How To Think Like A Challenger Brand
The world is changing fast.
A lot of us have shifted to home / hybrid working.
75% of UK shoppers have used D2C channels more since the pandemic, and D2C is forecast to grow by as much as 60% in certain categories. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1228320/d2c-sales-growth-projection-by-gooda-category-united-kingdom/
Allied to this, consumers are demanding more from their brands, particularly younger millennials and Gen Z. (61% of Gen Z believe Brands are better placed to solve social problems than governments)
Industries are being transformed and revolutionised by challengers who are nimble enough to take advantage of the pace of change, and have a strong brand, set of values, and unique proposition.
And in a world with saturated market places and myriad choices, and against bigger budgets, branding is a key way for challengers to differentiate themselves and build customer loyalty.
We love challengers. The hustle, the work, the creativity.
How do challenger brands build their brands to disrupt the bigger players and take advantage of market changes, and what can bigger players learn from the challenger mindset?
One thing I definitely stress is there’s being a disruptive brand as such and having a brand identity and brand attitude that is disruptive, but you can also be a disruptive business. I think the best businesses do exactly that.” Joe Benn, Ugly Drinks Co-Founder
This year has challenged the staying-power of even the most ‘established’ brands in the book. We all live in the knowledge that nothing is guaranteed, no brand is safe and that the most solid names in the game will be gone tomorrow if they fail to adapt. You have to act fast to keep up. Being small and agile is a huge advantage in this unpredictable climate and as a result of this, industries are being transformed by the agility and innovations of these nimble, challenger brands. In a time of flux, challengers have the opportunity to have a voice. Let’s take advantage of it… so here are our top five tips for thinking like a challenger brand:
1 . Think Brave
Building a strong narrative will help you engage your target audience. Let’s break this down and think about the core elements of your brand story and how you can communicate these.
Firstly, your Purpose.
Your purpose is the Why? Why do you do what you do? Knowing your purpose helps you differentiate yourself from your competitors. It’s an opportunity to clearly and concisely let your potential investor or customer know the core of your business.
Secondly, your Vision?
What is the reason you and your team get out of bed in the morning? This is more aspirational but it shows us what your vision for the future is. Be suitably ambiguous – your brand’s vision should be able to stand the test of time. Your product will change and evolve so don’t limit the brand with a vision that will be outdated within a decade.
Thirdly, your Mission
Your brand’s mission is how you’re going to do it – it’s the strategy that gets you to your vision.
The easiest way to visualise this is to imagine a path. Your purpose is your starting point, why you set off on the path, your vision is the end dream destination at the finish line and your mission is how you are going to get from start to finish.
Lastly, your Value Proposition
A unique Value Proposition summarises your brand’s story in a sentence. A value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered, communicated, and acknowledged. It is an opportunity for you to be brave in what you can deliver.
If your desired challenger brand is brave enough to take risks and swim against the tide, it will stand out. It all starts with your brand story and communicating this in an authentic way, and to do this you’ll need a value proposition to match. All we have to do is think back to our cave-dwelling ancestors who gained credibility from the stories they told while sitting around the fire. Stories are memorable and evocative and our brains are programmed to hold onto them. This is where a value proposition plays a vital role, through creating real, authentic emotion in the delivery of your brand story to ensure that you engage with your audience and create an intangible, gut response that will resonate. Be brave in what you can deliver.
So, what actually is a brand story? I always say to our clients ‘you can’t sell anything if you can’t tell anything’. You need a purpose, visions and mission and this foundation is what you build your value proposition on and will dictate how you communicate your brand story from inception to traction and scaling. The ‘why’ is especially important in engaging your target audience – back to your purpose again. Why do you exist and why do you do what you do? It is wise that you keep coming back to these when you are making decisions about how you are going to scale your business.
A mainstream example of a challenger brand nailing their story is ‘Hinge’, the dating app which is ‘designed to be deleted’ – a short sentence that immediately tells you the problem that they are trying to solve, and what makes them different from other dating apps. You also get a sense of their values – they want everyone to be a winner. It’s concise, it’s emotive and it’s memorable. It’s not enough to just know your problem and solution, there needs to be emotion.
There are craft breweries that look at Brewdog and accuse them of being mainstream but you can’t deny that Brewdog sees the world through a disruptive mindset so, in my opinion, that will always help them survive and prosper.”
2. Think Like a Challenger Brand
If you want to be big, you need to think big. How do you become an icon? Here are the three top tips for thinking like a challenger brand:
Ownable means to have ownable brand assets, unique to your brand story. These assets could include anything from a logomark, logotype, imagery, colour palette, typography and tone of voice. This ‘ownability’ creates a whole brand world that you can trademark. Own your identity when it comes to words, colours and visions and think about what makes you stand out. There is a huge amount of power that comes from a distinctive voice, colour and image.
It is important to remember that customers remember stories and not data. What is your White Bear? What makes you stand out? Let’s talk about the White Bear phenomenon for a moment… Try as you might, if I tell you not to think about something for 20 seconds, you are going to think about it. For example, don’t think about what you want for dinner tonight, don’t think about whether or not you left the oven on, don’t think about your electricity bill. There you go – how long did it take for you to think about it? This is the White Bear phenomenon and this is exactly what you need to be to your customers – something that they can’t stop thinking about!
