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Digital giants such as Apple, Google and Amazon have been seen as potential disruptors in areas ranging from healthcare to financial services. But IBM’s newest annual Global C-Suite Study [pdf], aptly titled “Incumbents Strike Back,” suggests that C-suite execs see the threat of disruption coming more from existing players in their industries than from the largest tech companies.

The study surveyed almost 13,000 executives across 6 C-suite roles and 112 countries, asking them which types of enterprises are leading disruption within their industries.

Respondents expressed a strong level of consensus about existing players: 72% said that disruption was being led by innovative industry incumbents.

That was more than twice as many as said (34%) that digital giants such as Apple, Google and Alibaba are the leaders in disruption.

Fewer still believe that disruption is being led by companies from other industries (23%) or by smaller companies or startups (22%).

The results concerning company size are interesting in light of separate recently-released research. GE’s Global Innovation Barometer revealed a noteworthy increase since 2014 in the proportion of business executives who believe that multinational companies are the main drivers of innovation in their countries (23%, up from 19%). Likewise, more respondents this year (18%, up from 14%) feel that large enterprises headquartered in their country are the innovation drivers.

By contrast, GE’s research found that the share of respondents who feel that small and medium companies are the main drivers of innovation has halved from 2014 (11%, down from 22%).

In tandem, these studies indicate that top executives see innovation and disruption as the domain of large enterprises rather than smaller businesses.

What Are the Leaders Doing in Marketing?

The IBM study segmented respondents into 3 clusters: Reinventors; Practitioners; and Aspirationals.

The analysts used several variables for the segmentation, including but not limited to disruptive ability, digital technologies used for customer interaction, and data and analytic insights used to inform business strategy.

Reinventors (27% of the total) are the standouts in term of outperforming peers in their revenue growth and profitability, while leading in innovation and organizational alignment. Aspirationals (36% of the sample), for their part, are lagging in their digital transformation and ability to rapidly seize new opportunities.

Specific to marketing, IBM noted that key areas where Reinventors distinguish themselves from Aspirationals include:

  • Using data to understand their customers’ unmet needs (82% of Reinventors are effective at this, versus 35% of Aspirationals);
  • Integrating customer feedback into all their planning and design processes (68% of Reinventors, versus 32% of Aspirationals); and
  • Detailing customer experience journey maps (65% of Reinventors are effective, versus 26% of Aspirationals).

Other Highlights:

In other findings from the IBM report:

  • About two-thirds of C-suite executives expect organizations to emphasize customer experience over products;
  • Market factors have overtaken technological factors as the most important external force that C-suite executives believe will impact their enterprises in 2-3 years; and
  • More than 6 in 10 respondents believe that the majority of organizations will keep expanding their networks of business partners.

The full study is available to view here [pdf].

About the Data: The IBM study is based on responses from 12,854 across 6 C-suite roles: CEO (2,148); CFO (2,102); CHRO (2,139); CIO (2,258); CMO (2,091); and COO (2,116). Asia, including Asia-Pacific, China and Japan (4,207), Europe (3,457) and North America (3,144) were the most heavily-represented regions.

The GE study is based on a survey of 2,090 business executives from 20 countries.

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