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.
You might have noticed that we have a new name and a fresh new look. Rest assured, we’re still the same bunch of loveable, passionate brand fanatics as before, it’s just that we felt like we were walking about in a badly fitting suit, something that didn’t show off our best features, didn’t reflect our personality or express who we were as an agency. So, we thought it was about time we had a bit of a scrub up!
As well as the shiny new identity we now simply call ourselves Redhouse. It’s shorter, easier to remember (who has time for an eight syllable name these days!?) and in fact, it’s what most of our clients have called us throughout our 30-year history anyway.
For us, it was simplification and relevance that led to us evolve our name. But when should you consider renaming your business, product or service? Well, it’s really a matter of asking yourself a few questions; in fact, before you walk away from every ounce of equity that exists in your name, let’s have a look at a few of them right now…
Am I changing my strategic direction or offer?
If you plan to shift your focus as a business, go after a new audience or even sell something completely different, then your current name might become at best less relevant or, worse still, misleading. If you have a now-defunct service or product in the name, you might want to think about getting with the times.
For example: Nintendo used to be called The Nintendo Playing Card Company, before it started to venture into the wider toys and games market in 1963.
Have the associations attached to my name changed for the worse?
Every name comes with associations that fill the head of the person hearing it. Let’s face it, things change. For example, in today’s climate would you want the word ‘plastics’ or ‘chemicals’ in your name? Probably not.
For example: The Belgian chocolate company that happened to share its name with the terrorist organisation ISIS felt they had no other choice but to rename. Probably a wise decision.
Does my name limit me geographically?
If your name contains a reference to a geographic location and you have aspirations to trade outside of that area then you might want to consider a new name. Also, if your name has negative connotations in another language, then you may have to look at alternatives in that territory.
There are a whole host of hilarious examples from around the world to choose from. These are two of our favourites:
The time Toyota had to change the name of its Fiera model in Puerto Rico because the term translated to “ugly old woman” locally.
KFC’s signature phrase, “finger-lickin’ good,” doesn’t translate so well in China, where locals thought the fast food chain was suggesting they wanted to “eat your fingers off.”
If you’re faced with a naming or any other branding challenge, please do give us a call for a quick chat or, better still, book a FREE brand health check. It’s a one-hour session where we’ll help you:
Examine and define your key brand components and strengths. Identify your challenges and paint a picture of what could be
Develop a top-level plan of action to take away and start to use immediately
Enjoy the eclectic mix of music on our office jukebox