What Makes a Brand a Challenger Brand?

The term “Challenger Brand” was first coined in 1999 by author Adam Morgan in his book Eat Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders. As the title suggests, this book introduced scrappy strategies for underdog brands to claw away market share from their leading competitors.

But here’s the thing: today’s Challenger Brands have evolved beyond simply taking on the incumbents. Today, they’re taking on the world.

They’re fighting wrongs and making them right.

They’re redefining standards for how a service is delivered.

They’re changing the way we view everything.

Simply put: today’s Challenger Brands are challenging all societal norms, so businesses can purposefully act as a force for good to customers and the world.

The question is: what concrete actions and beliefs actually convert a brand into a Challenger Brand?

1. Challenger Brands Adopt the Challenger Mindset

Unlike the slow, traditional thinking of dormant market leaders, the Challenger Mindset is nimble and flexible, all while embracing risk and yearning for disruption. To adopt the Challenger Mindset, brands can start by asking themselves the hard questions:

What unavoidable pain points do consumers in our industry have every day?

How would we solve those pain points if we had no fiscal or technological constraints?

To answer these questions, dig into your customer reviews–the good, the bad, and the ugly. Spend time as a support agent, interfacing with customers. To become a Challenger, brands have to stay agile so they can rapidly respond to ever-changing market conditions and consumer expectations.

2. Challenger Brands Relentlessly Focus on Innovation

Innovation is the Challenger Brand calling card. It’s tattooed on their arms (figuratively, of course). For a brand to become a Challenger, they need to consistently remain in “creator mode”, thinking up new ways to solve old problems. And it isn’t just about innovative technologies. It’s about creating paradigm shifts in the way things have always been. The best Challenger Brands introduce new services, new product compositions, new business models–anything and everything they can to unlock latent customer needs and create new segments in the market.


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    3. Challenger Brands Serve With Humanity

    The last three years of pandemic raised interpersonal barriers between us all. Masks, curbside pickup, delivery–all these forces drove a wedge between how businesses relate to their customers. Challenger Brands approach all their customer touch points with a realness and authenticity that can’t be replicated by chatbots and call-center menus. To become a Challenger, brands have to ditch the efficiencies and take on society’s new deficiencies: human connection. Listen to your customers. Take in their feedback. Create community amongst them. As we exit the pandemic and enter a 2023 recession, empathetic strategies will set you apart and save you customers.

    4. Challenger Brands Think Big

    “Vision” is one those buzzwords thrown around in soulless boardrooms and empty promises. Challengers don’t make empty promises. For a brand to become a Challenger, they need to set their sights on something big. Something ambitious. Then, they need to clearly and candidly lay out the exact steps they’re going to take to reach that goal. It doesn’t matter if it’s out of reach right now; when Challenger Brands are pure in their intention and true to their word, it attracts consumers who are tired of being the brunt end of corporate ideals.

    5. Challenger Brands Never Stop Challenging

    It’s a common misconception that Challenger Brands take their foot off the gas when they reach the top. Real Challengers put pedal to the metal when they crest that mountain, and never cease their intention to do right by their customers and the world. Challenger Brands embody a level of give-a-shit that goes deeper than a mission statement or marketing campaign. It permeates through every individual in every department. And when a brand adopts that kind of culture, they’ll remain a Challenger Brand for life


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