What it takes to be a successful challenger brand

In an ever-evolving landscape, there's a unique breed of brands that go beyond the conventions and codes of their categories. These are challenger brands. They are defined not merely by their products or services but by a distinct mindset - one that embraces ambitious goals and is unafraid to break through existing norms. 

But having a challenger mindset is just the beginning. How does a brand transition from thinking like a challenger to actually being a challenger?

To truly be a challenger brand, certain behaviours must be embraced. In this blog post, we'll explore the essence of being a challenger brand through five key principles.

1. Be Brave

Challenger brands are unafraid to confront industry norms, advocate for change, and position themselves as thought leaders in their field. 

A prime example is Patagonia, the outdoor apparel retailer that took a bold stance on Black Friday, urging people to buy less—a stark contrast to the rampant consumerism associated with the day.

Similarly, Ecover, a brand in the eco-friendly cleaning space, went a step further by publishing the real formula for their washing powder. Placing billboards opposite Unilever's headquarters, they bravely challenged competitors to follow suit, demonstrating a fearless commitment to transparency and sustainability.

2. Be Human

Truly understanding people’s needs, preferences, and pain points is key if you want to shake up a category. Insight-led brand identities, campaigns, products and services set challengers apart from less agile competitors. 

Monzo, a disruptor in the banking industry, simplified and humanised the banking experience by introducing features like bill splitting, saving pots, instant transfers, and real-time tracking.

Huel, on the other hand, addressed the needs of time-pressured individuals by offering nutritionally complete meal replacements, catering to the busy and health-conscious consumer.

3. Be Agile

Challenger brands stay true to their purpose and mission whilst also being nimble, reactive and adaptable, ready to adjust strategies and seize emerging opportunities.

Oatly, a plant-based milk alternative, faced criticism head-on with a website titled "F*ck Oatly," transparently addressing their missteps and PR disasters. 

Surreal, a brand known for its unconventional marketing tactics, placed timely ads at bus stops during Wimbledon, attracting attention with references to famous tennis players and even creating billboards from cardboard cereal boxes.

4. Be Innovative

Innovation is a cornerstone of challenger brands. They seek out new ideas, technologies, business models and approaches to solving problems and improving products or services. 

Airbnb, a disruptor in the hospitality business, continues to challenge traditional models through its innovative rental platform. 

Skin & Me offers dermatologist-designed skincare tailored to individuals based on their skin consultations, delivered via a subscription model.

5. Be Distinctive

A compelling brand story that stands out and challenges the conventions of a category  requires a distinctive brand identity and design. 

Wild, a deodorant brand, achieves this with its simple and sleek design, emphasising eco-consciousness and a subscription model that ships refills for just £1. 

Who Gives a Crap, a sustainable toilet paper brand, stands out with its distinctive patterned wraps, making it a product that customers want to showcase.

In Summary

To be a successful challenger brand, it's crucial to embody the principles of bravery, humanity, agility, innovation, and distinctiveness. You may not need to adopt every one of these principles, but embracing at least one is often the key to standing out and challenging the status quo. The more a brand embraces these principles, the more formidable and successful a challenger it becomes. 

Written by

Emily Barlow