Want to boost your company's brand? Embrace your role as a challenger.

Originally posted on the Austin Business Journal

Unless you’re alone at the top of your business category, you’re likely battling giants of some kind. You’re a challenger, playing from a position behind the dominant leaders in your industry. You’re forced to turn constraints into opportunities by outthinking the competition.

But not all challengers are created equal. Some will never gain enough momentum to steal significant market share. Others know exactly what it takes to differentiate, fascinate, and effectively build their tribe for the long haul.

The most legendary challenger was a little guy named David. He picked up five stones to fight Goliath. Keep in mind that empowered challengers that succeed have multiple personalities. To fight on multiple fronts, they need them. Here’s the five stones, or personalities, you need to fight your corporate giants:

• Lightning rod: Think Lady Gaga. By identifying her monster fans and catering her brand to their tastes, she was able to become an icon. It wasn’t just about wearing a dress made of meat. It was about doing the unexpected. Love her or hate her, you never forget her. How can you disrupt and stand apart in a way that’s unique to your brand personality?

• Heretical: Amazon. SpareFoot. Silvercar. These brands look over the horizon, discover what people will need in the future, and bring it to them ahead of schedule. Who knew we’d need packages delivered by drones, a marketplace for excess storage space, or a new way to experience car rental at the airport? They did. And their fans love them for it. In what ways are you looking over the horizon?

• Foster rejection: This challenger commits to pleasing a select few. They may price people out of contention as a way to get rid of some. Sound crazy? It’s not. It’s an empowered challenger’s way. Think Tough Mudder, which requires participants to carry logs through ankle-deep mud. It’s not for everyone, and that’s the way Tough Mudder wants it. This personality is often about a very specific cult-like following around one singular passion point. They attract their most ardent fan by pushing others away. How can you narrow your audience in a way that actually grows the tribe?

• Compulsive servitude: When birthday shopping for a family member, I came across UrbanStems.com, a new breed of flower delivery. A few hours after clicking on the purchase tab I received a personalized email from the delivery person along with a photo of the bouquet in her hand, just outside the recipient’s front door. Urban Stems didn’t have to do this. But to anyone who knows this company, “surprise and delight” has become their calling card. What special ways can you deliver to the extent that it becomes the very definition of your brand?

• Constant evolution: The most powerful brands transcend product categories. Shinola, the made in America-centric watch company in Detroit, is all about craftsmanship. They were — and still are — known for impeccably manufactured watches. Then they started making bikes. What? Now they’re making journals. And they’ve launched a line of pet products.

When a brand has a pristine record in every product launch, and it always delivers the expected experience, consumers will trust in products outside that brand’s original category. Is your brand strong enough to transcend categories? If so, what’s next?

There aren’t many challenger brands that succeed accidentally. The smart ones — the empowered ones — are the brands that strategically adopt these personalities and then find ways to creatively express them at every touch point. Their employees live it, their customers believe it, and their prospects understand it. No doubt, it takes guts, vision and an unwavering self-belief. But isn’t that what being a challenger is all about?

So pick up your choice of stone, and carry it at all times.

Prentice Howe is owner and chief creative officer of Austin-based Door Number 3 and author of “The Empowered Challenger Playbook: How Brands Can Change the Game, Steal Market Share and Topple Giants.”

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