Think Like A Challenger Brand
The world is changing fast.
A lot of us have shifted to home/hybrid working. We are travelling less. We buy more online (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).
And we, as consumers, are demanding more from brands, particularly younger millennials and Gen Z (61% of Gen Z believe Brands are better placed to solve social problems than governments).
of Gen Z believe brands are better placed to solve social problems than governments.
Mani Life is an example of a challenger brand that flourished during the pandemic, turning a potential disaster into pure bounty. According to Mani Life’s Founder, Stu, they sold more peanut butter during the first four days of the first lockdown than they did in the whole of 2017.
This was driven by two main factors…
Firstly, the fact that their competitors couldn’t keep up with the sudden increase in demand. Secondly, Mani Life had the flexibility to tap into new distribution channels. They were also able to jump immediately at the change in consumer habits, with the ability to react far quicker than their larger competitors. So what are the key ways challengers think in order to build challenger brands that take on the incumbents?
Consumers are demanding more from their brands – 3 in 5 say they are interested in where their food comes from and how it is made, and 3 in 4 expect companies to ‘invest in sustainability’. Transparency is therefore key. Furthermore, 56% of consumers agree that stories around a brand influence their purchasing decisions.
How do challengers leverage their unique stories? Challenger brands take a strong position in the market and seek to disrupt or change something in the market. And this is how brands can differentiate themselves.
For example, the chocolate brand ‘Tony’s Chocolonely’ looks like a fun, appetising, and tasty brand. But their wider vision is aspirational, for 100% slave-free chocolate. Not just their chocolate, but all chocolate worldwide.
They weave this into their entire brand. Even their chocolate is cut differently. Instead of typical squares, they cut the product unevenly to visually represent the inequality in the cocoa market.
And their vision isn’t just for their own brand. They want the entire chocolate industry to go slave-free.
of consumers agree that the stories around a brand influence their purchasing decisions.
Strong value propositions taking a bold positioning also help challengers stand out in the market. Consumers, investors, and decision makers make quick decisions based on emotions and memorability – a clear, succinct proposition can help in this regard. Another challenger brand nailing their proposition is ‘Hinge’, the dating app which is ‘designed to be deleted’…
This is 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.
Strong challenger brands take their future-proofed story and proposition and weave it into a strong brand that is fit for scale. Strong brands need to be ownable, memorable and scalable.
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.
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.
Be scalable – 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.
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 challengers need to be to your customers – something that they can’t stop thinking about.
Ugly chose a very ownable name that disrupts the sector. Most other fruit related drinks use prettier words like Innocent or Evian. For this same reason their name is memorable, the word Ugly stands out and creates intrigue, you want to find out why it’s called that, there must be a reason! Their tone of voice follows suit, phrases like “contains no unattainable lifestyles” play on relatable social norms in our current climate.
The Ugly brand has created a playful brand world that has room to grow. Their cheeky brand will bring attitude to whatever they choose as their next venture.
Read our interview with their co-founder, Joe Benn, here.
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.
Joe Benn talks about “test and learn, test and learn”, and challengers have this distinct advantage over more cumbersome leaders – they can pivot quicker by tweaking or changing their marketing and messaging, testing new products, and trying new things.
Another challenger and disruptor brand that has taken off massively in the past few years is What3Words. They recognised a problem with traditional location mapping and addressed it by mapping the entire world into 3 metre squares, meaning precise locations for everywhere in the world. And they mix creativity and agility with more proven marketing methods:
“We spend 80% of our time and budget working on things that we know work well. LinkedIn advertising, Facebook advertising, events. Then we spend 20% of our time looking at measurable innovation. Things that might not work, but we want to give them a go.” Giles Rhys Jones, CMO.
Challengers 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. Challenger brands build communities, not customers, and online communities (particularly with the rise of D2C) 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 center of their story.
We’ve seen how consumers are demanding more transparency, accountability, and action from their brands.
Steve Jobs once said, “Marketing is about values. It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us. Having a strong set of values helps customers identify with, and want to be part of, brands.
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. And action needs to underpin values, lest they be seen as hollow corporate-speak. We’ve all seen the logo pinkwashing during pride month, with little or no substance behind it, and it’s easy to see through.
Patagonia are a well-renowned challenger brand who are clear about their mission to help protect the environment and enact social change. They back it up with action from supply chain transparency to their Action Works activism to their creative campaigns highlighting their mission. We loved the creativity of this recent campaign.