Challenger Mission

How many briefs in my life had this simple objective – ‘we want to become #1 in the next xx years’? I received hundreds of them. And the attitude of the brands and the companies is always about being on top of the game, whatever it takes. They can lose their soul, their edge, their focus and their mission. Being a leader is haunting them to the deepest of their minds.

For many years and still now, I’m praising about being proud to act as a challenger or to be in a challenger position with full of ideas to make it right. And it makes me remind couple of discussions I used to have with some friends, some clients or some partners.

  • I remember myself, back then in 2009, trying to persuade my client Pepsi that it was great to be a challenger. I was explaining wisely the benefits of being behind a static and ruly leader, while the challenger position were giving freedom, initiative, inspiration, and disruptive attitude. I was even trying to be badly provocative explaining nicely to them that only Pepsi is talking about a marketing war. Coca Cola is not even mentioning it. And they had to do the same – shape their vision and get things exited. A phone call from my president at 11pm brought me back to reality
  • Like all of us, we read about this iconic ad from Avis ‘We’re #2 that’s why we try harder’ and tried to build on it. Of course, it was getting entertaining to talk about it, but no brands really wanted to accept that their job would have been more engaging following their own path (without comparing themselves to a bigger guy)
  • When I worked on the Lovemarks theory (Saatchi&Saatchi), we used to have that discussion a lot. And I was observing that a lot of the iconic brands that we cherish are actually challengers (Apple if you take some specific data about penetration for instance). People are attracted by the challengers. That makes stories more dramatic.
  • And then, Malcom Gladwell came in the game with his book ‘David & Goliath – Underdogs, Misfits and the art of battling giants’, changing again our point of view on the subject. He was demonstrating that ‘Davids’ assume the battle need to be played on Goliaths’ terms without even questioning it. But, for instance, the desire to win as an underdog is about believing that you can win – and this often comes from having a higher purpose.

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But nothing was really changing. Marketing directors, brand owners or navigators and of course COO wanted to be leader in their category. And I started to think about it. Maybe the issue is not about being a leader; it’s about understanding what can be considered as a category, as a core business. Categories are getting blurred, shuffled, expanded and integrated. Brands are taking over multiple revenue streams or, at least, are considering getting out of their original reason to exist.

  • What about Red Bull making (soon) more money on their content strategy (through MediaHouse) than with millions of cans sold around the world? They become a channel, a media platform even more than an energy drink
  • What about a telecom provider that expands and uses technology to solve some safety programs on the beaches of California. Naming Optus and the program ‘Clever Buoy’.
  • Lucozade drink was becoming suddenly an active provider of scientific information about body conditions under tough climate conditions.
  • Always (P&G) launched this now classic #likeagirl, underlining the issues in gender perception. It makes a brand an active actor in social field that becomes important for teenagers around the world

It seems that the new paradigm is inventing new rules for the brands. They expand their fields of expertise, they experiment more and they get out of their comfort zone. They go beyond their product or their own name. And it makes all of them a challenger. Because they have to learn, they have to understand other things, they have to disrupt the status quo. Now, it’s getting exciting, don’t you think?

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