Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018 | 10 min read
Rebels with a cause are not to be taken lightly.
Most people are familiar with the stories of Uber, Netflix, and Airbnb. These disruptive brands used modern technology to create such unique offerings that they cast major category-leading brands or entire industries as outdated and outside what consumers want. According to Adam Morgan, challenger brands are different.
Morgan quite literally wrote the book on challenger brands, and he believes that they are ruled by a state of mind. Instead of replacing entire industries, challenger brands are intent on reshaping existing industries.
These brands exude confidence and can frequently play the underdog card because consumers, ever more mindful of how meaningful a brand is, recognize the strength and disproportionate power of the number one player in an industry.
A number of challenger brands are experiencing great success as they confront the status quo, and offer up salient lessons for brands today.
In order to compete with established players like Tinder, it was crucial for Bumble to find a strong, empowered brand voice. Since launching in 2014, Bumble has put the control of interactions firmly into the hands of women seeking to make connections.
The brand’s north star is allowing people to connect in a new way, whether that’s for dating, friendships, or business networking. This begins with letting only women make the first move, and continues with the company’s inspiring billboards, carrying slogans such as “Be the CEO your parents always wanted you to marry,” and “We’re not playing the field, we’re leveling it.”
— Catherine Joy (@CathJoyMusic) November 13, 2017
Bumble hosts events targeting women, as well as pop-up meeting spaces across America with programming like “Practice your pitch” and “How to build a career with meaning.” These tactics have helped the app amass over 41 million users, making it America’s fastest-growing dating app with users growing 70% year-over-year.
Key to Bumble’s evolution from women-first dating app to social networking app is one trait in particular: empathy.
85% of Bumble’s employees worldwide are women, and the company has prioritized progressive policies for these employees. Offices maintain flexible work hours and the ability for parents to bring children to the office as needed. Employees are encouraged to bring their “whole self” to work each day and the company’s holistic wellness benefits include therapy sessions, meditation memberships and even acupuncture visits.
Beyond office walls, Bumble sticks up for its users, maintaining the brand’s mission to end misogyny. When a Bumble user has a negative experience on the platform (like a bad date or encounter), the company will send flowers or an apology note. In extreme cases, it will publish open letters on Bumble’s blog calling out particularly bad behavior.
— Bumble (@bumble) December 15, 2017
Bumble’s empathetic approach is a key driver of its loyal and growing user base. Indeed, the company’s plans going forward indicate a doubling down on empathy. Its recently launched Bumble Fund will focus on early-stage investments, primarily in businesses founded and led by women of color and those from underrepresented groups. CEO Whitney Wolfe Heard also plans to launch a psychotherapeutic skincare line in mid- to late-2019.
News aggregator Flipboard made its name when it launched for the first iPad in 2010. Like many of the iPad’s news apps, it looked like a magazine that had been reimagined for a touchscreen. Unlike many, it managed to create an innovative experience. But being innovative was not enough.
According to CMO Marci McCue, Flipboard faced a series of interlinked challenges: finding the value of the company’s product, connecting with its audience, and understanding how (and what) resonates with them. An identity crisis had set in.
Taking user feedback into account, Flipboard launched its first brand campaign, “It’s Your Time,” which informed readers that it was their time to get involved. McCue says that both the brand and its user base have been energized. “Once you connect with brand values, once you can find that meaning and communicate that to all of them, all of the people who use your products, you will inspire the support of the audience and the crowd when you need it and win their love,” she says.
Indications are that Flipboard’s brand refresh has paid off – the app’s monthly user base has since grown from 100 million people to 145 million.
Investors have been seduced by DRL’s blend of arresting visuals, tech/VR overlap, and exciting competition – the league raised $12 million in funding in 2016 and another $20 million from additional sources, including the WWE, in 2017.
— Drone Racing League (@DroneRaceLeague) April 24, 2018
What’s the secret behind DRL’s rapid ascent? According to founder and CEO Nicholas Horbaczewski, finding moments where consumers connect with the brand was pivotal. “We have created a sport for those people, and for those people, DRL is incredibly relevant,” Horbaczewski said. “There was a survey last year of sports fans, and it turned out that DRL fans are vastly more likely to recommend the sport than even other popular racing sports.”
It’s DRL’s excitement and accessibility that has captivated so many. Estimates are that more than 50 million global broadcast viewers tuned into DRL’s first two seasons, but it’s online where the league is really taking off – DRL has logged over 115 million online views.
If someone wanted to break into the sport right now, all they’d have to do is download the official DRL simulator on Steam to get a feel for the current models the league has to offer. If the racer thinks they’re good enough, they can compete in a simulation league and win a contract of $75,000 to race in the league that following season.
Bad news for clean shave enthusiasts: Beards are coming back in fashion.
Recent consumer studies by Gillette estimate that in developed markets, the average number of times men shave a week has fallen from 3.7 to 3.2 over the past decade, totaling about two fewer shaves a month. There’s a myriad of reasons for men shaving less often, such as a disappearing societal taboo around facial hair or realized dreams of Brooklyn hipsterdom.
To maintain a competitive edge in an increasingly bearded society, one direct-to-consumer brand, Dollar Shave Club, is focusing on deepening its connection with customers and members. This phase of DSC’s brand is called “Dollar Shave Club 2.0.”
According to CEO Michael Dubin, the company is approaching DSC 2.0 in two ways: “With great products for your body and great content for your mind.” Those products include Dollar Shave’s skin-care line and body washes introduced in 2016, hair creams, toothpaste, and toothbrushes.
Content comes in two forms. DSC Original Content is filled with stories and tips focused on health, style and grooming. Meanwhile, DSC also launched MEL, an unbranded men’s magazine sent to customers as part of their subscription every month, as well as online material. MEL’s content reaches into the depths of internet culture, personal essays and even does some serious reporting—such as a piece on Millennial men joining, and then leaving, the priesthood.
By diversifying its product offering beyond shaving, and by playing a larger role in consumers’ lives outside of the bathroom, DSC maintains an edginess and authenticity which existed long before its $1 billion acquisition by Unilever.
It appears that the challenged are responding to the challengers.
Tinder recently started trialing the “My Move” feature in India, which would allow only women to message first. The feature is reminiscent of Bumble’s existing function, but would only be optional for Tinder users. Meanwhile, as part of its efforts to shave face, Gillette has launched “Gillette On Demand,” a digital subscription platform that includes text-to-order and free shipping. In addition, Harry’s now sells its razors at both Target and Walmart.
And so the hypothetical game of chess continues. Your move, challengers.
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