Challenger brand marketing starts with a mindset. It requires relentless grit – and an authentic passion to improve customer lives. Below, our challenger brand marketing tips will defy the odds. It’s not the size of your media budget that matters most. It’s how you tell your story, innovate and push the category forward in a meaningful way that will outdo any competitor’s ad spend. Challenger brands can define a marketplace’s future. Go boldly.

“What all marketers can learn from challenger brands is to be hungrier and be willing to take more risks, whether by investing in innovative new technologies or opening their marketing playbooks to more experimentation. In a word? Be fearless.”
//Panos Bethanis, CEO of, source: Forbes

guerrilla marketing for challenger brands

There’s an elephant in the market. And it’s not you.

If you’re a challenger brand, you’re looking to disrupt the marketplace to gain attention – and steal market share. You’re ambitious, and you’re determined. Sometimes, feisty. You could be any sort of business; whether in leisure, like a cake shop, or in entertainment, such as a music artist. Whatever you’re trying to promote, you need to be innovative and original; for example, musicians now have the option to buy Spotify plays to gain noticeability. This is something that is fairly new, and that’s the key to getting your brand up there: be modern. To emerge the new market leader, you’ll need to pack a powerful media hit and go against the grain. That’s why we love challenger brands; you’re willing to take calculated risks and explore alternative media solutions. Whether you’re new to the market – or just the underdog, here are our tips for challenger brand marketing strategies.

Outsmart the goliath
The struggle is real. According to Nielsen, on average, brand leaders achieved 1.4% of share growth per 10% of excess share of voice (ESOV), compared to 0.4% for challenger brands. Challenger brands need to be at least 3.5 times as effective as the leader to level the playing field. Efficiency matters.

You might not be able to outspend the market leader, but you can out-think it.

Market leaders invest in media in multiple channels through many agencies. While that might work for a well-established brand, a stronger approach is an integrated one. When you strategically pair channels, such as out-of-home with mobile, you see greater performance results in each. You’ll have greater control over your message, which will be delivered consistently and cohesively. Therefore, a combination which complement each other is a smarter way to plan and buy media.

Integrated campaigns drive optimal levels of engagement, as offline media can spark online conversations.

Specializing in one channel can have its benefits, as well. So what if you can’t afford to do TV, radio, print, social media, digital, mobile and outdoor all together? Pick the one or two channels your competitor is weakest at, and go hard there. If you can emerge as a Twitter titan, when they’re fumbling around on Facebook, you’ll win over an entire channel audience. Doing one or two things exceptionally in advertising is usually the better approach than doing a lot of things averagely. Especially when people will talk about the one thing.

Advertisers have been running away from TV and radio. The two dominant channels are out-of-home (OOH) and digital. Maximize your presence there.

Try guerrilla marketing on for size. This works really well for challenger brands who want to make an impact at events without the hefty sponsorship. For example, Jardine’s was able to activate guerrilla style at the Super Bowl, getting as close to the action as sponsor brands.

Organic content, public/media relations and grassroots efforts are all smart ways to market yourself without breaking the bank.

Attack, without going toe-to-toe
Challenger brands are wise enough to know that if they go head-to-head against the market leader, they’re going to get squashed. Back and forth jousting, recently witnessed in the smartphone wars, will only work if you have the resources to support a full-on rivalry. The last thing you want is an arms race that ends in a price war; the goliath will likely win. But there are other ways to contend with a competitor.

Instead of putting down your competition, highlight the product features or brand promises you offer that they don’t.

Geoconquesting is a location-based strategy we use. Target advertisements to your competitor’s consumers, both in the physical and digital worlds. Drive mobile billboards in front of competitor locations. Serve corresponding mobile display ads to those who have been inside a competitor location recently. Offer a discount to switch to your brand.

Consider the long-term impact of your geoconquesting efforts. A viral moment is just short-term and can actually have negative consequences. During the Fried Chicken Wars, Popeyes – who started a Twitter battle with market leader Chick-fil-A – saw a spike in business but sold out of chicken sandwiches. So while everyone was paying attention, they actually created a clucking mess for their suppliers. Think about the long-term effects you create. When the feathers settle, will you have made the right long-term impact?

