AdWeek‘s annual Challenger Brand Summit took place this week and during the event, more than 40 brands shared successes and key takeaways for challenger brands. If you were not able to attend, five of the most meaningful points are summarized below. 

1. Being a challenger brand is a mindset, not a market position. 

Kiran Smith, CMO of iRobot, explained that although they are No. 1 in their category, they view their category as just one small part of the customers’ overall cleaning occasion. In shifting their mindset, they instead find themselves competing against brands such as Hoover, Shark, and Bissell. Long-time established brands such as GM, Burger King, and Pearle Vision all shared similar mindset stories. 

Challenger brands compete with brands their customers put them against, not just those they identify in the category. 

2. Build a brand story from a position of authenticity. 

Doug Zarkin, Omni-channel Chief Marketing & Brand Officer for Pearle Vision, explained how their sixty-year-old brand had to get back to the founder’s beliefs to identify their authentic brand self. They built on this foundation using an authentic belief in ‘The art of sacrifice’ and ‘Building trust one marble at a time.’ This ethos allowed Pearle Vision to look at data in a new way that focused on making an emotional connection. And they’re not alone. Almost every brand at the summit talked about the need to tell a story based on authenticity. 

A brand is storytelling. Dan Aykroyd and I, when we sell a movie, we sell the story. So every brand should have a story too. —Jim Belushi, founder, Belushis Farm. 

3. Disrupt, but in a way that adds value. 

Every brand shared disruptive ideas, but for many, successful disruption comes from an elevated experience or engaging value-add. Spanx delivered on this premise by looking at the fashion experience from a female perspective. Cameo developed from the opportunity to bring fans closer to celebrities. Wheels Uwas born from the democratization of private air travel. It can also be promotional, such as Burger King’s Whopper Swerve campaign that provided both fun and discounts. 

Challenger brands go further and think more innovatively to deliver on customer needs. 

4. Build brands with customers, not for customers. 

Rachel DroriFounder and CEO of Daily Harvest, shared how working with customer communities led to faster innovation and a portfolio of products based on consumer occasions. Dame showed how their community helped create products for sexual health. Bombas showed how customers both helped to create and promote their products. Roblox took us to new places by sharing the ability to co-create with communities in the metaverse. 

Challenger brands take tangible steps to make customer communities a key part of their creation and marketing process.  

5. Never stop being a challenger. 

Fernando MachadoGlobal CMO at Restaurant Brands International, shared how a challenger brand mindset is a continual focus for the Burger King brand to create disruptive work. Born from necessity, it allows Burger King to ensure work gets noticed. GM, Amazon, and many more echoed the need to continue challenging the status quo.  

As Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, put it, “There are innovators and there are imitators, and I am only interested in being an innovator. It’s harder, more challenging; it takes more trial and error. But I could never be an imitator, waiting for someone else’s good idea. Being a challenger brand, you have to be willing to be laughed at, take risks, and fail.” 

We will get more specific on these topics in future blogs, but if you can benefit from being more of a challenger brand and want to know more, reach out to Patrick Culhane.