The Many Faces of a Challenger Brand

“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”     – Steve Jobs

Going up against the market’s most well-established brand in a bid for dominance is quite the challenge, however many brands that we know and love not only overcame but  embraced this hurdle and made it part of their identity.

There are the classic brands that spring to mind, Netflix, Avis and Virgin to name a few – but it isn’t simply the David and Goliath paradigm that really makes these challengers within their markets. While Virgin Atlantic does compete with British Airways for customers, and Avis utilised their position as second to Hertz with the slogan ‘We try harder’, there is more to it in 2015 than being the underdog. These companies aren’t necessarily fighting to be top dog, but rather to be a leader of innovation, they don’t simply want to be thought of as the biggest player in the market, but rather as the company with the most momentum.

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Of course, a change-pioneering identity needs a clear message that can be reinforced through strategic campaigns. One such campaign that should ring a bell is the Red Bull Stratos jump from 2012, which saw Felix Baumgartner make a gradual assent to the edge of space, after which he threw himself back down to earth in a supersonic free-fall. I think it is only reasonable to assume that whoever conjured up this stunt, viewed over 35 million times on YouTube, must have drunk a fair few energy drinks to get their creative juices flowing. This is a brilliant example of a challenger brand pushing the boundaries of public perceptions and expectations, doing something that has never been done before.

By no means does a challenger’s approach need to be quite as sensationally adventurous as this. It can be as simple as a strong stance on ethics, with the likes of Innocent and The Body Shop flying the challenger flag with sustainability and fair trade at their core. Then there is Netflix, they have been making waves in the industry of TV and film since 1997. While growing at a seemingly unstoppable rate they are undeniably transforming pre-existing notions of how people could view programmes and movies. They provide advert free instant access to an immense library of popular TV and film, forcing competitors to adapt by facilitating on-demand platforms.

In true challenger fashion, being biggest wasn’t the be all and end all, with 90% of the market share they began producing their own content with the likes of Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, and a further eight new releases planned for 2015. As far as challenger archetypes go, Apple is second to none in the way that it has stamped a mark on three different markets: the mobile phone, the MP3 and the personal computer, and they are now set to revolutionise the watch! Apple’s influence can in fact be measured beyond their own products, with relatable trends in a popular preference for white products such as cars, a market untouched by apple for the time being.

So, if you wanted to identify a challenger from the global sea of brands, they would jump out at you as companies with the following characteristics: an innovative attitude that challenges how consumers think, a core belief that being the biggest isn’t always being the best and they are more than willing to grab your attention with a (calculated) risk.

Any other challenger brands that have impressed you and deserve a mention? Tweet us at @theprblog