24 July 2023

Showing up differently: The power of challenger brands

Our Strategy Director, Joseph Kidd, explores the battle for attention in today’s media landscape and how it is more likely to be won by a challenger mindset than a big budget. This article was first featured in WARC. https://www.warc.com/newsandopinion/opinion/showing-up-differently-the-power-of-challenger-brands/en-gb/6262#:~:text=The%20battle%20for%20attention%20in,Kidd%2C%20Strategy%20Director%20at%20mSix%26Partners.

Have you joined Threads yet? Whether it’s streaming services and social media platforms or entirely new virtual worlds, every day seems to bring a new channel. Audiences fragment further, making it harder for brands to connect effectively and meaningfully, while maximising their media investment outcomes.

The struggle to win consumer attention is fierce as brands and advertisers compete for this scarce resource. It could be argued that now more than ever, is the time for challenger brands to come into their own. It’s the brands that show up differently within a category that will stand out and prevail in the battle for hearts and minds in the long term.

Doing more with less: Maximising consumer attention to face down industry giants

Challenger brands set out to punch above their weight. Rather than investing in high-frequency campaigns that risk over exposure, they lean towards choiceful, impactful media activations that win disproportionate share of attention. A single disruptive message in the right channel can be more powerful than the repeated display of a category compliant billboard.

Red Bull, for example, was released into a niche yet established category in 1987. By uniquely choosing to translate its ‘gives you wings’ proposition into curated content experiences, it catapulted the energy drinks category into the mainstream while establishing itself as its indisputable leader and enjoys 43% global market share today. Far from resting on its laurels, Red Bull continues to sustain its challenger mindset by ploughing profits into higher value and higher profile content and sponsorships, to the point it could be argued that it has invented its own unique category, evolving from a simple energy drink manufacturer to becoming one of the world’s most famous high-octane sports entertainment brands that also happens to make a drink.

Disruptive but not unruly: The art of cross-channel consistency

Challenger brands do not tear up the rule book on a whim. They usually operate with lower budgets, so they display enviable discipline when it comes to developing ruthless executional consistency of their creative idea and brand assets.

Challengers aim for cross-channel and creative consistency that delivers impact greater than the sum of their parts. Aside from amplifying a powerful creative idea, this also means having distinctive brand assets that are instantly recognised in any media environment. Take the case of Oatly, currently one of the most well-known brands in the dairy alternative category. Its visual language cuts through while being distinctive in any media format – from billboard to banner ad.

Harmonising media planning and the creative

For challenger brands, consistency means more than just developing a strong identity across different channels. The ideal is to achieve perfect alignment between media and creative execution.

Challenger brands build trust fast by leaning into storytelling that resonates, and even when budgets are low, they can truly contend when brand stories are harmonised through a holistic media strategy.

Since its modest 2013 DTC launch, Charlotte Tilbury’s marketing has leaned heavily into Tilbury’s own experience and storytelling expertise as a celebrity make-up artist, despite minimal early media investment. Tilbury is the consistent face of her brand, but her stories flex to the wildly diverse media environments and audiences who range from Boomer to Gen Z. This is a formula that has allowed her to transform into an international omnichannel retailer and will undoubtedly underpin her anticipated expansion into China.

The growing power of the influencer

Our research shows that younger audiences, in particular, are often inclined to trust an influencer endorsement over a brand’s communication, so it’s no surprise that harnessing the power of influencers is a strategy that challenger brands are leveraging to capture attention in a crowded market. Increasingly, they seek out niche audiences to serve niche content that is delivered at scale – through campaigns that feel native to their audiences’ channel of choice.

A range of techniques can be employed, from social media takeovers – giving influencers temporary control of a brand’s social media channels for direct engagement with followers – to running influencer-hosted contests where consumers can win gifts or access product discounts.

Partnering with influencers to generate co-created content is another effective tactic to drive engagement. Gymshark has partnered on numerous occasions with fitness influencer Whitney Simmons to launch clothing collections specifically designed to meet the preferences and expectations of her rapidly growing follower base, and by doing so enhances its own reputation by way of association.

The power of strategy and ideas

We believe that the battle for attention in today’s media landscape is more likely to be won by a challenger mindset than a big budget. By bringing to life the power of a brand’s core idea consistently across different channels, aligning media planning and creative execution, and leveraging influencers to maximise engagement, challenger brands have what it takes to accelerate their growth.