Challenge, stand up and stand out in 2016

A new generation of challenger brands - Under Armour, BrewDog, Ovo - are taking the disruptive attitude to the next level with great success. But what does it still mean to be a challenger brand today, asks Mark Hutcheon.

Attitude is the pre-DNA of challenger brands, writes Mark Hutcheon
Attitude is the pre-DNA of challenger brands, writes Mark Hutcheon
Twenty years ago we saw the first generation of so-called challenger brands like easyJet, Paddy Power and Virgin Atlantic. 

Paddy Power brought entertainment and pricing odds beyond horseracing to the staid, flat cap world of bookmaking.
EasyJet shone a bright orange beacon across the expensive world of air travel. And before Stelios, we saw Richard Branson slay the BA monster as the superhero, or perhaps the Robin Hood, of long-haul. 
We can now enjoy a new generation of challenger brands.

BrewDog, all teenage attitude, looks charismatic against the corporate manufacturers of cooking lager.
Under Armour is the fearless underdog and innovator disruptor, relentlessly winning consumers from Nike and striking a zeitgeist with campaigns like 'I will what I am'.

With Dyson, vacuum technology has been reimagined and premiumised by the intellectually curious British inventor. 

Ovo Energy has introduced personality, simplicity and dare I say it a little humanity to the pinstripe cartel of the ‘big six’ energy suppliers.

And we haven’t even mentioned the new confederacy of tech challengers – Uber, Airbnb, Amazon etc…
Crystallise all of this down and you are left with the pre-DNA of challenger brands – attitude. 

It’s an attitude that says I am going to rewrite the rules of the game and make you look old, out of date and irrelevant. 

I believe there are five strategic gems in the challenger mindset that marketers, strategists and communicators can learn from: 

1. Own a new truth and new language. Shine a light on a consumer need or want that no one has noticed or even talked about before and talk about it in words that are fresh to the category.

2. Be a thought leader, not a market leader.  Share your point of view, personality and expertise with the world. Question relentlessly why industries do what they do.

3. Have a superstar product. And challenge your business to reinvent and re-engineer what you do to make it less hassle for the customer and more fun. Make it simple, make it play.

4. Take on the villain. Incumbents or monopolies represent the bad guys and you’re Luke Skywalker. Use them to project your point of difference and inject emotion into the category.

5. Go Long. Challengers don’t play safe. They take risks to be relevant and noticed. This is the lifeblood of any brand. 

As well as the challenger strategy, you need to build industrial strength behind the brand, customer service and communications systems to make it all work. Use super-fans of your product to lead the conversation and don’t sell on product features; campaign on issues. 

There is a little challenger brand in all of us. Bring it out and bring it on. 

Mark Hutcheon is interim strategy and corporate affairs director at ukactive 

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