13 challenger brand examples from small businesses

There are between 12 - 24 million ecommerce sites out on the wild web. How do you stand out in your space, especially when you have to fend compete with the big guns?🔫

The good news is that small and growing businesses are finding a way to break through. You’ve just got to take an alternative perspective.

Enter: the challenger brand.

What is a challenger brand?

Challenger brands have one goal in mind: to bring change to their industry. Sure, they might be punching above their weight - but their drive can take them from new kid on the block to category leader. 📈

Think of the challenger brand as a plucky young upstart. They’re not (yet) a market leader in their industry. Instead, they offer an alternative way of thinking, challenge the status quo and use innovative business models that disrupt established markets.

According to The Challenger Project, these brands are “less about business enmity, and more about an often mission-driven desire to progress the category in some way in the customer’s favour.”

Why small brands should consider being a challenger?

It might feel all too easy to copy what the big brands are doing in your industry. After all, they’re a popular choice amongst consumers and something has clearly worked for them, right?

But it’s going to be near-impossible to follow the exact same path and get the same results. For a start, the likes of Apple and Heniz have huge investor-backed budgets behind them. They’ve been established in the market for years and they’re household brands that are very difficult to compete with.

But here’s the thing: 76% of consumers actually trust small businesses more than corporations. So, setting yourself up as a brand that challenges the big corporations is going to work in your favour by setting you apart from your competition. 💪

What are the different types of challenger brands?

Perhaps you’re not sure you meet the criteria of a challenger brand, but trust us, you might have shades of that rebel spirit without even knowing it. Because there’s more than one type of challenger. Take a look at these personality types to find out which ones best suit your brand. 🙌

The missionary brand

These brands wear their purpose on their sleeves. The business is the mission and the mission is the objective.

Think of Tony’s Chocolonely and its goal of ridding modern slavery from the chocolate industry.

Tony's Chocolonely

They’re not only making sure that farmers and cocoa suppliers are paid what they deserve, but they’re educating consumers too. It’s a cause that you just can’t argue with and one their customers don’t mind paying a little extra for. It also shines a light on the established brands still benefiting from the system. 👀

The next-generation brand

These brands challenge the market leaders and ask us if our current solutions are really fit for the next generation.

Picture rebellious innovators oat-milk manufacturers Oatly. Their famous tagline “it’s like milk, but for humans” made us question long-held assumptions about the dairy industry and the body’s tolerance of dairy products. Oatly’s here to make things better for the future generation. 💪

 

The feisty underdog brand

These brands pit themselves pretty aggressively against the industry leaders. They deliberately go against the big guns, and it’s this clear distinction that they use to their advantage.

Just look to Thursday for inspo. This brand has been making waves in the dating industry. Not only do they position themselves as an ‘anti-dating app app’, but they have no qualms about going toe-to-toe with Tinder, Bumble and Hinge.

Thursday advertising

Thursday also empowers people to embrace being single, and run in-person events in an attempt to get people back out into the ‘real world’.

The dramatic disruptor brand

This archetype is similar to the next generation because it tries to force a change in consumer behaviour.

For example, look at BeReal, the ‘anti-social media’ app.

BeReal

Fed up with filters and ‘fakes’ on social media, the developers of BeReal wanted an app that only lets you post once a day. You get notified when it’s time to take a picture and you have two minutes to post what you’re doing at that very moment. Sorry, Instagram. 🤷‍♀️

The local hero brand

These are brands that champion the importance of local needs, local culture and local people.

Ue Coffee Roasters is an independent coffee roaster based in Oxfordshire, UK. As well as their cafe - where they’ve built a social hub for locals - they also have an online store that they use to give back to the local community.

Ue Coffee Roasters

Whenever you buy from them online, you can round up your purchase to an amount of your choice. Any extra money you pay goes towards the homeless charity, Homeless Oxfordshire. Their humble mission to give back where they can is just one of the reasons people grab a coffee from Ue over other chain coffee shops. 💪

The irreverent maverick brand

Maverick brands poke fun at the industry to try and change entrenched ways of thinking. In Overthrow II’s words: “The Irreverent Maverick uses wit and humour to challenge complacency and apparent comfort found in the bland.”

Think of the Australian toilet paper brand, Who Gives A Crap.

From their brightly-coloured paper wrappings to their toilet humour, they’re unashamedly irreverent. They also use their profits to build toilets in communities that need them most.

