Shaking up the status quo and challenging your competitors sounds intimidating. But does blending in really sound like a better alternative? It’s time to take on a challenger brand mindset.
Challenger brands use creative ideas and strategies to take on the market leaders and gain recognition in their respective industries. They also focus on making meaningful connections with their target audiences by disrupting traditional consumer journeys for the better. Let’s cover what it means to be a challenger brand and how it can benefit your business.
What is a Challenger Brand and Why it Matters
Challenger brands are often smaller and less established than their competitors, but they have a unique value proposition or message that sets them apart. Think of brands like Dollar Shave Club or Warby Parker who disrupted their respective industries by offering a different approach.
Why does it matter? Because, in a world where consumers are looking for something new and different, a challenger brand can offer just that. Plus, they often pave the way for innovation and push established brands to step up their game, making the landscape better for everyone.
Benefits of Being a Challenger Brand
As a challenger brand, you may feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle in a world where big-name companies seem to dominate the market. But we want you to chill because there are actually plenty of benefits to being the underdog.
For one, you have the freedom to take risks and try new things without worrying about alienating your established customer base. You can also focus more on innovation and creativity since you don’t have to adhere to a set way of doing things. Plus, being a challenger brand can make you stand out from the crowd and be more memorable to consumers.
Don’t be afraid to embrace your underdog status and use it to your advantage.
Challenges Faced by Challengers Brands
Challenger brands may boast creative ideas and strategies, but they aren’t immune to their own challenges. Being a small and less established company means that launching successful campaigns is not only difficult but also requires perseverance.
One obvious issue is the lack of resources. Unlike established businesses, challenger brands have limited resources, making it difficult to keep pace with the competition. From marketing budgets to brand awareness, everything takes longer to come to fruition for a challenger brand.
Another significant hurdle challenger brands face is building brand trust. Consumers are often loyal to established brands, making it difficult for newcomers to build trust and establish emotional connections. Consumers may not be willing to swap their go-to for an unknown. To add to this, consumers are bombarded with ads and messages from numerous brands daily. So, the challenge isn’t just to get noticed but to communicate to the target audience why they should trust the challenger brand over the well-established competitors.
To overcome these difficulties, challenger brands need to be strategic in their approach. They need to be laser-focused on their target audience, consumers who are willing to take a chance on something new. Being creative and strategic in messaging, marketing, and sales efforts can help challengers stand out from the crowd.
Challenger brands also need to remember that building brand trust takes time and patience. Communicate the benefits of your products and services consistently and transparently, to eventually create a connection with your audience. Strategy and persistence are essential to overcoming the obstacles of being a challenger brand.
Finally, stay nimble and be prepared to pivot if necessary. An industry leader has the resources to replicate a challenger’s strengths. Look at how Instagram reacted to Snapchat’s success. When Instagram introduced Stories in 2016, it was a direct challenge to Snapchat’s core feature. By applying its own twist on the concept of disappearing photos and videos, Instagram created a product that was familiar to users but with more features and convenience than Snapchat could offer. By 2017 Insta Stories had surpassed Snapchat’s daily active users count by 300 million.
Challenger brand marketing isn’t easy, but it’s an exciting motivator to stay creative. No matter how innovative your brand’s twist on an existing concept, be ready for the big dogs to bite back.
Positioning Your Brand as a Challenger to the Market Leader
Are you ready to take on the major players in your industry? Positioning your brand as a challenger can be a risky move, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. With the right strategy and mindset, you can differentiate yourself from the competition and carve out a niche for your brand.
Start by identifying what makes your brand unique—maybe it’s a commitment to sustainability, a focus on customer service, or an innovative product line. Then, use that to your advantage in your messaging and marketing materials. Don’t be afraid to go toe-to-toe with your competition, but make sure you do it in a way that showcases your brand’s strengths without resorting to bashing them.
Consumers want a reason to spend their dollars on a better alternative. Looking petty or desperate won’t get that done, especially since your competitors are the ones with all the brand equity.
Crafting an Engaging Message for Your Target Audience
When it comes to reaching your target audience with a message, crafting it in a way that resonates with them is key. But how can you ensure that your message is engaging and effective?
It begins with understanding your audience—who they are, what they care about, and how they communicate. We recommend building out a buyer persona for this. Once you nail down your target audience, use your wit and creativity to develop a message that speaks directly to them. Don’t be afraid to get a little playful with your tone and word choice, as long as it aligns with your brand and the message you’re trying to convey.
