Marketing a Challenger Brand

Avis-We Try Harder
In a previous post I offered a few suggestions on how to market a leading brand.

I concluded that the overall objective of the category leader should be to defend its number one position, in particular against the closest competitor, the challenger brand.

The challenger is the number two brand in the category that has enough resources to successfully challenge and compete with the leader. Some companies have wisely used the apparent disadvantage of  being the number two brand to build a strong, memorable and distinctive positioning.

Avis, the car rental company, with their “We Try Harder” campaign against the leader Hertz, is probably the most recognizable example.

Being the category underdog gives the brand a real opportunity to differentiate itself and build a loyal customer base. The marketer in charge of managing a challenger brand should build the go-to-market strategy around the following elements:

Attack the Category Leader

Your goal should be to gain market share by launching timely and calculated attacks against the leading brand.

Market leaders are usually big corporations that are sometimes slow to react and adapt to the changes in consumer behavior, needs and desires.

Your strategy should be to take advantage of these weaknesses, continuously monitor and identify them, and act fast to fill the void.

Know the Leader’s Strengths and Weaknesses

A solid attack strategy requires an intimate knowledge of what the leader brand stands for (brand positioning), as well as its strengths and weaknesses.

Invest in primary and secondary market research that will offer you an independent point of you and help you make the right strategic decisions.

Go The Opposite Direction

A common mistake challenger brands make is copying the leading brand in everything they do, instead of owning a unique and differentiated positioning in the mind of the consumer.

The strongest positioning you can own is the opposite of what the leader is perceived to be.

One remarkable campaign comes to mind.

In 1959, big, muscle cars were the norm in North America. Marketing a small, odd-looking car seemed an impossible task. To make things worse, the car was manufactured in a plant built by Nazis in Wolfsburg, Germany.

It took a very bold advertising campaign, that went against the common perceptions, to turn Volkswagen Beetle into a best seller. The “Think Small” campaign was voted the best advertising campaign of the twentieth century by Ad Age.

Be Nimble

In most cases people perceive the leader as being impersonal, big, a hassle to deal with, and slow to respond to customers’ needs. As a result many prefer to deal with smaller companies.

These are great opportunity for the challenger brand to stand out, deploy the necessary resources and capture market share.

In conclusion being the challenger offers a lot of opportunities for differentiation and gaining loyal customers. All it takes is to think differently, and be bold and unique.

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