The real and human brand

These brands challenge the faceless drones of the corporations. 🤖 They put their people and their customers are the forefront. The founders of Happi, for example, have a great founding story that’s integral to their business’s mission.

Happi chocolate

They’re a team of parents who wanted to create healthier treats that are good for kids and the planet. By putting people’s health first, they’re able to promote a clear product vision and gain the trust of their audience. Their colourful, informal branding also reinforces the idea that this kid-friendly brand has your best interests at heart. 🤗

The people’s champion brand

These brands make it their mission to stand up for their customers. Famous ice cream makers Ben & Jerry’s are one of the early trailblazers in this category.

Ben and Jerry's

They have a long history of raising awareness and supporting ethical causes and social movements like the LGBTQ+community, climate justice and refugee rights. As Jerry himself says “it's good to stand for something, to believe in something and base your business on values.”.

The enlightened zagger brand

This one’s all about bucking the trends. If there’s a chance to create an alternative movement, this challenger will take it.

For example, take a look at the washable rug brand, Ruggable.

This (almost unbelievable) product goes against anything you’ve ever believed about rugs, which are notoriously tricky to clean and definitely don’t sit well with the washing machine. But, low and behold, you really can wash the ones from Ruggable. Sign me up!

The democratiser brand

Born to challenge elitism and privilege, the democratiser is all about championing diversity and accessibility.

Take Universal Standard, the brand that makes clothing that ‘f*cking fits.’


They make garments for regular-sized people - i.e not supermodels. Their clothes are size, race, and gender-inclusive. And they use models from all walks of life, body sizes and abilities. It really should be the standard across the industry.

The game changer brand

These folks are true innovators. But it doesn’t have to be tech-focused or purpose-driven. Just look at Nomadica and its wine in a can. Yep, that’s right. Wine in a can!

The equaliser brand

This is a common type of challenger that bridges the gap between luxury and affordability. Think of Dossier and its tailored approach to cost-effective cosmetics in the beauty industry.

They knew that perfumes were being sold for way more than they cost to make. So the team decided to get real about it. Its proposition is simple:

‘Yes to smelling good. No to overpaying.’

🙌

How to build your challenger brand strategy?

Ready to build your own challenger brand strategy? Whether you’re already established or you’re just starting out, here are some tips to discover your inner rebel. 🤘

Find out what your customers are really worried about

Your customers are people, with real worries and stresses they face every day.

For example, 71% of people are concerned with the spiraling cost of living. On top of that, 52% of consumers are feeling guilty about their own impact on the environment.

What’s your audience most worried about and how can you help alleviate these fears? Use audience insight tools like Spark Toro to find out what they’re interested in and what causes are important to them. If you can show how you’re helping solve issues they care about, they're much more likely to remain loyal to you.

Scope out your market industry

To be a challenger, you need to be an alternative to the industry leaders - these are the ones with the greatest market share. You’ll probably know who these are already. We’re talking about L'Oréal in the beauty industry, Ikea in homeware and ASOS in the fashion sector. Take a look at their faults and find out what you can improve on. Whether that’s producing affordable makeup, sustainable furniture, or size-inclusive clothing - the market is your oyster. 🦪

Refine your branding

To be a challenger brand, you’ve got to be unique. From your tone of voice to your assets, make sure your messaging and visuals are consistent and compelling. As you’ve probably noticed, all the brands we’ve listed in this post have some killer branding - it’s one of the first things that catches your eye. So it’s super important you keep all your brand’s visual assets in one, searchable location, like Dash! 😇 Making sure your team and agencies have access to all your visuals will make it easier for you to build a consistent, attention-grabbing brand.


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It’ll also make it easier to see if you need a bit of a refresh. Can you go bolder with your messaging? Maybe your images and graphics can be a little more risqué (if your brand calls for it). 😏 Whatever it is, make sure to keep assessing it against your company’s mission. And, if you’re after some tips, we’ve got a post all about branding for small businesses.

Stick to your guns and be brave

Finally, when things aren’t kicking off right away, it's tempting to pull a 180 on your strategy. Don’t do it. You’re trying to change people’s minds and disrupt your industry and that doesn’t happen overnight. Building a reputation and the loyalty of your customers takes bravery - you got this. 💪

Ready to launch your challenger brand? Make sure to use Dash as the home for your brand’s visual. No more endless searching in your shared drives. Instead, quickly find and share images and videos with your teams, agencies and resellers. Want to give it a try? You can take out a free 14-day trial, no strings attached. 👇

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