Be the thought leader if you can’t be the market leader

Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders, by Adam Morgan, talks exactly about this. Adam has done a great job at defining 8 straightforward Credos as to where to start conquering more stake in the market place. Below is a summary of these 8 pieces of marketing gold.

1. Always stay Naïve

Stay naïve in the way you think about your business, the category, the product and your audience. Only in that way you will not let prejudice get in the way of a great idea.

Question and critique:

– your business objectives and positioning;

– the category;

– the product;

– the audience;

– user perceptions;

– the brand;

– the production process;

– your distribution channels;

– what the hell, even your funding mechanisms.

Only then you’ll be really able to be innovative. Question the status quo and remember that nothing is impossible until proven otherwise.

Example: IKEA has successfully introduced DIY furniture. The brand also obliges its customers to take a specific trail in the store and have taken this idea from the Guggenheim museum.

2. Build a Lighthouse Identity

Never let the competition define you. Nor let yourself be navigated by the customer. They won’t know what they want unless you show them.

You need
– a point of view;

– intensity: weakness won’t cut it. You need to offer an intense projection that the customer wants to follow;

– to be intrusive: customers cannot help but notice your activity;

– to build your marketing on a brand or product truth that is undeniable: nothing kills good advertising quicker than a bad product.

Example: New media doesn’t necessarily mean digital media. Howies decided to extend the little label that is used for washing instructions and transform it to a massive long label where they printed their marketing message on. By the time the customer found a scissors to cut the label, they would have taken the time to quench their curiosity and have read the label.

3. Demand attention

If you can’t be the market leader, you need to be the thought leader of the category. Be the brand that gets the most attention.
The best way to do this, is by breaking the conventions of the category.


– how the brand is represented;

– the medium;

– the product performance and what users expect;

– the user experience;

– the network and partners that you collaborate with;

– the relationship you have with the community.

Example: Virgin Mobile introduced the SOS Ring service: “The perfect excuse to get out of that disastrous date without causing a scene. You can dial 767 (SOS) and hang up without saying a word and then Virgin Mobile will call you back a minute later with a perfect excuse to get you out of there. We’ll even talk you through what to say.”

4. Create symbols of reevaluation

People are not waiting for us to change their minds about the brands they know. A purchase decision is often just a habit, and people, being creature of habit, don’t like change.

Still.. as a challenger brand, you need to let customers rethink the assumptions that they made about the category. You need to reinvent yourself and puncture how your customers see the brand, the product and the category. Snap out of that state of complacency!

Example: for a road safety campaign, Naked Communications changed the name of a town called Speed, to Speed Kills. Because the town liked the idea so much, they renamed the town permanenently.

5. Sacrifice

Focus all your energy on 1 objective instead of many. Don’t prioritise, sacrifice. Weak preference with the consumer won’t get them to buy you. Strong preference is the only way to make a sale. “If you’re not pissing off 50% of the people, you’re not trying hard enough” (CEO, Patagonia). You don’t want to create mediocre customer relationships, but enforce strong ones.

The worst thing for a brand is indifference. You need a strong point of view and to get that message across, you need to sacrifice any additional messages that will dilute your point. It is all about having a significant impact on your core audience to increase

– engagement;

– loyalty;



FOCUS over reach and product range
IDENTITY over frequency and distribution

Example: Apple has always been very adement in focusing their communication and product range.

6. Overcommit

If you aim for the target, you will not succeed. You need to aim two feet below the brick to get through it.

Ask yourself this:

What is your company ambition in a certain area?

How close are you on delivering those ambitions?

How much have you done in the past 3 years to reach those goals?

Expressing good intentions is not enough. The only way to translate intention into behaviour is to overcommit. To deal with the abundance of resistance inside and outside of the organisation you need

– mental preparation and preparedness to follow through;
– a clear sense of how the use of ideas can create leadership;

– a plan of how to anticipate the resistance and inertia in the implementation;


7. Use communications and publicity to enter social culture

Your product may not be extraordinary or game-changing, but the news that you will spread about your brand will need to be distinctive. You will have to create such news from every opportunity that you get. During Sandy, so many companies in NY didn’t take that opportunity.

STARWOOD HOTELS – should have given free shelter;

CVS Pharmacies – should have given free medication;

P&G – should have given out free nappies;

VERIZON – should have helped with phone connectivity;

ZIPCAR – should have offered free transportation;

AMEX – should have helped with money withdrawal and payments.

Your brand needs to become a living, self replicating part of the popular, social culture. You have no chance but to stand out. Demand to be noticed and become an agent of change.

Example: UMPQUA bank decided to become more than a bank for its community and turned their offices into community centers, cinemas, meeting places, etc.

8. Be idea-centered, not customer-led

Manufacture a continuous stream of ideas and constantly refresh the customer relationship. Be the brand to watch and that perceived momentum will become actual moment – and convert into SALES.


  1. Some fantastic advice – the key takeaway is “Be Brave”. Don’t be led by fear, as fear leads to conservatism. This is great advice for market leaders as well as challenger brands, as we see too often that market leaders stick to “tried and tested” methods, not realising that their market is evolving all the time. It shouldn’t be about trying to keep up with your customers, but actually innovating at a pace that keeps you one or two steps ahead of the pace.

  2. What a refreshing and motivational article. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

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