It’s a great time to be a challenger brand.
First identified as a phenomenon by agency Eat Big Fish in the late 90s, challenger brands have since fallen a bit out of fashion. The headline-grabbing thing to be right now, supposedly, is a disruptor (more on them later).
But headlines don’t always mean business success. And while disruptors are getting all the attention, conditions are right for challenger brands to thrive.
So how can you tell if this means you?
You’re a major player in your sector – but you’re not the market leader.
You can’t be a challenger if there’s nothing bigger than you to challenge, after all. (Though market-leading brands can still be run with a challenger attitude, by leaning into the next two points.)
You know your strengths and play to them – even if that means not pleasing everyone.
Getting the right people to love you might make others hate you. Challenger brands embrace that specialism – and that recognition. Better to be hated by some than ignored by all.
You succeed by outsmarting the competition – not by outspending them.
You’re not big enough to throw your weight around, so instead you win by spotting the opportunities others miss. Better strategies for existing platforms. New ways to engage existing audience groups. Unoccupied space in the competitor landscape.
Here’s where challenger brands differ from disruptors. Challenger brands learn the rules of their game inside out to find surprising new ways to get ahead. Disruptors aims to change the rules, or even change the game completely.
That’s one reason it’s better to be a challenger brand than a disruptor right now. The potential rewards make disruption a tempting bandwagon, but a sector can only take so many disruptors trying to change the rules. Attempts at disruption either succeed, or leave the disruptor without a working business model.
But a sector can see multiple challengers appear and still stay stable. The market leader might not be happy about all that competition, but the market can usually accommodate the new players.
Finally, let’s face it: the economy isn’t at its best right now. And while that’s not great news overall, it does give the advantage to brands who are used to spending smart, rather than spending big. If you’re a challenger brand, you’re already used to doing more with less.
If you’re a challenger brand – or you aspire to a challenger mindset – we want to help you make the most of this moment in time. We’ve done it for NEST, a challenger in the pensions sector, and the PSR, a rare industry regulator that’s also a challenger brand.