A challenger is a brand aiming to disrupt the market— they are neither a leader or a niche. These brands are ambitious, bold, and go against “the norm”. A big aspect of what makes a challenger brand is authenticity, which is something we have seen to be more important to consumers in recent years. These consumers are what we call the “conscious consumer.” Their purchase choices are motivated by a desire to have a positive social, economic, and environmental effect.
In the age of this conscious consumer, what makes a challenger brand stand out?
Challenger brands are trying to disrupt the industry and change the expectations of customers. By creating a strong brand identity, they can excel in a market against big-name competitors. They’re more than just a brand, they’re a brand with a mission to tell a story, a brand that cares, a brand with a purpose. Although challenger brands share certain characteristics, it’s not always obvious who they are because there’s no “set of rules” for them to follow. It’s more about the mindset, and it’s about breaking the rules set by big competitors. To stand out, they must be more creative to amplify themselves. This means finding niche promotion/editorial and distribution opportunities, as well as unusual and unique product designs, and most importantly creating a compelling narrative.
That cashew cheese brand that you decided to add to your cart at the grocery store? Or the monthly wine subscription service that you signed up for recently? These are both examples of recent challenger brands. As a 22-year-old college student, I am still forming my own purchase decisions and have only built up loyalty with a few brands. Price is very important to me, but it is no longer all about finding the cheapest thing. I want to feel good about what I’m buying. I want to know that the company I am supporting cares about me, cares about the environment, cares about their employees, and cares about humans— and it’s not just me that feels this way. In fact, more than three-quarters (78%) of consumers believe it is no longer acceptable for companies to just make money. They expect companies to positively impact society as well.
This is what challenger brands jump on— the idea that a product is becoming more than just a product to consumers. It is becoming a cause, a way to put values and passions into action.
Here are some examples of successful challenger brands that caught my attention this year:
Just Egg is a plant-based egg company. Yes, eggs that aren’t made out of eggs. This startup company was able to craft a startlingly similar egg replacement made from mung beans. Perfect for vegans, for those that are afraid of eggs, and even for those that succumb to Tik Tok trends. With this brand’s simplistic design and effective use of influencer marketing, it was able to see a lot of success in the past year.
Did you know plastic toothbrushes take over 400 years to decompose and create over 50 million pounds of waste every year? Quip is disrupting the oral care and electric toothbrush market with their sleek metal design, but what makes them most unique is their monthly subscription service for toothbrush head and battery replacements. The subscription service business model creates a constant cycle of communication that keeps customers engaged.
Beautycounter is an all-natural makeup company bringing safer alternatives into the marketplace with a mission to create positive change in an industry where regulations around ingredients in cosmetic products haven’t been updated since 1938. They advocate at the federal and state level and provides their network of consultants with tools to be advocates themselves. Beautycounter stands out as a brand that cares and proves it with not only their mission and their products but with everything they do.
Looking at these successful challenger brands, some commonalities are extracted. Although all completely different industries, they all share the characteristic of creating a strong brand narrative. In AdWeek’s 2019 study on challenger brands, respondents said that the most important defining characteristics were their ability to craft a brand narrative (49%), category disruption (48%), and creation of cult-like consumer following (44%). Whether it’s a narrative based around sustainability, or health, or inclusiveness, challenger brands must create a story that consumers want to be a part of. With this story, brands have the power to shape culture and create positive change both now, and in the future.
Elizabeth is an intern at RDW and will be graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst this spring with a degree in Marketing. She is also a member of the Women’s Rowing team at UMass which means a lot of early mornings and a lot of time spent on the Connecticut River. After graduating she hopes to work at an advertising agency in Boston or New York City.