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Taking on a challenger mindset to grow

Taking on a challenger mindset to grow

Michelle Beh

Managing and Strategy Director

The Jupiter Drawing Room


In today’s competitive environment consumers have so many options that businesses have to do a lot more than just create a compelling product to win. They have to fight to grow.

One of the key building blocks from Kantar’s Initiative for Real Growth Survey is Abundant Market. They have identified that winning businesses have a 3% Market Share perspective and that they redefine the category that they are in, so that they can create more opportunities for growth.

A good example is Virgin. If Richard Branson only saw Virgin as a records company, he wouldn’t have expanded into the many categories the brand is in now. It may be surprising that one brand can be relevant across such varied categories as healthcare, financial services, transportation, and entertainment. But that’s because Branson didn’t let a category definition limit his vision and brand purpose.

It is this kind of challenger mentality that brands and businesses have to take on to find new growth in today’s saturated and competitive marketplace. Being a challenger isn’t about being small or irreverent. It is defined by a mindset that is ambitious and always looking beyond the conventions.

Define your fight

A challenger has to challenge something. Today, that means changing the way things are done in a category: how a service is delivered, how services or products are priced, or even who the category serves. It could also be fighting for a cause, a community, a segment of audience—or even fighting people’s perception of something.

Dollar Shave Club is an example of how a business fought the convention of product pricing and distribution strategy. That paid off. $1 billion to be exact.

How about fighting for real beauty and women’s self-esteem like Dove?

Or fighting against all the artificial ingredients and sugar in cool drinks by launching one that has half the amount of sugar, with no colorants and no artificial ingredients, like PURA Soda.

Or fighting for the benefits of healthy home-cooked meals, even for people who don’t have time. An example is UCook, which brings you fresh, local, ethically sourced ingredients and inspiring recipes.

Whatever your field and fight is, by defining it, you will find people who will support you, join you, and cheer you on.

Help your audience change their evaluation criteria

A challenger brand usually gets its audience to rethink how they evaluate their choices and the criteria they use to make their decisions. Rather than playing the same game, they change the playing field and create their own rules.

Of course, this is not easy as it requires looking at the category from a different perspective and always questioning why things are done in a certain way. Why can’t a product be packaged in a different way? Why should it be priced in the same structure? Why should it be delivered to market in a particular way? Trying to break conventions is difficult because it requires bravery to do things differently, but that bravery could lead to fans, people champion you because you changed their lives.

Capitec was one of the early challengers in the financial services category. They got consumers to “Ask Why?” Why are banks closed so early and over the weekends? Why do customers still need to fill out forms? Why do banks make their customers feel so unwelcomed in their branches?

The financial services category is heating up with more players coming in to get people to re-evaluate their current choices. Why pay monthly fees? Ask Tyme Bank. Why shouldn’t your unused premium be paid back to you? Ask Pineapple Insurance. Why can’t a student get a loan to study her postgraduate program? Ask Prodigy Finance.

Not enough businesses are getting their customers to ask why they make certain decisions.

Appeal to your audience’s emotions

A challenger brand isn’t afraid to get emotional. Countless researchers, like Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman in his book, How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market, have shown that emotion is what really drives purchasing behaviors and also decision making in general.

Yet, many business decision makers and marketers still focus on rational benefits. These are important, but at the end of the day any business can easily copy products that are out there. But they cannot copy what a brand stands for, the emotions that you evoke through your brand and the experiences you create.

If only more businesses asked this question, “What is the emotion that we want to evoke in our consumers?” Joy? Fun? Fear? Pride? Self-importance? Warmth? Care? As a strategy, that question opens up a whole new world for a brand to design its products and experiences.

One company that understands emotion is Walt Disney. When I think of Walt Disney, I think of magic. I feel like a fantasy world comes alive. And that I can be anything and anyone, even for a short moment. Having “magic” as your brand emotion suddenly makes you think differently about your content, experiences, and products.

Leveraging emotions shouldn’t be a one-off advertisement exercise but embedded in the business and brand. Cadbury leveraged their “joy” positioning (and still retained their 1.5 glass of milk benefit) for 10 years, executing countless ads and experiences before moving on to another strategy to focus on “kindness and generosity” to engage with today’s consumers who want to connect with purposeful brands.

If decision makers in boardrooms start getting emotional, rather than thinking in straight lines, there may be more interesting territories that they can find to connect with their consumers.

Communicate boldly and distinctively

It’s very difficult to break category conventions—to change products, packaging, distribution or pricing structure. It’s much easier to challenge category convention through branding and communications. Many brands have successfully distinguished themselves through communications that challenge people’s mindsets and perceptions.

Smaller brands can punch above their weight by communicating in a distinctive tone and talking about challenging subjects that provoke a reaction.

One of the most famous brands that have been using this tactic is United Colors of Benetton. They have never not shied away from controversial advertising, from AIDS victims to the bloodstained clothing of a dead soldier, from interracial and homosexual relationships to religious figures kissing. Their scandalous images rocked the world and have built a cult brand.

Locally, Nando’s is a brand loved by all because it has always dared to have a point of view about South Africa’s political landscape, whether it is about dictators, political privileges, xenophobia, or racism. A fiery brand with a fiery perspective creates heat that people cannot ignore.

Not all distinctive communications need to be about serious topics. Webafrica is a small Internet solutions provider with big ambitions to win in the fiber business. Without a big marketing budget, they create advertising that is quirky, funny, and unapologetically made for the Internet. The result: People didn’t skip their YouTube ads when they were asked to, and Webafrica is now South Africa’s leading fiber Internet provider.

Walk the talk

There is a lot of talk about brand purpose and how millennials are more likely to buy from a brand that stands for something. However, brands need to know that purpose isn’t profitable when it’s disingenuous. Authenticity is something that people value more today, as trust in corporates and governments is at an all-time low.

This can’t be done by just applying lipstick and eyeliner to a brand, businesses will need to “change their diet” to be able change their appearances.

The Body Shop is one of the first beauty brands to state their purpose. In 2016, they outlined 14 goals in an aim to “Enrich Not Exploit,” committing to protect and nurture the environment and society across every part of its business: ingredients, products, packaging, stores, employees, suppliers, and campaigns. While they have recently (May 2019) announced that they have not progressed on their goals as much as they would like to, they have created a taskforce to help them achieve them.

Fighting for a cause is more than just a marketing strategy. It is a strategy for the business to be sustainable (I’m not talking about the environment) and have consumers (a market) who can grow economically and continue to be able to afford to buy and buy more.

Being a challenger isn’t easy. However, in today’s changing world where growth is so difficult to maintain, businesses do not have a choice. They have to fight to keep going and to grow, so they might as well define a fight that will add value to their consumers.


The Jupiter Drawing Room Cape Town

The Jupiter Drawing Room Cape Town prides itself in building challenger brands. Since 1994, they have been delivering bold creative solutions that help brands punch above their weight and achieve ambitions that are way bigger than their marketing resources.