8 Ways You Can Master the Challenger Brand Marketing Strategy

Challenger brand marketing

The primary goal of any marketer is to get noticed. But in the digital age, it’s becoming increasingly difficult. Brands need to go above and beyond to get attention, as many old, tried and tested tricks are no longer proving effective. 
Enter the challenger brand. It’s a brand trying to dominate the market, even if it doesn’t have the resources of its rivals. It’s like David vs Goliath. We know how that ended. 

Challenger brands are in a unique situation. One which requires an original marketing strategy. In this article, we’ll take you through some of the most successful challenger brand marketing ideas, giving you a glimpse into how some of the world’s best-known brands managed to conquer the competition, even if it seemed like they came from nowhere. 

What is a market challenger brand? 

First, let’s talk about challenger brands and how we can define them. You can use the term challenger brand to refer to any brand with ambitions far beyond its resources. 

Typically, challenger brands have real plans to dominate the market. But they’ll also be seriously limited in funding, so that they won’t have the same resources as the market leaders in their fields. 

Challenger brands will usually be disadvantaged where finances are concerned, and they’ll always be relatively unknown compared to the leading brands in their industry. But that’s not all that goes into making challenger brands. To be a challenger brand, the brand must be different. It will usually present a new way of thinking about a certain topic or issue and will be unconventional in how it offers its solution. 

Challenger brands are required to be incredibly resourceful. They must use their creative flair to get attention and build market share in a way that doesn’t break the bank. Once they’ve got the attention of their target market, they need to quickly show why their product or service is unlike anything that’s ever been seen before, with a dramatic marketing strategy that’s entirely outside the norm.  

The criteria of a challenger brand 

Adam Morgan explained the criteria of different challenger brands in his 2009 book, “Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders”. 

  1. State of market 

Morgan explained that challenger brands are never the number one brands in their field. But they’re not niche brands either.

  1. State of mind 

The mindset of those launching a challenger brand is distinctive. Challenger brands tend to be created by those with ambitions far beyond their resources. They have realistic ideas about how to bridge the gap. They aren’t just hopeful for success; they know how to reach their goals without a huge investment. 

  1. Rate of success 

Challenger brands are easy to spot because their growth patterns are similar. The rise of challenger brands tends to follow a marked, sustained increase which is significant from an early stage. 

How to Master the Challenger Brand Marketing Strategy 

As top challengers have shown in recent years, there are several different ways to conquer the market as a challenger brand. So, if you’re looking for inspiration from challenger brands who have found success in their respective industries, there are plenty of branding strategies that you can learn from. 

Take a look at some of our top tips on how to master the challenger brand marketing strategy. 

Disrupt the status quo 

Disrupting the market is a well-known marketing strategy that works particularly well for challenger brands. Challenger brands must offer something different to prove successful because they’re going head to head against companies with longstanding reputations and considerable financial backing. 

Examples of challenger brands disrupting the status quo include companies that offer a new delivery service that has never been offered before or brands that can take a service that would usually take several days and deliver it in a far shorter amount of time. Disruptors are amongst the most successful challenger brands. 

Ease frustration with a new idea 

Consumers’ frustration can be put to great use by challenger brands. Many challenger brands will have recognised irritating or disappointing customers and designed a product or service that effectively solves the problem. They then simply need to market their idea accordingly, based on the fact that it resolves the source of customer frustration. 

We often see challenger narratives making light of the issues that had annoyed consumers, such as customer service frustrations, before presenting a challenger brand as the answer to those consumers’ prayers. If the product does solve the problem, it intends to; this is a powerful strategy that will provide sustainable results. 


Play up to the underdog image

Challenger brands are often underdogs, and many choose to play up to this image to set themselves apart from the competition. Brands will sometimes show consumers what makes them different, highlighting their disadvantaged position compared to some of the bigger companies in the market. 

The underdog challenger strategy allows brands to show that their product or service is good enough to attract attention – and therefore doesn’t need expensive brand advertising campaigns behind it. This encourages consumers to question whether the industry leaders they usually spend money on offer the same value, pushing them towards trying a challenger brand for the first time. 

Give a glimpse into the future

Challenger brands want to be the brand of the future. And sometimes, they’ll make this their key marketing strategy. Brands often give consumers a glimpse into their version of the future, and of course, they’ll put their products front and centre of that vision. 

In this strategy, brands will often show why the go-to companies in their field are outdated before positioning their offering as the one that’s needed. This allows them to explain their business model and highlight their USPs in a clear, engaging way. 

Champion an emotional connection 

An emotional pull can make a massive difference to the success of any marketing campaign. Of course, this idea works well for challenger brands too. Many challenger brands will seek to establish an emotional connection with their audience, using a friendly conversational tone and a sense of humour. 

As challenger brands push their emotional connection with consumers, they can also show how and why they differ from their competitors. Other brands in the market will often be relatively distant and cold compared to the newly created brand identity of the challenger brands. This allows challengers to use personal branding to get attention and build relationships from day one. 

Attack the competition with a direct hit 

Some challenger brands are braver than others. The bravest are those that go straight after their competitors and get them with a direct hit. We often see this strategy used on social media by challengers known for their tongue-in-cheek tweets and humorous put-downs. 

Challengers will often position themselves as an irreverent maverick, provoking competitors as they show consumers how much better their products are. They don’t play by the rules and definitely don’t respect the older, more traditional brands that have gone before them. That’s what makes them different. 

Use accessibility to pique interest 

Products that had long been out of reach of large groups of consumers can sometimes be made accessible by challenger brands. Usually, challengers do this by offering such products at a much lower price point, with the help of a business structure that cuts costs in several places. 

Newly accessible products or services can make a real splash in any market, so this strategy will always enable challenger brands to get attention quickly. We often see it used in the fashion industry, as challenger brands offer high price tag products at significantly reduced prices. 

Harness the power of cause marketing 

Today’s consumers are far more in tune with what brands do and what they say. Issues such as climate change are top of the agenda for many, and the philosophy and actions of brands are influencing increasing numbers of buying decisions. 

Brands of all shapes and sizes use cause marketing to attract customers and strengthen reputations. It’s brilliantly effective for challenger brands, as it allows them to showcase who they are and what they’re about while simultaneously advertising products to consumers who are most likely to buy them. 

Whether you’re launching the UK’s challenger brand of tomorrow or simply looking for new ways to pique the interest of your target audience, there’s plenty to learn from the top challenger brand marketing strategies.