6 ways to become the next challenger brand

Being a challenger brand with bold ideas and a clear mission isn’t just for up-and-coming, garage operations run by passionate mavericks. Paul Spirou and Russell Hales from creative agency, Ape, use challenger thinking to create brands and programmes for food and drink companies, from established players to maturing start ups.

This challenger thinking unearths a brand’s purpose, providing a structure and context to communications with customers. It is a reason for people to choose a brand over another. For established brands, it can be used to test the water away from core audiences, opening up new potential markets with new products.

But Ape say it’s not easy for companies to adopt this unconventional mindset and identify what really drives their whole business or a particular product. It requires both a commitment to a single, meaningful cause and the ambition and vision to push your category forwards.

So where do brands need to start when adopting challenger thinking? Ape offer their top six tips to the Mindlab Academy.

Ask “why?” like a petulant child until you get to the very heart of it. Identify: why are we here? What made our founder so excited that they started this business? What is our ambition? Why would people choose us? Is it down to our products, our ingredients or components, how we approach sustainability, customer service, quality, local employment, employee engagement, supply chain…or something else? And why does that ambition even matter?

Look outside your category. See what others companies are doing in other sectors to push their industry forward. What can be learnt from them? What can you adopt? Look at confectionery challenger, Tony’s Chocolonely. It has a clear mission: “100% slave free chocolate. Not just our chocolate but all chocolate worldwide”. Who even knew that there was a slave trade involved in chocolate, let alone built a business around it? If choosing between a bar that does this and a similar chocolate bar with no mission, the choice is simple. Oatley, BrewDog and Dorset Cereals are all well worth studying for inspiration.

Be real. Your focus has to make sense, be truly deliverable and entirely authentic. If it’s not, people will sniff it out. Fast.

Don’t aim to be like the number one brand in your market. By mirroring what has gone before, you end up promoting the market leader, amplifying all their good work. You have to try to go in your own direction. At times it might criss-cross with theirs but it should always be yours.

Get the right people involved. Being a challenger can mean real, sometimes uncomfortable, change. It has to be driven by a key decision maker. You can’t force it up the chain. It’s a big commitment everyone has to make.

Keep on going. Becoming a challenger is the opposite of an easy win. The answer exists but it can take time and tears to hit on the idea that genuinely resonates. But it’s well worth the struggle, providing both short-term and ongoing growth.








Paul Spirou is Managing Director and Russell Hales is Creative Director at Ape, a specialist food and drink creative design agency using challenger thinking to create successful, sustainable brands and programmes.


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