The world is filled with bold upstarts that are nipping at the heels of larger, traditional brands. These challenger brands tend to have a way of finding their core audience and then amplifying their message, often by disrupting their respective spaces. They do this through a variety of ways, but it often comes down to one key concept: they have built a strategy that sets them apart from the competition. Taking a strategic approach helps challengers position themselves in a long-standing industry and quickly gain shopper trust to find success in competitive markets. And while your strategy may involve many components, its success relies largely upon your particular type of challenger brand.
5 Types of Challenger Brands and Their Strategies
The term “challenger brand” represents those that force shoppers to question pre-existing beliefs and turn established industries upside down with a new, innovative approach. Beyond inspiring sales, they create an entire ecosystem that instills a true passion for their mission and purpose.
They typically fit into five common types: The People’s Champion, The Missionary, The Next Generation, The Irreverent Maverick and The Human Being. Each follow a slightly different approach, they all leverage passion, persuasion, creativity and great marketing to win over shoppers. And as the names imply, each type rallies around an overarching narrative based on a specific stance that is meant to appeal to a finite demographic.
1. The People’s Champion
Some challenger brands have been incredibly successful communicating the message that they are “looking out for the little people.” Ugly Drinks, for example, is providing a healthier alternative to soft drinks that’s free of sugar, sweeteners, artificial ingredients and calories. By being open and honest about the potential health risks of its competitors, this company is delivering messaging that shoppers, particularly Millennials, have been expecting.
2. The Missionary
Missionary brands are committed to changing the world for the better, one product at a time. They have a transparent sense of purpose, and their narrative relies on the idea that there is a better way of doing something. These brands are also touted as change-agents, and they invite shoppers to identify with it and share in it.
One such example is UNREAL, a better-for-you candy company whose sole mission is to “unjunk the world.” The company’s ultimate goal is to remove the “junk” – like high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and artificial colors – from the world’s favorite treats and provide new options for health-conscious shoppers. Adding to their missionary persona is the fact that their snacks are made with fair trade and sustainable ingredients.
3. The Next Generation
It’s not always easy for established brands to change with the times. The Next Generation type takes advantage of this challenge by questioning the relevance of the industry leader to the current generation, and positions themselves as the better option for these shoppers.
When Netflix disrupted the television and movie market with an online, subscription-based streaming service, shoppers took notice. The brand offered a wider selection of movies using an
all-you-can-watch, convenient and low-cost approach – which appealed to younger, digitally savvy generations. Instead of taking strategic steps to compete, traditional movie shops like Blockbuster shut their doors. Netflix has even embedded itself into Millennial culture with popular references, and such a presence contributed to a 43% year-over-year jump in streaming revenue earlier this year.
4. The Irreverent Maverick
When you think of an Irreverent Maverick, Red Bull certainly seems to fit the bill. These are the risk-takers, ready to turn the industry upside down – all for the sake of impressing their target audience. With massive marketing stunts like high-octane skydiving, extreme sports sponsorships and a seemingly unordinary approach to advertising, these clients are positioned to tackle any challenge within their industry, and they’re willing to go to any measure to conquer it.
5. The Human Being
One challenger type, in particular, is creating a shift in transparency across all categories. The Human Being reinforces the concept of authenticity and shows that it’s lead by everyday people. This is achieved by showing the faces behind the company and working on affinity with their audience. As a result, “human” challengers are able to build real, personal connections with shoppers.
Shaving company Harry’s illustrates this narrative by bringing its founders into marketing communications. With a nearly three-minute video describing their deep connection to the product, the brand is able to bridge the gap between its shoppers and reach them in a way that more traditional competitors have never imagined.
The challenger brand type you choose should be inherent to the core of your business, which will maximize the success of your strategy. Here are some factors to consider when making your decision:
- Determine the overarching identity of the organization. Ask yourself what part of your DNA makes you truly unique and memorable. Honing in on these qualities, and ensuring that you’re looking at what is important for your shoppers, will help you begin to discern which strategy could be right for your brand.
- Honest and authentic communication is at the core of many of these challenger brand types. Promote two-way conversations to gain a deeper understanding of shopper needs and to refine your strategy.
- Be sure that it aligns with your vision, purpose and values. Use that, in addition to customer data and feedback, as a compass for your brand.
Challengers continue to leverage unconventional marketing and innovative technology to shake up their industries and engage with shoppers on a different level. The key to developing a strategy that works and continues to drive results is to choose and embody a particular type ofchallenger brand. Review the most common ones listed above, and use these strategies for choosing a type that resonates with your identity as well as your shoppers. The end result is increased awareness and market penetration for your brand.