Is The Challenger Mind-set Old Hat?

So let’s be frank, you would have had to have your head in the sand to be in marketing and not be familiar with the phrase ‘challenger brand’. However, I’m not referring to its common misuse i.e. A nice way of saying – “we haven’t got much budget”. I’m talking about the ability to change the consumers’ relationship with the category by challenging the way we do things. This mind-set has become an essential tool to succeed in today’s marketing place and it’s as important to the market leader as it is to the one-man band.

This whole concept is brilliantly illustrated by the famous Avis campaign ‘We’re number 2 so we try harder’. But being a challenger brand is not just about distinctive and punchy campaigns that take on the market leader, it’s a whole lot more. It’s a drive to challenge the status quo, to ‘Solve the obvious problem’ and look for an answer to the statement that can’t be done. It’s not just a phrase you can pick up and try out, it needs to be embraced and lived by everyone. The price of not doing this is mediocrity, ultimately diminishing returns and quite possibly, the sack.

It’s a fact that the market leader attracts most of the customers within a category. They do this by being bigger, easier to buy and more available. So, if you’re not them (and most of us are not) it’s clear that a challenger mind-set is now a pre-requisite not just for the success of any brand, but also for its very survival in the medium / long term. Unless you are truly distinctive, not just in your marketing but in your offer as well, the truth is that your marketing actually builds awareness of the category and not your brand… and guess what that means… yes, you are actually investing in the best interest of the market leader… ouch! That hardly seems fair.

Emotionally (especially in the UK) the deck can be stacked in your favour. The David vs Goliath position is a useful card to play, not only does it take out all the other brands in the market and make it a two horse race i.e. you and the big bad market leader, but critically it gives people something to notice and creates the all important tension that’s needed for great creative.

But here’s the rub… In truth, people are now more accepting of larger corporations, they give good customer service and take the risk out of purchases. So, let’s take your sights off the market leader and evolve this a bit, let’s confront the bigger issues that face the category.

We’ve all seen changes in the market with some great iconic institutions disappearing, but here’s the important bit, they’ve not been replaced by a new brand with a better- faster –smaller – cheaper offer, they’ve been taken out by a totally different approach to a need or want.

So the ‘challenger brand’ mind-set has now evolved. It’s no longer safe to take on a market leader as, to be honest, they may not be there soon either, and at best, you may be left holding what’s left of a nearly empty and fast leaking can. The real need is to disrupt the status quo, to be distinctive and win ‘share of mind’ with the customer.

Great product delivery and experience is now the price of entry. If someone is shopping for any category – from a tin of beans to a TV channel – your biggest challenge is not the competition, it is being noticed in the first place. Only 10% of marketing even gets noticed.

Just having the best product at the right price is NOT enough to deliver success in todays’ world that stopped a long time ago. People just don’t care and it’s our job to change this. You need to delight, wow, amaze and enchant before you can engage.

So… my point is that this type of ‘challenger’ thinking applies to everyone. Not just to the number two brands or the new, cool, funky, niche brands. If you are lucky enough to be a market leader, with gargantuan marketing budgets and wide scale distribution networks, these can and will sustain you for a while. But, these will dry up if you forget to constantly reinforce all those lovely, positive memory structures you (and possibly your predecessors) spent so much time embedding with people who, at best, have a passing interest in the category.

For evidence of this, just look at some of the brands that we grew up with that are now gone.

So, all very good, but I thought the whole premise of these blogs was that you would tell us what to do about this, not just dangle a few well-intentioned thoughts.

Ok so here is something that’s worth trying…

I’m sure you can remember how you felt in your first few days in your job. Yes, you knew you had a lot to learn but at the same time, I’m sure you remember wanting to dive on in and do things differently with the opportunities for your brand seeming limitless. By now you’ve probably discovered all the ‘rules of the category’ and ‘business constraints’ that mean things have been done in a certain way, so fire yourself!

Give yourself the sack and leave the company…. Even walk out the building if you can.

Don’t forget to do this next bit too.

Rewrite your CV and take yourself through the interview process, write down the questions you would ask if you were offering yourself the job and answer them.

Here are a few to get you going…

What’s the big challenge you face as a category?

What would you do, if you didn’t already know it couldn’t be done?

I would love to hear your thoughts on the above and if you would like to discuss how your brand can benefit from some big challenger thinking why not drop us a line.

Suggested reading
Eating Big Fish & Pirate Inside – Adam Morgan
Does Your Brand Need A Spanking? – Andrea F Fitting