Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How audience insights help disruptors keep industry giants on their toes

By Emily Hall, Content Marketing Manager, Relative Insight

Giant killers exist in every industry. They are the punchy underdogs of the business world; the nimble, agile start-ups looking to cut into the market share of longstanding legacy brands. Think Uber, AirBnb, Monzo.

The fact is: disruptor brands come in all shapes and sizes. But how do they position themselves in comparison to industry giants? And what can giants learn from these category-shaking newcomers?

Last month, Relative Insight hosted their latest Spotlight Series webinar ‘Giant Killers: the tale of disruptor brands’. They demonstrated how comparative linguistics can help understand the meteoric rise of disruptor brands, while also highlighting disconnects between established brands and their consumers.

The rise of disruptor brands

Disruptor brands have the ability to identify gaps in the market, using new concepts to transform industries. Affordable digital marketing, emphasis on brand integrity and a shift in consumer attitudes have created the perfect conditions for disruptors to thrive.

The webinar highlighted the emergence of subscription boxes, a service that make everyday objects, such as laundry tablets or razors, exciting. By tapping into the current public mindset, as well as trends such as ‘convenience’ and ‘sustainability’, subscription boxes are chipping away at market share.

As part of the session, Relative Insight also looked at once-referred-to ‘discounters’ Aldi and Lidl, who have created waves in the UK grocery market. These brands initially disrupted the supermarket space as a cheap alternative, but now they are giants in their own right.

Relative’s insights showed that before 2018, pejorative terms such as ‘middle class’ and ‘poor people’ were 4.6x more likely to be used in social conversations about Aldi and Lidl. Yet in 2020, consumers are hailed as financially savvy heroes for shopping at a discounter, rather than seen as having to shop there because they ‘can’t afford Waitrose’.

By comparing brand messaging used on Twitter, Relative Insight’s technology found that Aldi and Lidl are 40x more likely to make fun of themselves than the big four – Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrison’s and Asda. They embrace their unique selling point – the infamous middle aisle – and replicate jokes that have been made at their expense.

Aldi and Lidl are the ultimate disruptor brand success story. They continue to remain relevant because of their mastery of language and the decision to mirror customer conversations in their marketing comms.

The reality is, disruptor brands are here to stay. And one way they remain ahead of the curve is through comparative linguistics: looking at how an audience talks and adapting their own communication to reflect this.

Giant brand inertia

As explained by guest speaker, Evan Faber CEO of global branding agency Moxie Sozo, giants can sometimes experience brand inertia, where the longstanding brand message is no longer important to the consumer, and the brand only exists because of a long legacy.

It’s tough for brands with over 100 years of heritage to adapt with an ever-changing market. Giants clearly dominate the space but are often challenged because their approach is too broad. Just like disruptive brands, giants should learn the language of their consumers in order to understand fundamental pain points, and how to speak to their audience in a language which resonates.

Another case study provided by Faber saw a huge player in the natural product space blinding their audience with science.

Despite having almost created the category, they had lost touch with the consumer. Using comparative linguistics, it was clear that the competition was way more approachable and human in their language. The sweet spot? Focus on consumer benefits, the guidance they need and reassure them with the scientific information when necessary.

So, how do giants compete?

Also joining the discussion was a giant in the PR and marketing world, Kathleen Lucente, founder and CEO of Red Fan Communications. Lucente suggested that, to remain relevant and compete with disruptors, brands should discover, validate and relate:

• Discover – Use natural language and data to identify and understand a problem, business challenge or where there are disconnects in communications

• Validate – Validate a hypothesis about a brand narrative before using it in communications

• Relate – Meet target audiences with a tone familiar to them

Understanding how an audience speaks is essential for giants, especially when tone of voice makes up 38% of all communication. For Evan Faber: “Language shapes everything from how we dress, to who we love and what we think is possible.” As language makes a brand human, understanding it is a priority.

What makes disruptor brands dangerous is their tenacity, innovation and ability to change people’s habits by identifying where the white space is. The discussion between Relative Insight, Evan Faber and Kathleen Lucente emphasised that to strike a chord with your audience, it’s important to strike the right one.

“Giant killers: the tale of disruptor brands” is available to view on-demand.


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