Tag Archives: branding

Challenging Goliath: How small brands can challenge industry giants and come out on top

Whenever anyone starts a business or is trying to grow a business, it’s always the same dream – visions of your logo and company name everywhere, not being able to keep your shelves stocked, not having enough manpower to keep up with demand, phones ringing off the hook, social feeds full of conversations between engaged consumers, and too many media requests and mentions to count. However, rarely does this happen. Why? Because most times, business owners do not stop to give their company’s brand serious thought. You might have a great product or service to offer, but if you don’t position your brand correctly, your business won’t achieve true success.

Think about those brands you see, hear, and read about all the time, such as Uber, Dyson, Dollar Shave Club and Airbnb. Why do you think these brands are plastered all over the place? Yes, their success has placed them in the forefront, but it’s how they achieved that great success that’s the real story. The reason these brands are booming is because each one has challenged their respective market leaders, resulting in a revolution in that market. As such, each one of these brands can be referred to as a “challenger brand.” More specifically,  a challenger brand is a company or product brand that is not the category leader in a particular industry. Challenger brands play from a position behind the dominant player or leader in an industry. The process of achieving challenger brand status does not happen overnight. The aforementioned brands were and continue to be committed to their marketing strategies and did not shy away from putting a lot of time and effort into devising their marketing plans, brand identity and positioning. They carefully researched their respective industries and the key players. As a result, they didn’t jump in blindly; they knew their competition and how vital it was to have a solid marketing execution to attract customers.

Take look at Airbnb for example. For those who aren’t familiar, Airbnb is an online rental service that enables people to list, find and rent vacation homes. It is a marketplace for vacation rentals that charges a fee for connecting users with people who have property to rent. Founded just eight years ago, Airbnb already has over 1,500,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 191 countries. How does this great success happen when there are thousands of hotels and motels? It happened because Airbnb differentiated its service from the leading brand or in this instance, a category of brands in its industry, which are hotels. Instead of always needing to stay in a hotel with people all around or having to reserve several rooms next to each other if traveling with friends or family, Airbnb provides accommodations that are much more private than the typical hotel and allows groups of travelers to stay together instead of being sectioned off in separate rooms. Additionally, travelers can actually get an idea of what it’s like to live in the town or city being visited. Thus, Airbnb provides a greater cultural experience than staying in a hotel.

Differentiation is just one key characteristic of challenger brands. In sticking with the Airbnb example, not only does Airbnb differentiate itself from the average hotel, it also creates market segmentation. Early on, Airbnb identified those consumers who are under-valued or under-served by leading hotels, such as individuals who cannot afford grand hotels and/or hotels in close proximity to areas of interest for the duration of a vacation, along who those traveling in groups. With Airbnb, not only are there more desirable budget-friendly options, but groups have the option of renting a house verse being divided in a hotel.

Along with differentiation and segmentation, challenger brands also possess the following qualities:

  • Out-think, rather than outspend, the competition
  • Committed to being the best at what they do
  • Embrace productive disruption and unconventional approaches
  • Use the competition’s size against themselves
  • Provoke new conversation

When you think about Airbnb, isn’t it easy to see how each of these qualities is representative of the company?

Now that we’ve established what a challenger brand needs to do, let’s break it down even further and look at the five distinct types of challenger brands. Looking at each of these will help you determine if your business or organization is or has the potential to become a challenger brand. The five distinct types of challenger brands are:

  1. Lightening rod: Creates attraction, does the unexpected, adds shock value. Examples: Dollar Shave Club and Lady Gaga
  2. Heretical: Game changer, takes ideas from other industries and improves upon them. Examples: IKEA and Silvercar
  3. Foster rejection: Creates a “cult-like” following, focuses only on a very specific niche audience, hyper focuses on their target. Examples: Mini-Cooper and United Colors of Benetton
  4. Compulsive servitude: Over delivers, superior promises and services. Examples: The Ritz-Carlton and FedEx
  5. Constant Evolution: Technological advancements, the product or service is always evolving and does not stay the same for an extended period of time. Examples: Google Fiber and Shinola

Going back to our Airbnb example, which type of challenger brand would you say it is? If you guessed heretical, good job. This type of challenger brand best describes Airbnb because it is a total game changer in the travel/hospitality industry. Airbnb took ideas from this industry and improved them in order to create a much better consumer experience in many different ways. Which category do you think your brand falls into? Is it the same category you would like your brand to be in? If you think your brand can fit into more than one category, be careful. Think about the granular, fundamental purpose of your company or service. To be a challenger brand, you must have a clear vision and focus of what it is you want to do or provide.

