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Disruptor brands – a form of narcisism?

October 27, 2017

A word that has smacked me in the face with regards to cosmetic brands this year is ‘disruptor’ as in disruptor brands. I thought it was time I had a look at what that really means as my gut feeling is that it is a term thought up by psychopathic narcissists to make them feel clever.  But is that unduly harsh?

verb (used with object)

to cause disorder or turmoil in:

The news disrupted their conference.

to destroy, usually temporarily, the normal continuance or unity of; interrupt:

Telephone service was disrupted for hours.

to break apart:

to disrupt a connection.

Business. to radically change (an industry, business strategy, etc.), as by introducing a new product or service that creates a new market:

It’s time to disrupt your old business model.
Based on what I’ve seen in terms of cosmetic brands in this industry segment I’d say they are most definitely opting for definition 4 in the above list.  They come in like a wrecking ball and slice through all of the underlying convention and road-blocks to innovation therefore freeing themselves to create miracles and deliver never before seen results!
Do I sound too cynical?
Every now and then things do need a shake up and move around.  Human brains require a lot of energy to work and nothing is more energy draining than change and so as a consequence humans are prone to slipping into routines, even if they know or feel that their routine isn’t exactly optimal.  I have a routine where I go and get a big bag of Cheezles on the way home from work each week and stuff my face with them while I sit in traffic.  That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about here but of course in a big, business sense, not in a bag-of-chips-sense.
So disruption can be a good thing, a catalyst for change and God knows that chemists love a good catalyst.
But is changing or at least challenging everything a good or ‘safe’ idea?
Disruptor brands have tended to be new kids on the block, industry outsiders or newbies which is no surprise because some of the things they do could only be achieved by ignorance, either will full or blind and a hefty dose of self belief (hence my initial rather harsh appraisal).  These brands just seem to come in and shove something new in our faces, take us by surprise and shake us up!  The questions I have are ‘are they playing fair’ and ‘is this type of thing always good?’
In terms of fairness my experience of disruptor brands is that they don’t often appreciate how unfair they are when they launch.  Often a lack of appreciation or regard to the rules of the game creates an un level playing field in which the disruptor brand has an unfair advantage. This may present a very real problem for an existing brands seeking to defend their position but who is respectful of the normal rules around here.
While many of us think that rules are boring from time to time, most would agree that there are some rules that keep us safe and save us from ourselves!  Rules such as how much of a particular active is safe to put in a product, what products can and can’t claim and how products should be tested for example.   Sure it seems boring to toe the line by checking the rules and performing the tests  before launching versus just  putting your brain fart out there  and ‘letting the market decide’ but there is method to that dull madness and I wonder if that method is lost in the thrill of the chance to make a quick buck and feel all free and powerful.
So why would I think that disruptor brand owners are narcissistic?
Well look, this is a bit of an exaggeration but I do think that it takes more than just balls to go out and position yourself as a disruptor in an established industry which does have rules and protocol and my guess is that the extra bit of bravado must come from something outside of the ordinary and narcissism is one potential candidate for that.  Another is just a ‘who cares’ or ‘he who dares’ attitude which may start out as a bit of a joke or gamble but ends up being very much bigger than anyone could have imagined.   I’ve met a few people in my time who have this latter approach to business, who tend to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I personally feel that comes from a sense of ingrained entitlement but again, I might be putting a negative spin on something that can bring a lot of joy and goodness into the world – disruptor brands aren’t, by definition always bad!
I am under no illusion that a disruptor brand would even read this but I guess all I’d say to anyone who is thinking of launching a radically different brand and cashing in is to still do that but do that with a tad of respect for what has gone before you. Here’s my top list of rules that shouldn’t be disregarded, mainly to answer my concern over the safety of disruptor brands but also to address the fairness query too.
  1. Customers deserve their innovated disruptor brands to be safe so these brands should invest in testing their products – micro, stability and whole product safety (like the EU safety assessment).  This is especially true is the disruptor is planning to come in with higher levels of actives than seen before or lower pH’s or whatever else.
  2. Industry rules for labelling and claims may be boring but they are necessary.  Outrageous claims may get you sales but they can also get you arrested, especially in Europe now as claims should be substantiated.  Before launching a disruptor brand should get a legal person qualified in this area to make sure they are compliant.  Disrupt law via the proper channel  – Politicians and not police.
  3. Don’t underestimate your competition.  Time and time again I see disruptor brands come in and make out that every other brand is crap except them. That the competition does everything wrong and they get everything right. That the competition is ripping people off but they have your back. These tactics are not just confined to disruptor brands but they are typical of them.  If it isn’t brands they are dissing it is the ingredients.  This is the bit that I find most unfair because it is unlikely that many people launching a disruptor brand knows for sure what other brands do and even if they know what some other brands do the chances are they won’t know what everyone does so what they have painted is a false reality rather than an accurate reflection of the status quo. This is, at the very least, unfair and at the worst misleading.
  4. Focus on your creativity.  So I’ve focused a lot on the negatives but it isn’t all bad. People that have disruptor potential are usually very creative and do have a new take on things. These things are valuable and will be enough to get Peoples attention without resorting to more underhand tactics.  While we all know that fear sells, it is so much nicer to sell people a great creative solution and in the end it is much more valuable to your business long-term.
  5. Build bridges, not walls.   So it is impossible to disrupt an industry without ruffling feathers and making a few enemies. People have egos and when their position is threatened they will get mad and project that madness onto the newbie.  However, as a disruptor you are in control of how you make that entrance and what you do next.  Throwing stones, making out everyone else has rubbish on offer and you are the only saviour is perhaps not the nicest way to be.  Building bridges may be difficult but it is not impossible and if all else fails as they say in Bambi ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’.

The bottom line is that the beauty industry is built on fashion and fashion needs innovation and change – other words for disruption. Disruption is fun, cool and creative at best, aggressive and dangerous at worst.  I’m calling for the former kind of disruption so that we may all bask safely in this awesomeness and new way of looking at the world.  For those of you that are buyers rather than makers, I’m hopeful that those brands with new and exciting ideas can see the value in appreciating the framework of rules that underpin the cosmetic industry so hat you can enjoy these new and exciting products safely and without regret.

And no, I don’t think all disruptor brand owners are mentally ill but I do think they have a ballsiness that might benefit from taming just a tad.


PS: I am not trained in psychology, psychiatry or mental health so I can’t diagnose anyone as a narcissist. Thank you please.

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