You don’t need to be a challenger brand to adopt challenger thinking.

You don’t need to be a challenger brand to adopt challenger thinking.

24 April 2019 · 3 min read 

Challenger thinking is more than your position in the market. It’s taking an approach to marketing that prioritises impact over sameness. When you have an ambition for your brand that is significantly higher than your resources and are prepared to do something bold and imaginative to close the gap, your only option is to adopt challenger thinking. Simply, if you’re not the market leader, you can’t afford not to.

I have spent the past few years researching to understand the important attributes of challenger thinking for brands and have summarised them in the following 7 key points:

1. Find your monster.

All great stories have a villain. Challenger thinking involves finding yours. Your monster is the enemy your business and brand is going to fight. Fight is a key word here; marketing is war – it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Your monster could be a way of doing business, something deeply wrong in your industry, an unmet consumer need or a social cause worth putting all your weight behind. The trick though is your monster must be something your market also considers to be a monster and has a desire to see it addressed. The bigger your monster, the bigger the effort needed to fight and the longer you’ll have to commit.

2. Avoid the stupidity of sameness.

Brands within a certain industry operate and market in the same way. Why? Because marketers look to the industry leader to see what they’re doing and then do the same, albeit in a slightly different way. But, they do the same thing, offering the consumer no real stand out presence. Page through the first 10 pages of an inflight magazine and you’ll see several competing jewellery ads. Financial services companies, airlines, car ads, beer ads, mobile operators, watch brands, sports brands, banks, investment firms. No matter the industry, brands within a category operate in a sea of sameness. And as Einstein said…

3. Every category is your competition.

A consumer doesn’t neatly compartmentalise industries and then judge advertising or marketing efforts against competitors. They consume everything, all the time. It’s up to you to ensure you get noticed. That Nike ad featuring Venus Williams? That’s your competition. The Red Bull event happening at a venue near you? Competition. The latest documentary on Netflix? Competitor. Sleep, mobile games, sports news. All your competition. If you’re vying for consumers’ attention, every medium is your competition and you better do something worthy to fight for it. The only way to do that is forget about what your industry competitor is doing and focus on what the consumer is interested in.

4. Build distinctive assets, not positioning.

Think of your last crush. Come on, everyone has one. What stood out? Was it a hairstyle, a mannerism, the way they dressed or something they said? Or was it their positioning in the market? Consumers respond very similarly to the laws of attraction. And no one is out there on first dates pitching USPs, mission statements or their purpose in life. Create and focus on the stuff that makes your brand stand out. The stuff that makes it distinct. Differentiating isn’t even enough anymore. The differences within an industry are far too subtle. Human beings are hard wired to notice things that stand out. When dating, you endeavour to make yourself stand out intuitively. But when you’re in a room with your exco trying to pick an idea, you overthink the market’s reaction to the work and gravitate towards the safest option. Safe is not distinct. Stick to your gut.

5. Activate on emotion.

What are your brand’s emotional activators? Have you even thought about them before? Without emotion, you have awareness. And consumers do not buy on awareness. Consumers are deeply irrational beings and studies (thanks Byron Sharp and Richard Shotton) prove that what consumers think they’ll do and what they actually do are 2 different things. Consumers buy what they want, not what they need. They buy first and ask why later. That’s when post rationalisation comes in. Or, conversely, buyer’s remorse. Rationalisation is the after-thought. Emotion creates the desire. And memory. And action.

6. Be strategically dramatic.

A drama is best thought of as a play, an opera, a ballet or a movie. All of which are desirable pieces of entertainment and deeply emotional – well the good ones anyway. Ensure the acts of your brand are dramatic but part of a consistent, long-term strategic path.

To be strategically dramatic means going big or going home. Do more, less often. Spend more time thinking and less time doing until you know that when you do, you do big. As a woodsman once said, “If I had 8 hours to chop down a tree, I would spend the first 6 hours sharpening my axe.”

7. Creativity is (still) your weapon of choice.

It’s odd for me. In this day and age, still fighting for the merits of creativity. But nothing I’ve said above can be achieved without fully embracing creativity. It’s the one part of our industry that hasn’t changed for 60 years. Despite what analytics, digital and data companies have you believe, technology hasn’t miraculously replaced the effects of creativity. It’s simply enabled new avenues of expression.

Think about DDB’s famous Think Small ad for the VW Beetle from 1959. It was challenger thinking at its finest. Run that past the first 6 points of this post. Not a single attribute missed. At its core, 60 years ago, creativity changed the game and pushed advertising into the future. Yet for some reason, here we are in the future, and we’ve forgotten that.

Dean Oelschig

Want to chat further about challenger thinking and how to adopt it for your brand, please get in contact with us.