AirBnb is a strong example of this memorability. They created a universally recognisable mark and while it wasn’t all smooth sailing in the beginning it is fair to say that they are now winning in this department. The logomark can be drawn by anyone, in any language, across any continent. Much like the Nike tick, AirBnB’s ‘Belo’ is recognised in isolation, the idea that wherever you see it you’ll know that you belong.
Change is the only constant and this means that we need to be future-proof. Taking the time to carefully consider your story and your vision will help to enable this. The other golden ingredient is agility – it’s vital to have a name and a brand that is flexible, can be applied to more than one thing and that can swing in the opposite direction when the market changes.
Once you reach this status, you will need to implement this strategy to stay relevant. You need to develop a brand that stands out and can stand the test of time. A challenger brand is much more than a name and a logo. It’s an intangible feeling, a gut response like when you first meet someone, do you like them? Do you trust them?
Deliveroo was able to create a brand fit for scale. Their clever design is consistent across 12 markets and 130 cities making it extremely memorable for users across the world.
The great thing about being a digitally native brand is we have a ton of data. We can show buyers and retailers how people interact with our brand, what they buy, and when they buy it. So fundamentally we believe that we can back up anything we do and we know who our consumers are and how we need to speak to them. We welcome the challenges and we have quite a lot of fun with them as well.”
3. Think Creatively
This is one of the major advantages to being a challenger brand – you can try new things, take risks and live a little more dangerously without having to worry about managerial hierarchies and miles of corporate red tape. If the market changes and a new trend emerges, you can hang a left and adapt. Flexibility and a risk-hungry approach make it easier for you to communicate new ideas, test out new products and tap into fresh opportunities.
Your tone of voice is a really important consideration here. Imagine a tone of voice barometer. Have you built the right language for your brand? Is it consistent? Does it reflect your value proposition? The chances are that you will want your customers to feel like they are talking to a trusted and respected friend. Every part of your brand messaging will need to remain consistent with this tone.
Let’s look at some examples. Spotify will likely want to seem like they don’t miss a beat, are cool and casual like your mate, as well as relatable. On the other hand a banking app would need to feel more formal, trustworthy and discrete. Mailchimp combats its technical offering by speaking like the experienced and compassionate business partner they wish they had way back when. Using offbeat humor and a conversational voice, they play with language to bring joy to their work.
4. Think tribal
Create brands that people want to be a part of. It is human nature to want to feel like you are a part of something. Lastly, think about your tribe. For example, at White Bear, we focus on brands that are brave, creative, disruptive and have a strong purpose. Challenger brands build communities, not customers and online communities are one of the main factors which set challenger brands apart. These communities enable your audience to feel like they are a part of building their favourite brands and make people feel like they are being listened to. If your audience feels heard then they are likely to stay loyal.
Glossier is a beauty brand that rose to success from humble beginnings as a simple blog that now deems itself a tech company. They tapped into a community mindset to build a robust social and digital strategy and built trust through word-of-mouth. Their ability to empower customers and build community creates a strong brand with community and conversations at the centre of their story.
For us, it’s about proving our concept. We believe that people would love those flavours so we test it at a small scale and actually it’s become so successful that we’re now taking that concept to mainstream retailers in the US. There’s a bit of work to be done but hopefully, we’ll be taking that data and actually launching some of those flavours like Cherry Cola in mainstream retail. So I guess my advice to that question is to try to de-risk and start small-ish if you can.”
5. Think transparent
Be emotive in your branding and marketing. When considering making a purchase from a brand, consumers trust their emotions and it is the intangible emotions that keep people coming back, time after time. Your brand values are your brand’s heartbeat. Be different, be authentic and be sure about how you communicate your brand. Tap into that. A good place to always start is with your brand values (refer back to Think Brave).
More than ever, Millennials and Gen Z’ers want to engage and feel that their values are aligned (and matter) when it comes to the brands they make purchases from. Although brands do need to be careful with jumping on bandwagons and shooting themselves in the foot over social and political issues, simple and genuine messaging can demonstrate to your audience that you stand with them.
Again, it’s the ‘why’ we care about here – that is what matters the most when it comes to making an emotional decision. The ‘why’ gives your business its personality and helps you to weave your brand narrative. If you have a set of five core values, then you need to ensure that you stick to them. This process will also ensure that you attract the right kind of investors, employees and partnerships as well as your company culture. For the big global brands it can be difficult to stay current, react quickly and stay in tune. For example, Virgin may well have a generic set of brand values, but they have shared them in such a way that it makes them relatable and exciting.
Many employees don’t know what their company’s values are so make sure that these are front of mind for your team – shout them from the rooftops, live by them and act by them. If people believe that they share values with a company then they will stick with you for the long haul. it is crucial that these brand values do exactly that and add value (as opposed to simply ticking a box) as afterall, this is what you stand for.
Aaaand that’s a wrap. Those are our five top tips for thinking like a challenger brand.
- Think brave
- Think like a future unicorn
- Think fast and creative
- Think tribal
- Think transparent