Like the space shuttle Challenger changed NASA forever, so, too, have challenger brands altered the face of marketing. But unlike the fatal Challenger disaster, challenger brands have risen to the marketing forefront. They challenge the status quo and step out of so-called traditional patterns and roles.
Is it for everyone? Probably not. But brands seeking to step out of the normal pattern and carve their own path and the unique identifier may wish to consider what it takes to be a challenger.
By definition, challenger brands are not number one in their industry. It’s not a market position but rather a frame of mind. Think Burger King instead of McDonald’s or Popeye’s rather than KFC. Being a challenger also means denouncing standard notions, sometimes at the cost of not being popular with everyone.
One successful challenger is Airbnb. Until it came along in 2008 with its unique concept, hotels and B&Bs were doing quite well and performing as they had been for years. Airbnb is still not number one but has more than 3 million listings globally today. Another challenger that took on a mammoth industry is Tesla. It’s now the third-largest auto brand with capitalization approaching half-trillion dollars.
Brands seeking to become challengers must first start by identifying their brand self. Authenticity is key. At AdWeek’s annual Challenger Brand Summit held in February, Jim Belushi talked about him and Dan Aykroyd use stories to sell their movies and suggested that brands do the same. Belushi is also the founder of Belushi’s Farms which raises cannabis medicine in Rogue Valley, Oregon. His website shares many stories about how he started it from scratch.
While being disruptive is a characteristic of challengers, do so in a manner that adds value. Wheels Up did this in air travel by democratizing private jet travel. Through its crowd-sharing platform, consumers can attempt to book a flight to any destination by purchasing tickets. If enough people join in, the flight happens.
Engaging and empowering customers is an even stronger suit in challenger companies. Working with them can help create new products they desire. Organic fruit and vegetable merchant, Daily Harvest, reported that customer input sped up their innovative efforts. Bombas, a U.S. sock manufacturer, said customers not only helped create some products but also promoted them.
Another loud message that came out of the AdWeek summit was for challengers to never stop what they’re doing. A representative from General Motors echoed the same sentiment. An earlier article delved into how Burger King has taken and continues to take novel and humorous approaches in its advertising to gain attention and market share.
Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, summed everything up when she drew the distinction between innovators and imitators. Not only did she say she would never wait to copy others’ good ideas but added that being an innovator involves trial and error. As a challenger brand, Blakely added, “You have to be willing to be laughed at, take risks, and fall.”