Huge multinational corporations that dominate our consumer brand markets have long created the illusion of choice. The typical supermarket cereal aisle offers hundreds of brands, but almost all of them are made by Kellogg’s, General Mills or Post Holdings. In the past, consumers have simply had to endure; small companies looking to enter well-established markets such as shaving products, spectacles and movie-making had virtually no chance of competing against giant brands with millions of advertising dollars. But the maturing of the internet as a marketing tool, added to a shift in younger tastes towards private-equity-funded, smaller, hipper brands, means this is no longer true. Several so-called “microbrands” have been quietly infiltrating their way into those three markets, just for starters—Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker, Netflix and Glossier. Goliath, meet David.
Americans have been in love with the idea of the underdog since they gained independence from the beastly British empire, and these brands tap right into the heart of that story. True, the response from some established behemoths, such as Gillette, is simply to buy their smaller competitors while retaining the brand, with varying degrees of success. In other cases, the disruptive incumbents become the market leaders. But, even after absorbing Dollar Shave Club, grooming giant Gillette has taken the lesson to heart, changing its business model and launching a buzz-generating, anti-sexist, anti-bullying message.
There’s a fundamental shift in consumer demands that can’t be ignored, towards a genuinely diverse marketplace, with smaller, nimble entrepreneurs competing against and then sometimes becoming, themselves, brawny incumbents, such as Netflix did in distributing TV and movie content. Which industry is in peril of disruption right now—mortgage lending, perhaps? Weddings? Where does your brand fit into the David vs. Goliath narrative? Is your business swinging a big club, or loading up your brand slingshot, ready to take down another lumbering, legacy titan?