The concept of challenger brands can get you thinking differently about your company. Every business owner wants the same kind of success Airbnb has seen in just eight years, but to do so, it’s imperative to take a step back and invest in your marketing and branding efforts. It might take a lot of time and energy, but the investment will be worthwhile when the dreams you had back when starting your business become reality. Click here to take our quiz to find out if your brand is a challenger brand, and if so, which type!

Does your brand fall into one of these five categories or do you think your brand has the potential to become one of these challenger brands? Connect with us. At Ideaworks, it’s our passion to think of ideas that will make your brand, product, or service stand out and resonate with your target market regardless if it’s challenger brand material or not. Who knows, after a conversation with us, you might start to see your brand in a new light.

Adding Up Addys: Three, Four, or More?

It may not yield as much debate as the recent social media dress color debacle, but the question remains: did Ideaworks Marketing win three, or four awards at the 2015 Addys?

The American Advertising Federation of northeast Pennsylvania (AAF-NEPA), held its annual awards ceremony, affectionately known as the Addys, this past February 20, and three entries from Ideaworks proved to be winners – or four, if you so choose.

Below, a photo of the one Gold, and two Silver awards given to Ideaworks. The winning pieces included a Wedding Invitation Package (Gold/Judge’s Choice for Collateral Material); the “Street Eatz” campaign (Silver for Sales Promotion, Branded Environment); and the Ideaworks 2015 Calendar (Silver for Self Promotion, Advertising Industry).

And here is the Wedding Invitation Package that garnered the Gold:


Bridget and Daniel were a winning combination, and so was their wedding invitation package. They likely wrote a lot of thank-you notes when their festivities concluded, and all of us at Ideaworks would like to thank them for inspiring this work, that brought in both a Gold, and a Judge’s Choice award!

It all adds up to four awards, since of course, Gold and Judge’s Choice are two separate awards (that often overlap). So while three of Ideaworks’ pieces won, a total of four awards were earned. Here is the complete award set, the Judge’s Choice in the form of a fabulous miniature billboard from Lamar Advertising.

photo 3

Yes, we could have said that from the beginning — but the Addys are just as much about having fun, as they are about recognizing excellence in advertising creativity. Ideaworks congratulates all the Addy winners from the 2015 AAF-NEPA event.

A Force To Harness by Jane Browe

Several years ago, I was a Regional Sales Director for a small company that grew and packaged specialty lettuces and greens, which were sold through both retail and foodservice channels.  At the core of the product line was a beautiful green known as “mâche” or lamb’s lettuce.  It’s a beautiful emerald green, has a light nutty flavor, and is incredibly nutritious.

It’s also very much a niche item, and the company’s marketing budget was tiny.  The Marketing Director asked us to extend the reach of her limited resources by supporting her efforts as “Brand Ambassadors” in our Regions.  There we were, an army of three Regional Directors, dispersed across the Lower 48, equipped, it seemed, with emerald green attire, a megaphone, pom-poms, batons and a one-man-marching-band assortment of instruments.  Well, I exaggerate a bit, but as Brand Ambassadors, we were well versed and fully trained to provide on-the-spot mâche information – historical trivia, nutritional highlights, recipe ideas – to all we encountered on or off the job.  We were INFORMED, and we carried THE BRAND MESSAGE fully in sync with positioning and strategy.

So, the “Brand Ambassador” recruiting efforts described in this Wall Street Journal article, whereby restaurants extend their marketing reach by way of Instagram “Influencers” really caught my attention.


Restaurants are the focus of this article, but this has implications for everyone in the food industry, and it seriously bears this question:

How best to harness the power of spontaneous, grass roots, cell phone-armed legions of Brand Ambassadors, and positively reinforce the Brand’s intended position and message?

This calls for a yet another dimension of messaging strategy and vast implications for the tactical management of 24/7, sometimes around-the-globe, grass roots communications.  Does your communications strategy go this far?

We’d love to hear your perspective and challenges.  We invite you to share comments here, or just give us a call to talk live.  Dial 570-779-9543, ext. 316 to reach Jane Browe.

(email: janeb@ideaworksfoodmarketing.com; Twitter: @janeofideaworks)