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Challenger Brands Have Way More Fun

I've been working on a few Challenger Brand strategy projects lately, so I thought I'd share the strategic approaches and case studies we have been using. I've linked some ads to each example because we all know Marketers love to watch ads!


I like to define challenger brands as those who find unmet needs or open pain points the market leaders aren't meeting and deliver a product, service or experience to close that gap.


I think taking a Challenger brand approach is one of the most exhilarating times you'll ever experience as a marketer and brand guardian.


  • You get to be the pirate who is there to disrupt the status quo and break category conventions.

  • You get the freedom to think differently because you have less to lose.

  • You aren't the conservative category captain who has to please the mainstream mass consumer.

  • You aren't strangled by mass-scale production or distribution efficiencies.

  • You don't need to safeguard the P&L because of your enormous contribution.


So, if you are thinking of adopting a Challenger brand approach to disrupt your category and achieve step-change growth, here are a few potential ways-in for you to explore:


  1. Innovate to fill an existing unmet need or overcome a tension point

  2. Uncover a latent insight or truth that gets consumers to rethink the category

  3. Build a unique brand personality and tone of voice around a core category driver


1. Innovate to fill an existing unmet need or overcome a tension point.


The first and most common approach to challenging the status quo is to take a deep dive into your category and identify any unmet needs, occasions or tension points.  These might be:

Needs, occasions and tensions that are new and emerging where you can gain a first-to-market advantage.

You might be lucky enough to have uncovered a technology or product attribute that is new and ownable.

Or perhaps they are just not big enough for the existing market leaders to tackle, as they need scalable opportunities to match their organisational capabilities and expectations.


The Dollar Shave Club tackled the tension Gillette couldn't, as it would have heavily impacted their profitability.  It understood that men needed to replace their razor blades regularly but were widely dissatisfied with the cost of blade refills vs. the razor device's initial outlay. Hence their affordable, direct-to-consumer subscription model.



A2 Milk is a classic example of a brand that leveraged a new product technology to disrupt a commodity market and charge a hefty price premium for its A2 milk content which is kinder to the consumer's digestive system.


2. Uncover a latent insight or truth that makes consumers rethink the category.


Halo Top Ice Cream. Most healthier treat alternatives promise a guilt-free indulgence, but low-fat, low-sugar messaging usually ruins all the fun!  Halo Top Ice Cream discovered that consumers enjoy the indulgent treat of eating it straight from the tub until they hit bottom with their spoon and realise how much they have eaten.  This is when the guilt sets in.  Knowing this, Halo Top label the entire tub calorie count front and centre of their packaging and tells consumers to enjoy the experience knowing they aren't doing anything wrong.  In an industry dominated by "lowest price" messaging, stood out using the insight that a cheap hotel room could ruin your well-earned vacation.  It established itself as the preferred site for discerning travellers who want to ensure they make the best choice beyond just price. 


Old Spice. To go up against the global giant of Axe/Lynx, who were targeting men with very male-centric communications (aka smell good to get the girls), P&G discovered that 60% of women buy their guy's body wash.  So, they convinced women to stop buying their men's "lady-scented products". 


Presenting a solution to a sometimes underlying, latent consumer need helps consumers connect with or reappraise a brand that might have lost physical or mental availability in competitive, mature markets. 


3. Build a unique Brand Personality and Tone of Voice around a core category driver.


Finding an unmet need, tension point, or truth that hasn't already been tackled may be very hard in mature markets.  This is where brand personality and tone of voice can play a role in shaking things up.


For Brand Personality to drive long-term growth, you must attach your personality to something that drives consumer behaviour, i.e. a category driver. 


K-mart and Aldi have successfully connected their unique and distinctive brand personalities to the core category driver of value, building an envious following of devoted customers and advocates.  These brands have made their customers feel smart about shopping in their stores and are proud to share this with others.




KFC have completely revitalised their brand from being "a faded old man" by being loud and proud about who they are – an undeniably crave-able treat for when you deserve to splash out and indulge


Liquid Death has shaken up the bottled water category not only with its more sustainable pack format but also disrupted the status quo with its brand personality.  Liquid Death describes itself as water with the personality of an energy drink or beer and does not hold back in its communications approach.  This has opened up brand consideration and consumption of a new consumer who prefers irreverent, brave brands.


Do you have the opportunity to take a Challenger brand approach?


To disrupt the status quo, take brave moves and do things differently to achieve step-change growth for your brand.


Take a look at your category and see if you can:


  1. Find new or ignored unmet needs or tension points that could be solved with innovation

  2. Uncover latent insights or truths that would get consumers to rethink the category

  3. Evolve your brand personality or tone of voice around a core category driver to stand out and drive relevance and preference with consumers who seek more than bland.


As always, the offer is there to guide you through this process.  Just drop me a contact form, and we can chat further about your needs.

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