Stay focused on your apt storytelling and how you’re improving the industry, not fighting against everyone else in it.

Your competitor may have been a pioneer in the industry. But you’re the one who will learn from the pioneer…and do it better.

Discover a new brand position
Challenger brands often aren’t necessarily niche brands. But often, finding your niche has its advantages.

Market leaders take the mainstream. Challenger brands steer the other way. For example, when the big fast food chains began promoting healthy salad options, Arby’s launched “We Have The Meats.®”

Positioning might also create emotional equity. TOMS® Shoes is The One for One® Company, connecting people over more than just shoes. REI challenges brands like LL Bean beyond the season’s parka collection. Its #OptOutside campaign took a stand, and it has a great knack for bringing together adventurers. While Red Bull targets the snowboarders and thrill seekers, Rockstar offers more aspirational messaging with an entertainment industry twist.

Paul Friederichsen wrote in this Branding Strategy Insider article, “It can be said that good brands are well known, but great brands are well loved.”

(Be loved.)

If two brands are both selling apples, grown perhaps even by the same farmers, it’s their emotional relevance that becomes their unique differentiation.

Some challenger brands have been successful at staking their claim as the #2 spot. The chick flick connoisseur I am, I instantly flash back to Jennifer Aniston pitching, “Gulden’s mustard. Number two, and that ain’t bad.”

A more popular example is Avis. They’ve historically used their underdog status as their competitive advantage. For decades, their tagline was, “We try harder.” Competing with Hertz, Avis wanted car renters to know that “When you’re only no. 2, you try harder. Or else.”

Your positioning – whether its more inclusive or highly targeted – should be authentic to your brand. Have a great story to tell, and tell it in your own unique way.

Leverage events and trade shows
Does your industry host a large convention each year? It’s important to be present, even if you’re afraid you can’t compete with the gigantic one.

Doosan, who challenges heavy equipment manufacturers Caterpillar and Komatsu, didn’t let fear stop them during CONExpo. We helped them to dominate the trade show with eight mobile billboards and a team of ten brand ambassadors dressed as sexy construction workers to attract the target demographic. The branded Segways caught attention of show attendees before they even walked inside. The results: 3.5 times the number of booth visitors than the goal and 22 of the 27 display machines sold right off the show floor!

Investing in event sponsorships or festival activations can put your brand in front of qualified audiences. Let the event organizers do the heavy-lifting in attracting the audience, so you can just wow them once on-site.

Flighting your media around key events and retargeting event-goers is a focused approach to planning your annual advertising budgets.

Use in-your-face media tactics
There’s a lot of noise these days. Studies estimate that you will see 5,000+ brand exposures today. U.S. adults spend over 12 hours a day consuming media! With a growing number of channels and publishers available to choose from, advertisers have a lot of hard decisions to make. The ability to fast-forward and ad block makes advertising even more complex.

Let’s make it easier.

Out-of-home advertising reaches 80% of consumers on an average day. It cannot be turned off, X-ed out, blocked or skipped through.

Head-turning media formats are even harder to ignore. An ad that moves has a 45% higher peak exposure than stationary advertisements. With the move-ability factor, mobile billboards can go into any market you desire, to virtually any location within that market. We can hyper-locally target with creative that speaks directly to your precise target audience. With intelligent mapping software, our true proximity targeting aims your message to the right audience based on demography and geography. While each mobile billboard unit can activate a location-based strategy for each market, a large fleet can activate in several markets at once, satisfying the national media needs of your brand.

The large format of mobile billboards is great for grabbing attention. But what if you wanted more interaction?

Field marketing teams drive brand-to-consumer engagement with a human touch. Fully trained brand ambassadors can leverage existing events or use guerrilla marketing tactics to interact directly with target consumers. Field marketing helps you accomplish items like:

  • Product sampling
  • Product demonstrations
  • Coupon distribution
  • Flyer distribution
  • Awareness and education
  • App downloads
  • Contest entries
  • Promotional sign-ups
  • Surprise and delight within your community

To go further on the engagement scale, a brand experience can deepen those connections to consumers.

If you want to get noticed in today’s busy world, try a combination of non-traditional media paired with mobile advertising. This way, you’ll gain attention in the physical world and be able to remind consumers through mobile retargeting ads.

