From the baby food maker Plum Organics to the natural beauty product brand The Honest Company, many challenger brands have made their mark within their respective industries – capturing shoppers’ attention and gaining market share from their competitors. Just think about how the upstart vitamin company Olly has successfully contested industry monoliths such as Nature Made.
Considering the loyalty that long-standing brands like Nature Made have established throughout the years, how can new and emerging brands gain a foothold in the CPG sector? By studying successful brands, they can extract powerful lessons to help them refine their own marketing and growth strategies and chart their own unique paths in the CPG category.
Regardless of their particular industry parameters, winning brands hold a few key attributes in common. And it begins with finding something specific to challenge.
Focus on the “What” and Not the “Who”
In order to gain a prime spot on the shelf, you must stand out among the trusted brands that are already there. But doing so is less about who you’re challenging, and more about what you’re challenging. In other words, forget about taking on the iconic household brand that shoppers have known for decades. Concentrate instead on specific attributes that are sorely lacking in the marketplace and product aspects that can be optimized for your target shopper.
For example, Halo Top Creamery took a stand against the idea that ice cream is an unhealthy snack by creating a version that only contains around 230 calories per serving. By changing the way that people approach ice cream consumption, the brand has been able to compete with established brands that represent the old approach.
Likewise, Olly has found success in the vitamin sector by focusing on the “what” and not the “who.” Noticing that the leading multivitamin brands tended to educate shoppers with long lists of ingredients for each individual vitamin and mineral component, Olly took a much different approach. Rather than focusing on ingredient-driven information, the brand was able to attract shoppers by focusing on end benefits such as increased energy or a fortified immune system.
Tell a Compelling Brand Story
Storytelling affects the brain in interesting ways. A good story stimulates brain processes such as neural coupling, cortex activity and the release of dopamine. As a result, scientists have determined that narrative messages can be up to 22 times more memorable than straightforward facts, and marketers have determined that 92% of shoppers prefer advertisements that feel like stories.
In light of these findings, it’s not surprising that many challenger brands have won over shoppers by framing company narratives that promote common values and/or connect directly with them in an emotional way. Burt Bees, for example, has captured the attention and imagination of countless shoppers through its compelling origin story. People connect in profound ways with the tale of company co-founder Roxanne Quimby, who began making candles out of Maine honey-producer Burt Shavitz’s leftover beeswax and managed to build an empire of health, beauty, hygiene, and personal care products that use all-natural, earth-friendly ingredients.
Crafting effective brand messages that draw upon the power of storytelling can help any emerging brand disrupt the status quo in their category.
Find Your Value Proposition
Another way that challenger brands stand out in a crowded marketplace is by establishing and promoting a unique value proposition. This is the innovative and distinctive quality, feature, or characteristic that sets your brand apart from others in your industry.
After discovering your value proposition, you must find an effective way to communicate it to your target audience. If shoppers fail to understand and appreciate what differentiates your brand, you will be unlikely to make a dent in the marketplace among more established competitors.
The masterminds at Olly began by positioning themselves as the “playful” and “fun” vitamin company, packaging their sweet gummy-style vitamins in bright, eye-catching containers. This presented a distinct contrast to Nature Made and all of the other conventional vitamin brands that have traditionally stuck with packaging that more closely resembles a bottle of medication. Olly’s packaging was extremely effective at capturing shopper attention and getting them to take a closer look at its “benefit-driven” label information, as well as the other qualities that set this challenger brand apart from its competitors.
Promote Social Good
Adam Morgan, who created the term “challenger brand,” has been researching the behavior and key qualities of successful brands through what he has dubbed “The Challenger Project.”
A key finding of this project is that shoppers tend to embrace and endorse brands with a strong sense of social responsibility while rejecting those that don’t. This is particularly true of millennial and Gen Z shoppers who are always on the lookout for brands that go beyond the sphere of commercialism in an attempt to change society or culture for the better.
Company philanthropic efforts and community outreach initiatives are particularly effective if they are directly linked to the values of their shoppers. For example, the dog food brand Blue Buffalo has supported pet adoption through its annual Home 4 the Holidays campaign – the largest initiative of its kind in the world. As part of its sponsorship, Blue Buffalo also announced plans to supply U.S. animal shelters with approximately 100,000 pounds of dog and cat food.
In these ways and many others, successful challenger brands have found ways to bypass tried-and-true marketing methods and forge new paths to meet specific shopper needs and demands. By applying these methods to their own growth strategies, emerging brands can make the all-important leap to become challengers in their own right.