- 20 years experience working on billion-dollar brands in the food & beverage industries including PepsiCo, Campbell’s Soup, Nestle and General Mills.
- Expert and speaker on the practice of adopting a "challenger" strategy and mindset, and how challengers approach innovation.
- Clients include: Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Darden Restaurants, Kraft/Cadbury, Hewlett Packard, SAB Miller Molson Coors, Jim Beam, Bayer, Novartis, Callaway Golf, New Balance, Crayola, Red Bull, PepsiCo, Cargill, Nestle, Reckitt Benckiser, Schick Wilkinson and Del Monte.
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Challenger Brand Thinking, Strategy and Behavior
- Companies are realizing that it's not what you sell, it's what you stand for.
It's the idea of building a purpose brand, a business that has a clear sense of why it exists. The world is finally waking up to that. Challengers have known this for decades, but the rest of the world is finally realizing that it’s not what you sell; it’s what you stand for, believe in and care deeply about.
People don’t buy your products, they buy what you stand for. So there is a major trend in that direction right now and there are lots of people that are trying to figure that out for their brands and their businesses and they turn to us because we have been practicing this principle for decades.
There's the importance of belief. If the answer to the question about why your business exists is not something you deeply believe in, care deeply about, then you haven’t gone far enough. That personal connection to what the brand stands for is what becomes the energy and the authenticity that encourages people to buy into you and advocate for you with incredible loyalty.
- Competition has become democratized.
There are so many more ways to level the playing field, with digital and social media the most obvious examples of this. Forty years ago, if you wanted to compete with IBM or you wanted to compete with the big car companies, there were a handful of ways that you could do it and they typically relied on traditional marketing and media and business tactics and traditional channels of distribution.
Technology and digital and social media all built on the foundation of the Internet has been radically disruptive and changed the world business people operate in.
I could spin this positively or negatively. On the negative side, the landscape has exploded and it looks completely different than it did 10 years ago and I have no idea how to operate my business. On the positive side, what an exciting time to be a challenger because you have so many new weapons and channels of distribution and media and communication at your disposal to compete more effectively.
- Increasingly, there is no margin of error and focus is a priority.
With so many choices in the marketplace, it's easy to get paralyzed.
There are so many choices and opportunities that it's difficult to zero in on the one choice that is really going to make a difference to our business or our brand. A key concept in the challenger brand approach is choose one thing that really matters and then over-commit your resources to make that happen.
The challenger approach can help you figure out which choice to make so you don't end up trying to do all things and be all things to all people, an approach that ultimately will sink you. I’ve seen many, many start-ups fall victim to that. The proliferation of social media and digital technology has disrupted many industries and landscapes and has forced companies to rethink their brand, their business, their industry, their business model, and how they go to market.
- The rise of "conscious consumerism" and "the consumer has more control."
It’s not just pure capitalism anymore. Yes, people sell products to make revenue and a profit. But we're seeing many more businesses start to think about all the different stakeholders that they serve.
One of our clients is Clif Bar. They think of having multiple bottom lines: their internal employees, their customers, the consumers in the customers, the environment they operate in, and so forth. They hold themselves accountable for all of that. That is a much more complex way of doing business. The challenger principles can help provide the direction for how to do that. It is a new way of doing business that many challengers pioneered and that a lot of traditional companies find unfamiliar. So the challenger approach can help traditional companies unlock that.
Another aspect of this is the shifting of power to the consumer. Large market-leading brands used to be able to control the conversation and the relationship with the consumer. With social media now, consumers can bring companies to their knees.
That forces brands and businesses to operate in new and different ways. We all operate in a landscape that's changing rapidly. You have to constantly challenge yourself to keep competitive.
- Innovation is everyone's job.
The challenger brand idea in many ways is synonymous with innovation across all aspects of the business. People tend to think of innovation as a thing. It’s a product, it’s an output, it’s a process.
As Eric Ryan, founder of Method Products put it, “We don’t have an innovation department because we have to innovate in everything that we do. It’s everybody’s responsibility to be innovative and to be constantly challenging themselves in the way that we do things.”
If the landscape and the tools and the technology and the media is constantly changing around us, that demands us to be innovative in everything that we do. The rigor and the methodology and the practices of a challenger can provide a blueprint for how to navigate that, that changing landscape.
- We are living in a world of overwhelming abundance and incredible constraint at the same time.
We have more at our disposal today than ever before. But at the same time, we're also in an age of constraint.
If you look at it from the perspective of the end-users, they have more choices, more things competing for their attention. It's going to take a lot for you to break through that and connect with them on a really meaningful level. Thirty years ago, you might just up your media spend and shout a little louder from the mountaintop.
But people are drawn to challenger brands because at their core, challengers are defined by a deeply held belief and a strong point of view that they project in everything that they do. When people connect with you on that real meaningful human level, that is worth way more than any advertising or promotional dollar spent.
The brands that seem to be succeeding in this age of abundance/constraint are the ones that know who they are, know what they believe in, what they stand for and project that insistently and consistently in everything they do.
I saw a study recently on just how many brands people actually pay attention to. The numbers they are putting out there are just shockingly disappointing. In some places, people only care about 10 percent of the brands out there. But it's no wonder in this environment that people might ignore 90 percent of the brands because they don’t have a connection or relationship with them.
In the U.S., people especially love an underdog story or somebody inviting us to make things right or better. Challengers break through the noise because they tell a story that we can all immediately write ourselves in to and say, “Yeah, I see that same injustice.” Or, “I see that same crime. I want to buy brands that are on a mission to set things right in the world.”