What does it mean to have a challenger brand mindset?

PHD national new business and marketing director Chloe Hooper
By PHD national new business and marketing director Chloe Hooper | 10 May 2019
Chloe Hooper

I was recently on a panel at a company conference and I was asked: "What does it mean to have a challenger brand mindset?"

Being on stage, in front of 100 people meant that I gave some stereotypical answer about thinking outside the box.

Having had some time to reflect on this now, and without 200 eyeballs staring at me, I now know exactly what my answer would be, since being a “challenger” has always been a part of my DNA.

In fact, I’m pretty sure my parents would describe me as “challenging”. I think it is this very mindset that excites me and motivates me to do my job.

I relish the days where I know we are making a difference and challenging the norm for our clients and industry. Here is what a challenger brand mindset means to me:

1. Stand for something

Adam Morgan, partner at eatbigfish, recently said “being a challenger is not about challenging someone, it’s about challenging something”.

I think this is a really important distinction as it highlights the difference between being difficult and complaining about someone, versus actually challenging something that you can improve and make a positive impact on. It is the difference between being problem-focused versus solution-oriented.

I also think it emphasises the importance of being single-minded in your approach. You need to challenge what you truly believe in and stay focused on that, as opposed to throwing multiple viewpoints out there with no conviction.

Adam will actually be joining my highly talented friend, Malcom Devoy, Chief Strategy Officer at PHD EMEA, live on the Debussy Stage at Cannes this year, discussing the marketing and media behaviours of a new wave of a challenger brands, including Casper, Oatly and Tony's Chocolonely.

If you are lucky enough to have a ticket, I highly recommend you go to their session on June 20th, otherwise live-stream it from the Cannes website.

2. Have faith in your ideas

Don’t be scared of people pushing back on you – if everyone agrees with your decision or idea from the outset, then your idea isn’t that opposing or “challenging” to the norm and you are not going to create fundamental change or impact. All the best ideas face a bit of controversy.

PHD’s most award-winning work in the second half of 2018 and thus far in 2019 is a perfect example of this; Thrush: The Musical, which we produced for Canesten’s Thrush Cream, was a blockbuster comedic jaunt that tackled the issue of a common vaginal infection many women are too embarrassed to admit to having.

You can only imagine the level of reluctantcy and even legal implications for an idea so bold. However, when you know you are on to a good thing, it is important to have faith in yourself and your ideas.

That’s not to say that there is no such thing as a bad idea, because of course, there is. But it is about having faith when your gut tells you it’s the right thing to do, understanding the associated risks, and proceeding with bravery and boldness in order to challenge the norm.

There will always be people that will resist change, but the things I am most proud of at work have all faced their fair share of opposition. In the end, I’m glad I had enough faith in them and I’m sure those who had opposed them previously now do too.

3. Do what scares you most

There is always going to be an easier option. Doing things the way they have always been done doesn’t take you, or the people around you, outside of your comfort zone.

It’s the ideas that scare you and make you consider backing out of because they are “too much effort” or there are “too many risks involved” which are the ones you should push forward with (if that’s the only thing holding you back).

This applies to every aspect of your life, beyond just work. Like many good internet quotes tell us, “in the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take”, so take the risk and forge ahead!

4. Think like a start-up

No matter how much your company grows or how big you get, the fighting spirit of a start-up company should always be within you.

When approaching something new, it’s always good to ask yourself, “if we were to rip everything we already know up and start again, what would we do?”.

It is only then you will find a better way. It’s not about being a small company, its about keeping that appetite and determination to continue to explore.

Leonid Sudakov put it beautifully in his recent article, Challenger brands are shaking up product marketing by actually listening to consumer needs, when he said: “All marketers nowadays need to be purposefully inquisitive; a unique combination of curiosity and courage that fuels non-stop questioning in pursuit of getting better.”

5. Challenge your hurdles

Start-up businesses come up against many hurdles that challenge them, but the only way to overcome a hurdle is to challenge it back. Little to no budgets, minimal resource and low market share are all obstacles that businesses have to overcome at some point.

It is within these moments that you will become your most effective and your most creative. It is these times where having a challenger mindset will help you to challenge the status quo and succeed.

It is also these moments where those without this mindset will fail. It’s a common brainstorming technique: “What would you do if you had no budget?, ‘What would you do if you were stuck on a desert island, how would you solve these challenges?”.

This frame of thinking needs to be extended outside of the brainstorm room and applied to your real-life challenges.

Writing this piece has not only given me the opportunity to rectify the answer I gave at conference, but also formulate 5 key factors that will guide my decision-making (and hopefully inspire yours) from here on.

After all, it is only by challenging the conventions that we can continue to progress and find a better way – be it for ourselves, our clients, our colleagues or our trade and the wider industry.

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