delivery and installation. And everyone is on the athleisure bandwagon (one innovative drop-crotch cut after the next).

It’s refreshing when brands really disrupt. Here are two of my favorites from the retail landscape right now (not clients), with a hint of radicalism at the center of their category disruption.  


More than a clothing and outdoor gear brand, Patagonia is all about spending time with our planet and minimizing our impact on it. Sustainability and reusability matter, so they not only make high-quality gear to last, but advocate for consumers to fix and reuse gear that wears over time, instead of buying more (an idea that of course makes me want more!). I was gobsmacked to discover their Worn Wear tour traversing the country this summer, offering the general public free repairs on any piece of clothing or gear, no matter the brand. To repair is a radical act, they said. This position has furnished a robust content series, too. Patagonia offers videos, tips and instruction on how to fix your duds. The notion of repair even extends to the global climate. I recently received a voter registration reminder from them reminding me to “vote our planet” this coming election.


This clothing manufacturer produces modern basics with “radical transparency.” They encourage consumers to know their factories, featuring the locations, staff vitals, backstories and actual photos of their factories on their owned and shared channels (transparency and content!). The brand also openly shares information on manufacturing costs, showing a detailed breakdown of materials, hardware, labor, duties and transport behind each product. That transparency is reflected in the shopper experience, too, in the details they offer about the models (i.e., so-and-so is 5’10” and wearing a size S), and the breadth of videos and photos showcasing their clothes on real people sitting, standing and moving around as real people do. Follow-up shopper surveys invite a two-way dialogue between brand and customer.

What makes these such powerful examples is that they’re simple (perhaps almost obvious), but counterintuitive in comparison to their broader category. It’s a good reminder that a company doesn’t have to reinvent an industry to be disruptive. Having a unique point of view as a brand or company, and making it part of your strategy and communication efforts, is disruptive on its own.

What brands do you see disrupting their categories?