We live in an era of boundless choices, rapid innovation, and all-important peer recommendations. The dizzying pace of change presents challenges for many established brands with well-honed business processes, belief systems, and incentives—and profitable business models.

A new breed of brands is emerging, and it's disrupting the status quo, changing consumer expectations—and, in many cases, reshaping category definitions. (For example, Airbnb is neither a travel/booking firm nor a hospitality company, but it has the potential to take market share from both.)

Often referred to as "disrupters," these brands are increasingly commanding more of our attention. No matter their function or the category they're disrupting, they possess a common characteristic: simplicity. It is at the core of the experiences they deliver. That is, they're creating brand experiences that are remarkably clear and unexpectedly fresh.

Global Brand Simplicity Index and Disruption

At Siegel+Gale, we release an annual Global Brand Simplicity Index that examines the global state of simplicity for the world's leading brands.

The recent report also shows how consumers ranked 40 of the most prevalent, so-called "disruptive" brands in the US and UK. The disrupters outperformed the incumbent brands in every category, particularly in the US where, compared to their established counterparts, they took eight of the top 10 spots based on their simplicity score.

Improving Customer Experiences 

So, how are these disrupters able to deliver simplicity to deliver top-notch customer experiences as well as brand experiences?

  • Empowering people. The disrupters shift power from brands to consumers. For example, brands like Airbnb and VRBO have usurped power from hotels and given it to local residents, allowing them to rent out vacant properties—from spare rooms to vacation houses—without getting mired down in the often cumbersome traditional industry protocols.
  • Reimagining brand experiences. The disrupters turn historically underwhelming customer experiences into moments of delight. Warby Parker is a prime example; it brings the once mundane process of buying eyeglasses in a store to an exciting and accessible digital experience by offering online look-books, sizing guides, and at-home try-ons with clear instructions for purchase and returns.
  • Removing friction. The disrupters identify annoying pain points in everyday processes and then remove them. Uber has come to the aid of pedestrians who can't hail a taxi by sending them cars directly after just a couple of taps on their mobile phones. In addition, providing users with the cost of a ride before the pickup provides the clarity in pricing that many traditional taxi services don't offer.
  • Saving time. The disrupters save consumers time by providing services where and when they're most needed. FreshDirect saves people a trip to the store by delivering an online grocery shopping experience. Fresh groceries right to consumers' doorsteps means less time in the car and less time standing on line.

Simplicity at the Core

It's clear that simplicity is core to disrupters' value propositions.

The success of these emerging brands can be attributed to the fact that they address an existing problem and solve it in the simplest way possible, putting consumer experiences first.

This focus on simplicity was directly reflected in the rankings. When compared against the more established companies these "disrupters" took an incredible eight of the top 10 spots, suggesting that these new contenders have a lot to teach their older counterparts about simplifying their businesses.

What Consumers Think About Disrupters

Here's what survey respondents had to say about how disrupters perform versus the traditional brands in the same industries.

Consumers applaud Venmo for the ability to "easily transfer money from one person to another with a different bank." At the same time, established banks are criticized for their "complicated banking products." In the hospitality sector, respondents gush about Airbnb's website, saying that the "layout is better and easier to search and find what you need." Traditional hotel brands are faulted with comments like "services and prices are not clear."

Although some of these brands are facing regulatory roadblocks, these upstarts know how to evolve—don't expect them to go down without a fight. Born into a world of complexity, disrupters are rewriting the rules of service delivery and elevating consumer expectations by putting simplicity at the center of customer experience. By offering experiences that are both fresh and clear, they're beginning to reap the rewards.

While starting simple gives these brands a firm foundation, staying simple as they continue to scale is what will drive long-term results and keep them in the top brands of the world. Their evolution will be fascinating to watch.

Meanwhile, what are the implications for established brands of the traction these brands are receiving?

The possibilities that customers are seeing from disrupters are resetting expectations for all brands. Even your B2B client is a consumer interacting with these services in his or her day-to-day life. Disrupters are effectively reshaping what users and clients expect from their B2B suppliers also.

This era of possibilities and disruption should serve as a forcing function for all brands to re-evaluate their customer experiences.

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image of Margaret Molloy

Margaret Molloy is the global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale, based in New York.

LinkedIn: Margaret Molloy

Twitter: @MargaretMolloy