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Being A Challenger Brand

Marketing competes in the attention economy. It’s a tough economy to succeed in. Not only do most people have limited time to spare but the demands on that time are increasing - particularly in the ‘Always On’ world of digital and social media. 


No wonder that a 2013 Microsoft research study found the average person’s attention span is decreasing. From 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. It’s an environment where people ignore the ordinary. A global study by American market research company, Yankleovich found that less than 2% of advertising is remembered. 


To avoid being ignored you need to deliver something remarkable


A remarkable product. A remarkable service. A remarkable story. A remarkable website. Remarkable experiences. And in this particular case remarkable marketing.


Being remarkable creates news and news gets shared. Importantly, in today’s hyper connected society, that news can be shared through social media very quickly and very far.   


Which leads us to Challenger Brands. A challenger brand is defined by three primary characteristics:

  1. Ambition.  It has business ambitions that are significantly bigger than its resources would seem to justify.

  2. Mindset. Being a Challenger Brand means not accepting the status quo. It means being innovative. It means being bold and doing things differently, usually against the existing conventions of their category. Above all, it means delivering something remarkable and creating positive news.

  3. Achievements. They punch way above their weight. The result is that they are thought about more, talked about more and purchased or booked more frequently. And most of the time, they do this with much fewer resources - physical or financial - than their competitors.

Eight Challenger Brand Tactics for Creating News



1. Challenge the Status Quo


Swatch challenged the fact that all Swiss watches were expensive (think Rolex), luxury products that took themselves too seriously. Instead, it produced a range of bright, fluro-coloured plastic watches at a price that meant people could purchase a different watch for every day of the week. The only traditional element they kept in its Brand DNA was its Swiss origin. Something that helped reinforce their technological and quality credentials despite having a very low price point. Swatch global annual sales are now around 8.5 Billion USD.


2. Build a Lighthouse Identity


Success as a challenger comes through developing a very clear sense of who you are as business, brand, product or destination and then communicating that identity intensely, imaginatively and consistently.


Singapore Airlines built their identity around customer service and Singapore Girl.

New Zealand achieved it with 100% Pure. Queenstown positioned itself as the adventure capital of the world. Absolut Vodka built their identity on the back of their packaging. And 

Dare Jennings managed to achieve it for Mambo with a farting dog.


3. Assume Thought Leadership of the Category


There are two leaders in every category. The market leader, the brand with the biggest share.  And the thought leader, which while it may not have the biggest market share, is the one everyone is talking about. The one that is getting the most attention.


Virgin Airlines was never going to grab more market share than British Airways. But Richard Branson helped Virgin become the category thought leader by introducing celebrity chefs, neck & shoulder massages and on-board entertainment (back of seat screens), among many other things.


4. Ignore Category Conventions


The Economist is a UK magazine that offers authoritative insight and opinion on serious international news, politics, business, finance, science, technology and the connections between them. It’s a world that is serious, conservative and conventional. Despite the ‘serious’ nature of the category it marketed itself using humour. Despite this unconventional approach it is still regarded as the UK’s most authoritative publication on these types of serious subjects.


5. Sacrifice 


YORKIE is evidence of the old adage…the more you say the less you communicate. They sacrificed everything they could say for one thing: to say it’s Not for Girls. If you try to speak to everyone you end up speaking to no one. If you speak to someone, you end up speaking to everyone. Interestingly, while 56% of their products were consumed by males, 44% were consumed by females. 



6. Create Symbols of Re-evaluation


Successful challenger brands have to puncture the consumer’s autopilot and persuade people to not just notice them but adopt them. To do this they create big, impactful ideas that capture the indifferent consumer’s imagination; quickly.


Sydney did it with the Opera House. Hobart did it with MONA. D’Arenberg did it with the Cube and Derby (Tasmania) did it with mountain bikes.


In 2013, Derby Shire had a population of around 150 people. As the Council’s GM was quoted “Derby ticked all the boxes of despair.” In the space of 10 years, the Dorset Shire lost about 800 direct jobs in a population of around 7,000 people; the result of two timber mills and a vegetable processing plant closing. In short, the place was nearly ‘dead’. The perfect environment for a left field concept. That concept was to build world class mountain bike tracks in the forests that surround Derby. The cost was $3 million ($2.4M Commonwealth Grant/$600,000 from State Government and Council). Projected visitation was between 5,000 and 10,000 riders p.a.


Today, Derby welcomes over 30,000 riders - 60% of whom fly in from the mainland. They stay in the Shire for an average of 3 nights and a further 5 nights elsewhere in Tasmania. They contribute around $15M to the Shire’s economy each year (that’s more than $20,000 for every person living in the municipality) and more than $30M to the State economy. Real Estate prices have doubled, three new cafes and a pizza restaurant have opened along with a bike shop and two shuttle services to take riders to the start of the trails. There is a high-end ‘glamping’ venture that has been set up. Bed inventory has gone from six prior to the trails to 120 and growing.


In April 2017, Derby hosted the Enduro World series mountain bike event, with 300 riders from 28 countries competing. 


7. Think Small


Thinking small is about the potentially big rewards marketers can achieve from niche marketing. 


To start, there is usually a lot less competition to reach niche markets. Most destinations tend to focus their activity on traditional demographics - the 55+ market, families or couples. Niche markets are often ignored. So, by focusing on them it lets you be a big fish in a small pond. 


It’s also worth remembering that many niche markets are not actually that small. Take birdwatching. It’s a $41 Billion market in the United States alone. There are 29 million people on Facebook interested in golf. There are 17 million that are interested in scuba diving. 


Second, niche markets tend to be much cheaper to engage because if you provide them with a relevant story, they tend to do the marketing for you. For free.


Third. Targeting niche markets rather than mass markets is more likely to produce action rather than just deliver reach. In our experience, if you reach a million people with a broad advertising message you will be lucky to affect behaviour. But if you connect the right message with a smaller, passionate community you are much more likely to generate action because people engage and act around their passions. The example of Derby and mountain bike riding outlined above provides a good illustration of this.


Moving a little closer to home is the example of New England. Their destination contains some of the best motorcycle touring routes in Australia, yet until recently they only ever marketed the destination to the usual suspects - Grey Nomads and families. In 2014, they decided to address the touring motorcyclist niche. In 2019, this niche is the focus of all their marketing activity.


8. Build Brand Properties don’t just deliver Brand Promises


Brand Properties are tangible brand assets that have been created to deliver positive brand experiences not just positive brand promises. Brand Properties can be promotions, activities, events or places where people can experience and interact with the brand in a more tangible way. And where brands can interact with their audience in a more engaging way. 


Queensland’s world’s best job promotion is one example of this. One that generated far more international PR for Queensland for free than could ever be achieved with paid media.


Vivid Sydney is another example. A three-week event that not only attracts people to Sydney but allows them to experience a lot of what the city has to offer in a more engaging way than an ad.


The Rose Mansion in New York is a pop-up that showcases the wine in a fun way (they decided they were in the entertainment business, not just the wine business). It has also helped the category become the fastest growing wine varietal in the United States in 2017. The growth was off a small base but it’s still an impressive achievement for a wine that not many people took seriously.

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