One of the biggest buzzwords we see in the media today is disruption – whether it’s talking about a company that’s disrupting an industry, or a product that’s shaking up the market. At a conference I attended this year, one of the speakers noted that the word “disruption” is both over-used and yet wildly misunderstood. This hot take stuck with me, and since then, my perspective on what it means to be a “disruptor” has shifted drastically.

With everyone claiming to be a disruptor, who then truly is disrupting? Or better yet, how can I as a PR pro shift the way I’m approaching my media outreach to break through all the noise?

Experience Disruptors

What we’re seeing from today’s true disruptors is not just an impressive new technology, but rather a notable shift in their broader marketing approach. Those that are shaking up the user experience are leading the market in terms of disrupting. Think about it: by changing the way someone experiences a product or service, you are dramatically altering the way they now expect to interact with other companies and brands.

Amazon is an obvious example, changing consumers’ expectations around shopping with the ease and convenience of doing it online (and even better, doing it with free two-day shipping for Prime members!). A more niche example can be found in, the online pet store that’s taken many of the same principles of the Amazon shopping experience and applied it to pet food and supplies.

But what has made a true disruptor isn’t simply their entry into (or even having the Amazon effect on) the pet supplies market. Rather, it’s the experience they give customers, which keeps them coming back for more. For example, if I order my dog the wrong size Red Sox jersey and contact them to make the exchange, they will most likely tell me to give the incorrectly sized item to a friend and hold tight because the new one is on the way. This saves me the effort of printing out a return label, waiting for the new item to arrive so I can reuse the packaging, and dropping off the package in the mail. knows my time is valuable and that having a seamless consumer experience is important to me. That’s what keeps me coming back – and why I get so easily frustrated when I encounter any lesser quality consumer experience.


Part of what makes a great experience is having something tailored specifically to me. Another set of experience disruptors are those that are successfully leveraging data and information about consumers to deliver highly personalized recommendations or experiences. Netflix is the classic example of an early leader in personalization, where they began running algorithms to determine what content they should recommend for users based on their viewing history.

The key here is not to over-personalize. For example, I get both annoyed and unsettled when something I have never looked up in my life but randomly discussed with a friend earlier that day (with my phone nearby, of course) suddenly appears as a sponsored advertisement on my Instagram feed. Even as a picky consumer with high expectations that my experiences will be tailored for me specifically, there is a fine line between the right amount of personalization and feeling intruded upon.

Future Disruption

Delivering a delightful and highly tailored experience helps to further refine today’s disruptors, but if we stay true to the textbook definition of “disruption,” it implies that we can’t fully anticipate what the next round of disruption will be. Those that have already disrupted today have set the bar even higher for the next generation of technology products and services.

It’s exciting to think about what may come next, and how we as PR pros can help shape their stories. Re-setting our own expectations for what it truly means to be a disruptor is a good first step, followed by knowing when to counsel our clients on when to label themselves as disruptors and when to instead focus on another branding strategy.

What do you think it will take for the emerging tech leaders of tomorrow to qualify as true disruptors?