Brands have long stood for consistency......a dependable consumer experience driven by a business model that draws efficiency from repetition, streamlining and mass production.
Yet things have changed. New technologies have spawned new possibilities and as many new business models.
In many cases, this makes the old ways irrelevant, and causes category disruption unthinkable just a few years ago - think Kodak and Instagram, Avis and zipcar, Marriott and airbnb. What's interesting is that these disruptions don't always come from within a category - often, they involve complete reframing of the territory by an unknown yet provocative outsider.
To gear themselves for such challenges, brands must ensure they have the mindset of an entrepreneur - less reductive, more disruptive. One way to do this is to stay in step with culture, keeping abreast of change and spotting opportunities to evolve, being prepared to draw inspiration from outside their own category in order to introduce fresh thinking. This enables brands to remain relevant and head off disruptive challenges before they arise.
For decades, the hotel industry has seen very little innovation. Growth was driven by big demand, lack of options, and brand loyalty. Airbnb has taken this static industry by storm with its simple 'sharing economy' model - an online service which enables hosts to rent out their homes or spare bedrooms, creating a huge pool of character, low price accommodation for travelers.
Founded in 2008, today Airbnb has over 500,000 properties listed across 190 countries. This represents an army of small scale independent hoteliers, with fresh ideas and an entirely personal relationship with their visitors which hotels struggle to equal. Airbnb's extensive reviewing system creates a level of transparency and openness (much desired by today's consumer) which the major hotel brands just aren't providing.
They've also been at pains to stand apart from the stiff formality of these chains by focusing their marketing on the three things travelers are looking for - location, service and value - creating, for example, city neighborhood guides to reach out to young travelers looking to explore the world.
By creating disruptive new ways to give travelers the experience they want, Airbnb has moved from start-up to billion-dollar business in just five years, and by some measures has recently become the world's largest hotelier.