Four truths that challenger brands never forget when building tribes.  


By Prentice Howe, Owner/Executive Creative Director, Door Number 3

The fastest growing brands are the ones migrating culture, changing the vernacular and turning predictability inside out. They’re not leading their respective category in the revenue column (yet) but they are, hands down, the ones attracting the most loyalists in droves.

They’re empowered challengers.

But what makes these challengers so successful? Do they invest more in R&D? Do they spend more on marketing? Actually it’s much simpler. They’ve mastered the art of advocacy. They know that in the age of Yelp, Snapchat and Instagram, brands no longer control their marketing message – their customers do. So they make their brand ethos inherently sharable by tapping into what customers of challenger brands care about most.

When REI decided to advertise around the holidays, they turned Black Friday on its head by closing all of their stores and instead invited customers to #OptOutside. Whatever was lost in post-Thanksgiving revenue was easily trumped by the lifelong bond created between customer and brand.

In Jonah Berger’s book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, he talks about “social currency” – sharable information that makes us look good to those around us. Warby Parker disrupted the eyewear industry with this very tactic. The ability to skip the mall kiosk and instead test out stylish frames via mail? How can you not want to be the first to share that with anyone who will listen?

Here are four characteristics of customers that are magnetically attracted to challenger brands:

1. They want to share their passion.

We shop at Whole Foods because we believe what they believe. When I step through the front door of my neighborhood Whole Foods in South Austin, I’m greeted with a brimming basket of apples and bananas. It reads: “FREE healthy snacks for our health conscience young shoppers.” This gesture creates immediate value alignment before I’ve even had the chance to grab a wobbly-wheeled basket and begin shopping.

2. They want to convert others.

Our own personal brand and social credibility is inherently linked to the brands we love. Ever witness someone receive a compliment on a piece of clothing only to hear this response: “Thanks. I got it on sale at Tar-jay.” Think for a moment. Would their response have been the same if their shirt was purchased at Kmart instead of Target? Not a chance. Target has built a tribe of zealots that love to share their “Tar-jay” experience with their networks.

3. They want to be rewarded.

And not just monetarily. Sure, a good loyalty program with freebies works hard to build commitment. But sometimes it’s just about offering a communication line to be heard. I was recently stuck in traffic and in mid-conversation with my wife when she opened the Waze app on her iPhone and said, “Hold on a sec. I want to tell my fellow Wazers about this accident. I get points.” I asked what the points are good for and she said, “I have no idea. But I get points.” More taps and more swipes ensued. She went on, “Look, more points!” When brands show customers that their voice matters, they’ve hit pay dirt. And with Waze as my example, it doesn’t always require money.

4. They want to change paradigms.

They, too, are frustrated by the status quo. They themselves are agents of change. So it’s a no brainer for them to embrace the concept of having groceries delivered to their home in under an hour (Instacart!) or the notion of renting a charming bungalow instead of a stale hotel room while visiting their old stomping grounds for a college football game (Rent Like a Champion!). Remember that customers of challenger brands are magnetically attracted to companies that look over the horizon, discover what people need in the future, then bring it to them ahead of schedule.

Create a strategic platform that grounds these four truths as your cornerstones. Inspire a customer experience built on passion and social currency. Give customers a reason to spread the love and you, too, will be attracting customers in droves – and leading your category in no time.

Photo by Brooke Cagle

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