Rally your online brand ambassadors
Social media is an important element to any challenger brand marketing plan.

“No matter your company or product, you can be sure that people are searching for your brand or engaging in conversations about your industry on social media,” writes Olivia Tkach in this V9 article. “Own those brand touchpoints,” she advises.

Of course that means you’ll need awesome content that gets likes and shares. By using social media to amplify your out-of-home and experiential campaigns, the content will come naturally. User-generated content from campaigns and events can be leveraged to your brand’s benefit.

The 2019 Nielsen OOH Advertising Study shows that 66% of smartphone users took action after seeing an OOH advertisement. This includes search activity, as well as social media activity. An earlier study showed thirty-eight percent of respondents visited a Facebook page or posted to Facebook, 23% posted a message on Twitter and 25% have posted something to Instagram after seeing an outdoor ad. OOH media continues to deliver more online activity per ad dollar spent compared to TV, radio and print.

More so, social media helps you build brand authenticity. And improve brand loyalty.

You may want to invest in social media marketing, or you may want to rely solely on organic growth. Fans who promote your brand on social media are extremely valuable. (But they don’t necessarily need a paycheck.) Living in an era of “fake news,” media and advertising have trust issues. But a recommendation from someone in your own network is a credible source for consumers.

So when you can, use your online community of brand champions to amplify your reach and build dependability. Find creative ways to thank or reward your advocates, because influencers play a major role in growing today’s brands.

Be sure to integrate campaign hashtags and promote your channel handles wherever you can. You can bring mobile tags directly to your OOH audience by placing on your creative. Keep social top of mind for your target audiences.

Innovation helped Apple breakthrough the PC industry, the personal music player industry and the smartphone industry. Innovators look to the next generation to win their share of the market.

Reinventing the marketplace is one surefire way to make waves. Amazon, Netflix and Uber reimagined their categories – and life as we know it!

Channel your inner visionary to introduce a new product, feature, process, technology or way of doing something. It’s not always about challenging other brands but also challenging the status quo.

Even though Nike is currently the sportswear brand champion, they are continually innovating. For example, Nike released connected jerseys with near field communication (NFC) tags. Fans who buy and wear the jerseys will be served exclusive content from their favorite teams and players through the NikeConnect app. Player jerseys have been around a long time, but by integrating NFC, Nike just created a brand new experience for jersey wearers.

Innovation doesn’t always tie to technology. Swiffer reimagined the way we mop floors, using no app or AI.

Direct-to-consumer marketing is disrupting many established categories. Harry’s reinvented how men buy razors. Casper turned the mattress industry upside down. Away is stealing attention from Samsonite.

Challenger brands can win over younger audiences with their delivery and subscription services, authentic voice and continued innovation.

Martin Moore says it well in this article found on Nielsen, “Even the most established categories change over time – and not simply in a passive sense, driven by consumers’ changing tastes, but often as the deliberate result of one brand’s ingenuity. In fact, a category that appears stable may be one critical innovation away from awarding one brand a significant long-term advantage.”

With innovation also comes a first-mover mindset. Complacency is not an option.

Focus on experience
Innovation aside, today’s customers yearn for great experiences.

Challenger brands who can outshine their competitors on customer service, store experiences or even experiential marketing will gain high recognition and praise. If the experience a consumer has using your product is better than the experience they have using the competitor’s, they’ll want to use yours more. Consider every interaction a consumer has with your brand; is it amazing?

Brands can lose up to 20% of revenue due to poor customer experiences, according to Oracle research.

Walker Information, Inc. predicts that customer experience (CX) will be a greater brand differentiator than product and price by 2020. Here are 37 other CX stats you might be interested in from SuperOffice.

Customer expectations are increasing at an alarmingly fast speed, and some brands are grappling to keep up. But know this: 86% of buyers will pay more for a better customer experience, according to Vision Critical.

Design everything for your target audiences. Personalize your messaging. Collect and act on consumer and employee feedback. Be customer centric.

Providing great experiences gives your challenger brand a strong advantage to wining the battle.

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If you’re ready to challenge the market leader, we’ll go into the battle with you. Contact us to learn more about our solutionist approach.

Originally posted October 24, 2017. Updated.