Decoding the Success of Challenger Brands | KHWS

Decoding the Success of Challenger Brands

Behavioural Insight

Now a concept almost two decades old, challenger brands are often defined by their underdog mindset allowing them loftier goals beyond their limited resources. Some of the exceptionally successful ones have been those who were quick enough to realise when their market was changing and made it their mission to be part of the change rather than fight it. We however have come to the conclusion that the commercial success of these brands cannot solely be explained by an agile mindset or due to capitalising on changing market conditions with a disruptive brand positioning. Instead it’s how they have activated this positioning in a way that is rooted in an understanding of human behaviour that has driven both trial and sales. At KHWS, we call this combination of brand and commercial thinking Brand Commerce and it is at heart of the marketing ideas and initiatives we create when working with challenger brands.

Within the hospitality industry we’ve seen challenger brand Airbnb both take on and achieve higher yearly bookings than some of the largest hotel chains – all without actually owning any properties themselves. They’ve done this by emphasising their brand positioning – Airbnb allows you to experience a location just as a local would – in all things they do, including campaigns. One long running set of campaigns called Night At, helps highlight the uniqueness of the service by allowing winners to spend a night at unusual places such as a bookstore, gondola lift and a Boeing 747 refit into a fully equipped flat. By then using the key components of their website as ways of entering campaigns, they encouraged active trial and sign up to their service.

Originally a crafty startup known for their ethical brand values, Innocent Drinks has earned increasingly larger shares of the U.K. juice market. Although more expensive than other competing fruit drinks, they succeeded in hurting the business of drinks giants enough to warrant Coca-Cola Company buying a 90% stake in the company. They achieved this by linking their smoothies and juices with the ‘Five-a-day’ initiative run by the UK Department of Health. This showed parents that their drinks were an easy way of making sure their kids were getting at least two of their ‘five-a-day’ fruit and veg and justifying a price premium over buying fresh fruit or the drinks of competitors.

The always-controversial Scottish brewer, Brewdog, has grown from a small private brewery to being deemed the UK’s fastest growing food and drinks brand by The Sunday Times. By being an early adopter of the craft beer trend and always listening to their consumers, they have built a dedicated craft-beer loving community, now reaching around the world. This community not only helps Brewdog further promote their beer, but have through crowdfunding made actual investments in the company and get involved to the point of helping decide on which flavours to bring back.

Airbnb knew that travellers wanted a different experience from staying at traditional hotels and created a never before seen brand positioning. Innocent understood the struggles and concerns of today’s mums and dads to keep their kids healthy and adapted their messaging to them. Brewdog’s crowdsourced products and focus on community building has seen their profits soar. All these challenger brands display a deep understanding of their customers and their behaviours, a crucial reason behind their success.

At KHWS, we understand that with both smaller budgets and an increasing need to defend marketing spend, challenger brands cannot afford to create campaigns that only build brand awareness without delivering sales. To help challenger brands achieve both, our Brand Commerce approach is underpinned by a planning model that helps define and interrogate the human behaviours that trigger sales. By identifying and understanding your customers’ sales triggers, we can then help you discover the opportunities that will move your brand from underdog to favourite.


This article was published in The Guardian on Monday 30th May.