No one ever stood out by sticking to the status quo — and the same is true for your brand. If your company doesn’t count itself a leader in market share, it may be time to shake things up.
Think Like a Startup, Act Like a Brand
A “challenger” strategy — becoming the brand that deliberately positions itself to unseat the category leaders — is a natural role for startups to play. After all, startups are already in zero-to-hero mode, doing everything they can to spark the innovation and fresh thinking it takes to go from underdog to top-dog status.
But the challenger mentality has always been a viable strategy among firms of all sizes. Just look at Nokia, which is redefining itself as a challenger in the global space and aiming to regain its spot at the top of the food chain. Breaking away from convention provides a great opportunity for innovation within any industry.
Up for the Challenge?
The decision to position your brand as a challenger is made for a variety of reasons. Maybe your brand has its sights set on innovation to rejuvenate a stagnant category. Maybe you need to max out your manufacturing line, and running a less expensive version of your product will allow you to bring it to market cheaper (and challenge the current leader).
Perhaps your company has switched to a portfolio strategy and wants to create a real and perceived difference in value that allows you to win over portions of your marketplace. The frozen pizza category is a great example of category stratification. By splitting the category, you create a more complex purchasing decision process for the end user. (In this case, be sure to take into great consideration the overall image of both brands, as well as the company as a whole, before entering the challenger space.)
Switch Playing Fields
Feel like your brand is losing in its current category? There’s a big opportunity for companies to find new white space by repositioning themselves in different segments of a category, thus becoming relevant again.
For example, if a previously premium-status beer brand starts losing fans to microbrews, it needs to recognize that what is premium is now being defined by microbrews. The audience it was targeting no longer sees the brand in the same light, and it’s time to move on — whether by retrenching, regrouping, or challenging either the current or adjacent category segment.
This means either changing its perceived place in that particular continuum of beers in a way that says, “Here I am, a once-premium brand now willing to change the expectations of what premium is” or embracing a space in the adjacent category. For example, Budweiser has risen to the occasion in multiple instances of industry shake-ups, from standing up to the lime-in-Corona trend with Bud Light Lime to responding to Heineken’s “smart” beer bottle with Budweiser Brasil’s “Buddy Cup.”
It’s not always a question of whether your brand’s time to be a challenger will come; often, it’s just a matter of when. Innovation breeds competition, and no one brand can stay on top forever. Whether or not your brand chooses to be in the challenger position, you should strategically leverage your brand assets and equities.
Make sure your company is ready by fostering creative thinking that encourages disruption. Ask your team, “What would it take to steal the entire share of the brands above and below us?” Encourage creative thinking and seemingly outrageous possibilities. When the time comes, this approach will allow your brand to throw off the chains of defining norms and conventions and achieve meaningful differentiation.
Challenger brands infiltrate new markets and take over, rather like invasive species. Listen to your brand’s heaviest users; understand their affinities and why their loyalty prevails. Once you have a bead on their true behavior drivers, you can elevate this insight in your brand disruption strategy, creating a true challenge — and invading your industry for a spot at the top of the food chain.
*This is a guest article by Doug Austin*