Even moderately successful challenger brands can be in a tough position. In a marketplace full of options, major brands still dominate their industries. They’ve got a long history of appealing to shoppers, and shoppers have typically trusted these brands to provide what’s best. For challengers to truly succeed, they need to break into the conversation, take extra steps to capture and hold a target shopper’s attention, thoroughly differentiate themselves, and surpass the inertia and psychological rewards of routine shopper behavior. The information age has already lowered some of the barriers to entry. With information so readily accessible, shoppers are questioning their loyalties, reexamining major brands, and making their purchase decisions on a set of criteria that exceeds convenience and price. Thanks to digital advertising and social media, it’s also made it easier than ever for challenger brands to get their message to their target audiences.
The Role of Storytelling
Storytelling isn’t new to CPG or marketing, but in the past few years, it’s been revitalized as a buzzword. Shoppers are educating themselves about what their products and food should be made of and who brands really are, and brands can’t afford to be faceless entities anymore.
92% of shoppers want brand ads to feel like stories. By delivering your message as a story, the audience will be 22x more likely to remember it than if you just present the facts. Storytelling activates a process in the brain called neural coupling, which allows the brain to convert a story into the person’s own experiences and ideas. In turn, storytelling improves the way shoppers engage across channels. In a case study on shopper engagement with brands on Facebook, it was revealed that simply using the brand’s mascot (and thus, making it part of that brand character’s story) significantly boosted how many times a post was shared. Charmin’s Bears led to a lift of 585%, and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes’ Tony the Tiger lifted shares by 279%.
Hugely popular brands like Burt’s Bees have been so successful thanks in part to their willingness to be transparent in an engaging way. Rather than an About Us page, Burt’s Bees provides a landing page that opens up about their prevailing ethos. From explaining how their packaging is sustainable and how they achieved Carbon Neutral certification to a “history” told almost entirely through photos, who Burt’s Bees is, what they believe in, and how they want to improve shoppers’ lives is always evident. For other brands, the path to transparency led to new and meaningful stories, as Hellmann’s did when developing their smart label. They realized their mayonnaise product was a true piece of Americana because a key part of one of Hellmann’s foundational ingredients was grown by just a few Iowan farmers. The way they could connect with their audience grew two-fold.
Why Storytelling Is Effective for Challengers
Disruption is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but generally speaking, there are two kinds: disruption in the actual processes of how things are done, and disruption in ideology and the criteria of choice. It’s the second kind of disruption that can make storytelling a powerful tool for challenger brands. Storytelling driven by authenticity and transparency is the name of the game, and it’s leveling the playing field for emerging challenger brands.
About 39% of shoppers say they’d be willing to switch away from the brand they’ve been loyal to in order to buy from a brand that’s more transparent, and another 81% are open to try the entire portfolio of the brand they switched to. Many are even willing to pay more for items produced by trusted brands. Transparency is in demand, and the challenger brand that can provide more than the leading brand can capture loyal customers. One of the easiest ways to be more lucid is to tell your brand story, give it a human face, and appeal to the ideas shoppers value most, like ethically sourced, healthful foods.
It’s no wonder MouthFoods became so successful. Its ecommerce store is focused entirely on telling the stories behind the independent small business owners that produce the products it sells on its site. Reading about a macaroon baker that hadn’t been interested in cooking whatsoever until a particular conversation with his mother, or how a pair of orchard owners feel that crafting cider is one of the last remaining pieces of true folk Americana is compelling.
Other challengers have met shopper needs in unique ways. For instance, Ugly Drinks are challenging the carbonated beverage status quo, which was allowing shoppers to buy products that they thought were healthy but were actually packed with sugar and incapable of filling any of their promises. They wanted to subvert the market, and they didn’t just do it by creating a popular carbonated, flavored water — they did it by being transparent with their message too.
Tips for Challenger Brands to Tell Their Story Effectively
It isn’t enough to know that storytelling works; you also need to know how to use it. Just telling a story isn’t going to convince shoppers to try your brand.
Be Authentic and Transparent.
Authenticity is imperative, not a suggested. Shoppers won’t trust brands — especially in comparison to their favorite dominant brand — if they aren’t transparent. Honesty about who your company is and why you make the products you do is necessary.
Be Relatable and Tap Emotion.
Don’t try to tell your story with abstract ideas and data points. This type of information is also necessary for transparency, but making it available doesn’t mean using it to tell a story. Instead, remember that shoppers make their decisions based on how they feel about a brand. Tell stories that will connect with their emotions and experiences.
Offer a Hero.
Brand ambassadors connect with audiences in an important way. It gives the shopper someone to root for and care about, but the figure doesn’t have to be fictional. For Apple, it’s the technology; their devices are always shown amplifying the owners emotional experiences. For Hellmann’s, it’s farmers in Iowa that produce a key part of a foundational ingredient. Look into the human face of how your company functions to find your brand’s hero. Is it the employees that regularly volunteer for charity? Is it someone in your production chain, or the company founder who started the brand to meet a particular need?
Make the Story Transmedia.
Transmedia essentially refers to applying omnichannel marketing ideas to your brand story. It puts shoppers at the center of the story, and makes them an active participant in it. You share your brand story by letting your shoppers have a stake in telling that story. It makes them feel empowered, rather than feeling like your brand is trying to manipulate them.
Tap into the Ideology that Differentiates You.
It’s a simple truth that shoppers want and need to know why they should try your brand, and you need a unique way to stand out. This is especially powerful if your brand satisfies an unmet shopper need, approaches the type of product differently than the dominant brand, or believes in important and moving corporate responsibilities.
Make It Relevant to Their Life.
Shoppers want to know how you or your products are going to improve their lifestyle. Showing them through a story is much more effective than telling them in flat talking points because you can make them feel like your brand can fill that role.
Make It Easy for Shoppers to Find.
You have to think in terms of an omni-shopper. If a shopper discovers your product while shopping, how will they be exposed to your brand story? You might have an in-store display, but how much of your story can that tell? Brands are already tapping tools like smart labels to provide information about their products that can’t fit on product labels. These tools can work for both your storytelling and product information. Be sure you’re managing your SEO and SEM properly as well; shoppers are more and more likely to look up your brand while they’re in-store, so you want to be sure your story is in easy reach.
As a challenger brand, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity to level the playing field. Authentic storytelling can educate shoppers about why your brand matters, what you can do for them, and how you’re different from the dominant brands. The tips we’ve provided above are the beginning to telling your brand story.