Challenger Brand or Also Ran

Challenger Brand or Also Ran

February 5, 2016

If you follow marketing trends, then you are very aware of the term Challenger Brand.  For those of you who don’t know the term, let me explain.  The Challenger Brand enters a well-developed market as David to the market-leader’s Goliath.  It is Airbnb to Hyatt, or Uber to conventional taxis, or at one time, Virgin Airways to British Airways. You get the idea. The Challenger is the upstart newcomer that is doing things differently– and on first look, probably in a wildly unconventional way. Challenger companies are wily and flexible, with some renegade stroppiness thrown in for good measure! When the Challenger enters the fray, it is usually with a novel idea or an approach that simply doesn’t feel familiar.  Think of the way that Square Payment first arrived, and the skepticism it met.  But now, there are at least 10 different companies offering similar, plug-in credit card swipe devices with plug-n-play payment technology.


For these genuine Challengers to succeed typically requires that their owners and advocates be zealots for their offering, believing in their product or service with the kind of fervor usually reserved for religious fanatics.  They are sure that the market and their customers are hungering for what they have, and that belief drives them to be smart, scrappy and fearless.

When the Challenger fanaticism is accurate, the brand often overtakes its more seasoned competitor, becoming a leader in the marketplace. That’s what we’ve seen with the examples above, and many others I could list. But here’s the danger.  Every competitor is not a Challenger. Sometimes, a new taxi company is just a taxi company with funny colored cars.  And sometimes a Financial Planner is just an insurance agent. In those cases, without doing the hard work of real strategy and real marketing, you’re just an also-ran. When that’s the case, no matter how fanatic you may be about your offering, it simply isn’t really all that different from that of your competitors.  Every new app isn’t a game-changer, and just because you are adding a different nuance to an age-old business, it won’t make yours the Challenger brand. Why does that matter?

Well, as in everything, reality is a tough teacher, but one that must be heeded.  If you deceive yourself about the value you bring and the role you can play in the marketplace, you rob yourself of the opportunity to address the real issue. That issue may be a lack of refinement in your product or service, or a lack of need in the market. It may be that you are the best at what you do, but you are misled about the real value of that to your customers.   Knowing that you are in a crowded field without a model-breaking differentiator can also free you simply be to better at selling yourself and your product.  Even if you aren’t the Challenger, nothing stops you from shamelessly using their methods.

What are those? Well, here are a few:

  • Advocacy:  Challengers are masters of building advocacy.  That’s just a nice way of saying that they are fanatic evangelists for their service or product. And so should you be. You need to become your greatest advocate. Post to Facebook, use LinkedIn, tell you friends, boast about the quality of your work, and promote your clients’ successes or delight with your company.
  • Referrals: Challengers always build in a way to share the message.  In every new app there is a way to promote on behalf of the brand to your sphere of influence. They put a “share” button in the app or ask for names of your friends to send them coupons, or bribe you with coupons to share with your friends.  Do you do everything you can to leverage each and every person who ever meets you, lands on your website or takes your business card?  How could you offer something to your own circle of friends, associates and clients that would be enticing enough that they would tell a friend?
  • Reinvention:  If you were a Challenger brand, you would be doing the old stuff in a new way. Are you?   Keep rethinking your business and your market. There may be a way to go from also-ran to Challenger Brand, but it will take some deconstructing of assumptions, and some real, honest research and innovation.  You probably can’t do that alone!  Get a coach or a consultant, or join a Mastermind group.  Great ideas grow from cross-pollination.  So go forth and pollinate!

With all of this said, I hope yours is a Challenger Brand. But even if not, you can make this year outstanding by exercising some honest self-assessment and some change in habits and approach!  En Garde! (that’s my challenge to you!)

Ready to rethink your brand or position in the marketplace? What about your approach to the key traits of being a Challenger? Maybe executive coaching or consulting can help?  Contact me for a free consult!


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