The ultimate goal is to inspire action and engagement from your audience, so take the time to make sure your message is on point. And as a challenger brand, your highest priority is to clearly communicate what makes your company different from the market leaders.
Creative Challenger Brand Strategy
Reaching your target market can be tough, especially if you’re not sure where to start. Getting creative can help you make a big impact. Ask yourself if there’s a social media platform or other media channel that the market leader is ignoring. Own that space by putting out useful, entertaining content that no one else is serving. If you can get a popular influencer to tout your brand, that could help your momentum pick up faster.
Keep in mind, however, that for the most part, this will be a slow grind. You’ll want to attend industry events and conferences to network with potential customers in person. Get on as many relevant podcasts as possible to connect with new audiences. These things take time, but you can’t expect to knock down big brands overnight. Building a challenger brand requires patience, discipline, and perseverance.
Examples of Successful Challenger Brands
All Elite Wrestling (AEW) has quickly become a successful challenger brand to World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) since its debut in 2019.
By focusing more heavily on in-ring action and athleticism, AEW has given fans a fresh alternative to WWE’s scripted content. AEW matches are more serious in tone with an emphasis on technical ability. This makes its shows feel less like story-based entertainment and more like actual competitive sporting events.
AEW is not the first wrestling promotion to take such an approach since WWE’s 2001 purchase of main rival WCW. But AEW combines its “wrestling first” focus with deep pockets from its ownership (the Kahn family also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars). This allows the company to keep pace with WWE through big-name acquisitions like Chris Jericho and Bryan Danielson while building up homegrown talents such as Britt Baker and MJF. In a short time, AEW has earned a loyal following and rapid growth as a challenger to its ubiquitous rival.
Founded in 2008, Airbnb disrupted the hotel industry by offering travelers the opportunity to stay in unique accommodations, including private homes and apartments. Today, Airbnb is valued at over $100 billion and operates in more than 220 countries and regions worldwide.
The company’s success can be attributed to its ability to tap into changing consumer preferences, such as a desire for authentic and personalized travel experiences. Additionally, Airbnb has leveraged technology to create a seamless booking and payment process for guests, while also providing a platform for hosts to earn extra income.
By challenging the traditional hotel model, Airbnb has emerged as a leader in the sharing economy, and its success continues to inspire other challenger brands in various industries.
Beyond Meat has taken on fast-food behemoths like McDonald’s and Burger King by offering plant-based alternative meat products. Beyond Meat has gained a considerable amount of attention from consumers, as well as investors, and its growing popularity is a testament to its mission.
The company’s innovative products and marketing speak to a growing consumer desire for environmentally conscious, animal-free, and healthier food options. Beyond Meat’s products are made with pea protein, which significantly reduces carbon and greenhouse gas emissions compared to animal protein production.
Beyond’s success demonstrates that consumers are more than willing to experiment with plant-based alternatives and that a business strategy driven by well-being can resonate with shoppers.
Casper Mattress takes on the traditional mattress industry leaders by offering high-quality, affordable, and convenient mattresses, backed by a strong brand identity.
Casper uses a direct-to-consumer business model. This eliminates the need for showrooms and middlemen, allowing customers to purchase their mattresses online. Their mattresses are made with high-quality foam, which offers exceptional comfort and support. They’ve also introduced innovative features like Zoned Support, which provides targeted support for different parts of the body.
Another factor that’s contributed to Casper’s success is its reputation for excellent customer service. Part of that reputation is its risk-free trial period, which allows customers to try out their mattresses for 100 nights. If they’re not satisfied, they can return it for a full refund. Removing risk for consumers in ways that industry leaders aren’t offering is a smart challenger brand strategy.
Casper’s success has led to the introduction of new products, including pillows, bedding, and furniture, further extending its reach in the sleep space. By focusing on customer needs and continuous innovation, Casper has become a top challenger brand in the mattress industry, with a loyal fan base that values convenience and quality.
Dollar Shave Club
Dollar Shave Club disrupted the traditional razor market by offering affordable, high-quality razors through a subscription-based model that eliminates the need for expensive and intimidating trips to the store.
