Challenger Brands

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I had an email from an old friend of mine:

Quick question. What’s your opinion on small challenger brands trying to take on their HUGE competitors in a direct critique kind of way?

I remember you writing not too long ago about how Sky took out Virgin in such a way which was deemed successful. But the Ask campaign against Google wasn’t seen in quite the same way.

I really want to do it but wouldn’t mind a second opinion.

Ok, my initial thoughts were that leader and challenger brand status will only take you so far in terms of thinking about how to compete. A more important consideration to be audience-centric and look at the relationship that the competitor has with their customer, here’s a few questions on that relationship to get you started:

  • Does the customer resent giving their business to the competitor?
  • Does the customer feel that they have no other choice?
  • Does the customer use their product out of a long-learned habit?
  • Will the customer be open to change?
  • Will the challenger offering make a sufficient positive difference to the customers experience to make the choice to move a viable option?

These questions all require a degree of honesty that is hard to find in some organisations.

I blogged here about the way Virgin and Ask as challenger brand had both gone wrong. Virgin made the mistake of not having all their ducks in a row from a business point of view and left themselves wide open to a simple but effective knocking campaign by Sky.

Ask made the mistake of looking for a trial rather than looking to get customers to change a behaviour, two completely different objectives.