Tag Archives: challenger brands

The Challenger Brand: Going Up Against the Category Leader with an Alternative Product and Ethos

By James D. Roumeliotis

Challenger Brand

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The status quo is a complacent syndrome which exists with most established brands regardless of which sector they are categorized in. Despite a large capital chest, they are short-sighted, dull and lack the nimbleness to adapt swiftly. However, there those such as Nike and Amazon, among others, which innovate constantly. Nowadays, newbie companies fill in the gap and disrupt entire industries with revolutionary business models, products and services – whether in the service domain (think AirBnB, Uber and Netflix), automotive (consider Tesla) or in the consumer product domain (such as Dyson, Under Armour, Warby Parker and Hampton Creek’s Just Mayo brand).

The anatomy of the challenger brand

A “challenger brand” is defined as a company or product brand, whether a start-up or established, which faces up to the category leader in an advocacy stance. As a result, this type of brand/company is brusque to the point of creating and applying bold tactics. Furthermore, it is distinct and emotionally driven to be able play from a position of strength behind the dominant player in its sector. Consequently, the challenger brand eagerly takes on a unique position and showcases with conviction, to its target audience, why it is the logical alternative to the segment leader. Unique features offered may include enhanced features and benefits from those offered by the category leader. These may include better materials, technology, functional and attractive design, craftsmanship, performance, above average service, better value for the money, as well as social responsibility to name a few. This works well with consumers who are either under-served or under-valued by the leading brand.

Uber, with the birth of the ride sharing app, came along and challenged the taxi domain through a paradigm shift. It took the taxi leagues worldwide by storm which got the cabbies up in arms and resulted with them protesting and asking their local government to legislate against their nemesis. Rather than looking inward and reforming to compete, the cabbies chose the path to ferociously protect their precious monopoly. One taxi trade magazine even printed a column that condemned Uber as a “corporate pariah,” a “malignant tumor,” and a “giant octopus” that has “spread its tentacles globally.”

A challenger brand is determined to persist and persevere to constantly make a point to undermine the leading standard in order to change the rules to the benefit of the customer.

How to outsmart the category leader

When the challenger brand does not have the marketing budget to go head-to-head with the established brand in its category, it is easy to see why the latter can fail. To overcome this problem, the challenger creates unconventional marketing tactics which are more effective than traditional ones with much less ad spending. Sometimes that advertising is giving jabs to the weakness inherent with the category leader and it can include clever yet subtle messages which, if effective, may be able to persuade consumers who were leaning toward the established brand that it is not all that great as always thought.

Advocating and standing for something compelling, such as Patagonia with its social responsibility mission which is: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”  The idea is to make a strong emotional appeal about the changes they seek to make a difference with. It is demonstrating and personifying not only through mere words but also with deeds that they are a better alternative to the incumbent brand. This takes being and acting confident through passion, beliefs and a purpose against the norm in return for something that matters.

Jude Bliss, the editor of the online blog The Challenger Project, had made this noteworthy statement: “Challengers are as clear about what they are rejecting as they are about what they are championing, which involves clearly defining what you see in the current market that is broken, as well as what change you can bring.”

It does not matter whether you are a new and small brand or the largest. Everyone can partake as a challenger brand. As long as your largest competitor defies with your ethos, then you have a cause for a challenge. No better example of this than Apple vs Microsoft with their witty advertising jibes at each other as to whose PC is the smarter choice for the user.

Another tactic to use as a challenger brand, if you are in the consumer goods domain, is to be creative and stand-out among the crowd with exceptionally designed yet functional packaging. Taking away the bland and ordinary and making the product desirable. Consider what Toblerone chocolate, Veuve Cliquot champagnes, SKY Vodka and others have succeeded in doing which eventually spiked their sales.

Audi has taught other brands how to challenge

BMW and Mercedes Benz are two German premium leading auto brands which command an equal level of prestige and respect. Both are in the same league in terms of German engineering and precision. However, each has a distinctive style which distinguishes it in the target audience – younger who prefer dynamic driving and older demographic with preference for a luxury drive respectively. As regards to Audi, up until the several years ago, the brand was deemed as the awkward stepchild of the parent VW group — the Toyota of the German elite of sorts. Lately, Audi has stepped up its game and finally entered the world as a true competitor along with their German tagline exuding what they stand for: Advancement through Technology. Audi has been gaining on its German rivals. Its firm commitment to excel has brought Audi to an audacious position to vigorously challenge its opponents BMW and Mercedes.

In 2009 in a busy Los Angeles, California intersection, a billboard ad rivalry between what Audi initiated and with BMW responding had escalated to a new level. A tit-for-tat had ensued when Audi placed an image of the all new Audi A4 along with the headline: “Your move, BMW”. Santa Monica BMW, a local dealership, took on the challenge and entered a virtual chess game when it added a billboard not far from Audi’s which featured a photo of the BMW M3 with the counter punch, “Checkmate.” A few days later, Audi unveiled a new billboard to replace the one with the A4. It featured an R8 super-car and read: “Time to check your luxury badge. It may have expired.” In the end, BMW moved its billboard to some other place and the billboard ad war came to an end.

Audi and BMW Billboard Challenge 1

Audi and BMW Billboard Challenge 2

In a Brand Channel blog interview with Loren Angelo, director of marketing for Audi of America, has said that “As a challenger brand, you have to look at your category, your situation…and attack it head-on.” He further elaborated: “We need to continue to challenge. That’s what allowed us to drive our position and to turn the brand around beginning in 2008. A challenger brand doesn’t mean we only challenge the competition, but we communicate how we challenge the status quo and challenge complacency in our industry and in culture.”

That being said, as a challenger brand, constant and persistent messaging with conviction to the target audience ought to be applied along with the delivery of unique customer experiences to solidify brand loyalty.

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