The Growing Power of Challenger Brands


For years now the public conversation has been focused around “disruptors” – brands that seek to become market leaders through a powerful USP. They’re different from disruptors. The conversation is shifting towards a new type of powerhouse: the challenger brand.

A challenger brand is a mission-driven company that sets itself apart with a vision for improving things for the customer. It’s less about a winner-takes-all competition mindset and more about progressing the category. Challenger brands challenge ideas or processes, not just other companies, as disruptors do. They’re about challenging a what, not a who.

The Challenger Brands Driving Change

What are some examples of challenger brands? Glad you asked.

Warby Parker. Warby Parker is an eyewear company challenging the idea that high quality, prescription glasses should be expensive. The company provides on-trend eyewear at a hard-to-beat price, putting quality glasses within reach for everyone.

Allbirds. Footwear company Allbirds challenges the notion of what shoes should be made from, as well as how they’re made. Its all-wool, environmentally friendly approach is a win for consumers who want to look the part without compromising their eco-cred.

Tony’s Chocolonely. This Dutch confectionery company challenges the ethics of chocolate production by using fair trade practices that oppose child labor and other problematic production processes.

Unlike some of the larger companies out there, none of these brands tries to be everything to everyone. They’ve picked their battle, and they’re unwaveringly focused on winning it. The consumers who “get it” will become true believers, and they’re the ones who will take a challenger from a solid niche player to market success.

Storytelling is Critical to a Challenger Brand

Challenger brands all challenge their category in different ways – price, product delivery, sustainability, and ethics are just some of their approaches. But what they all have in common is that they’re mission-driven companies. The idea that they’re challenging is at the very heart of their business proposition, and it’s evident in everything they do. This idea needs to be something that founders, employees, and consumers all believe in.

It’s a given, then, that brand narrative is a critical part of any challenger brand’s success. In fact, a recent AdWeek survey of more than 200 brand marketers found that 49% of respondents said that brand narrative was the most important characteristic of a challenger brand. This, together with a commitment to continuous innovation, is what sets the most viable challenger brands apart.

In dissecting winning challenger brand narratives, the Challenger Project outlines the ten personas that describe today’s most successful challenger brands. They are:

  • The Missionary
  • Real and Human
  • Next Generation
  • People’s Champion
  • Enlightened Zagger
  • Democratiser
  • Irreverent Maverick
  • Feisty Underdog
  • Dramatic Disruptor
  • Local Hero

Once you know what you’re challenging, you can align yourself with the brand personality that fits – and use the power of storytelling to create a mission, culture, and identity that inspires loyalty from both internal and external stakeholders.

Need help crafting a brand narrative that helps you stand apart? Get in touch. The team at StellaPop can help you leverage storytelling to position yourself as the challenger brand that could.

See Also:

What is Your Brand’s Purpose? Your Brand Exists to Solve a Problem

Cross My Heart: 5 Elements of Brand Promises that Resonate and Deliver

On a Mission: Building a Company Mission Statement

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