Founded in 2011, the company quickly gained popularity with its humorous, irreverent marketing campaigns, which helped establish a loyal customer base. Dollar Shave Club’s razors are designed with a focus on functionality, with a variety of options for different skin types and hair thicknesses. They also offer other grooming products, such as shaving cream and aftershave, to provide a full grooming experience for their customers.
In 2016, Dollar Shave Club was acquired by Unilever for $1 billion, a testament to its success as a challenger brand. Through its innovative business model, commitment to affordability, and clever marketing, Dollar Shave Club has successfully carved out a significant share of the razor market and remains a top challenger brand.
Glossier has achieved an impressive level of success as a challenger brand in the beauty industry, driven by its unique approach to marketing and branding. The company has built a fiercely loyal community of fans who relate to its message of celebrating natural beauty and self-expression.
Glossier’s products are designed to enhance, rather than conceal, a person’s natural features. Its minimalist packaging and branding reflect this philosophy. By leveraging social media and user-generated content, Glossier has built an organic and authentic brand image, with over 2 million Instagram followers and a strong presence on platforms like TikTok.
The company’s direct-to-consumer approach has also allowed them to gather valuable customer feedback and insights, which they use to continually improve their products and customer experience. With a valuation of over $1 billion and a rapidly growing customer base, Glossier has established itself as a top challenger brand in the highly competitive beauty market.
HelloFresh has revolutionized the way people prepare and consume meals at home. The company allows customers to select from a range of curated meal plans, which are then delivered directly to their doorstep. This cuts out the time and energy required for meal planning, shopping, and preparation, while also ensuring that the ingredients are fresh and of high quality.
Beyond convenience, HelloFresh has also tapped into the growing trend of healthy and sustainable eating. The company sources its ingredients from local farms and producers wherever possible, and encourages its customers to adopt a more mindful approach to food.
HelloFresh has also leveraged social media to create a sense of community around its brand, with customers sharing photos of their meals and cooking experiences online. By combining convenience, sustainability, community, and health consciousness, HelloFresh has established itself as a top challenger brand in the meal-kit delivery industry.
Lyft has become a major contender in the ride-sharing industry by challenging the long-standing dominance of market leader Uber. One reason for Lyft’s success is its commitment to providing a personalized and premium experience for both drivers and riders. Lyft’s platform includes features such as driver tipping, in-app messaging for easy communication, and scheduled rides, which resonates with customers who prioritize convenience and excellent service.
Lyft’s “Round Up and Donate” program enables riders to automatically round up their fares to the nearest dollar and donate the difference to a charity of their choice, which reinforces the brand’s socially conscious stance. Lyft’s focus on community-building and social responsibility has allowed it to set itself apart from other ride-sharing apps and has been positively received by peers and consumers.
Furthermore, Lyft’s strategic partnerships with various transportation providers and forward-looking initiatives, such as its push to have all of its vehicles electric-powered by 2030, exhibit its dedication to creating a sustainable and equitable ecosystem.
By prioritizing customer needs and staying true to its values, Lyft has established itself as a prominent player in the transportation industry and a worthy challenger to the status quo.
Warby Parker disrupted the traditional ways of purchasing and wearing glasses. Their direct-to-consumer business model allowed them to cut out the middleman and offer high-quality, stylish glasses at an affordable price point.
Additionally, its “Try at Home” program, which allows customers to try on glasses before committing to a purchase, helped them build trust and connect with their target audience. By focusing on both form and function, Warby Parker has been able to create a loyal customer base, with over 50% of its customers being repeat purchasers.
Beyond their innovative approach to the industry, Warby Parker has also implemented a socially conscious mission. For every pair of glasses sold, they donate a pair to someone in need, which further strengthens their reputation as a brand with purpose.
Through their innovation, creative marketing, and commitment to social responsibility, Warby Parker has successfully positioned itself as a top challenger brand in the eyewear industry.
In the movie Talladega Nights, Will Ferrell’s character, race car driver Ricky Bobby, is famous for saying, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” We say, “screw that.”
Just because you’re not the industry leader doesn’t mean you can’t have a thriving business with a brand that loads of consumers love. Even a niche brand can do very well taking on the market leaders.
Don’t be afraid to take on the leaders of the pack. If you can offer the public a better product, a more convenient service, or a more user-friendly way of doing business, put that idea out there in the boldest way possible. You never know when a challenger can become the champion.