For Challenger Brands The Time Is Now

July 6, 2021 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

For every company, and for challenger brands in particular, retrospective regret is part of the journey. Looking back, it’s often easy to identify missed opportunities and instances when a zig rather than a zag made a significant difference either for you—or your competitors.

For challenger brands, competing with the category leaders requires constant evaluation, steady improvement and taking an honest look at how you competed in the past to learn from that performance and move forward. That discipline has never been more important than it is right now.

With California and New York City open, and every other state following suit, America is set to embrace its new normal. From preliminary analysis, we’re coming out of the pandemic a lot better than how we went in. Consider this information from a June 2nd article in The Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. economic recovery is unlike any in recent history, powered by consumers with trillions in extra savings, businesses eager to hire, and enormous policy support. Businesses and workers are poised to emerge from the downturn with far less permanent damage than occurred after recent recessions, particularly the 2007-09 downturn.

New businesses are popping up at the fastest pace on record. The rate at which workers quit their jobs—a proxy for confidence in the labor market—matches the highest going back at least to 2000. American household debt-service burdens, as a share of after-tax income, are near their lowest levels since 1980, when records began. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up nearly 18% from its pre-pandemic peak in February 2020. Home prices nationwide are nearly 14% higher since that time.

America is teed up for an economic boom and that’s great news for challenger brands when you consider this — at no time in history have underdog brands been on as level a playing field with big brands as they are right now. As the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency, we find that incredibly exciting.

When COVID-19 shut down the world, it shut down everything. And while big brands may have had an advantage going into the shutdown, coming out of it, that advantage won’t be the same. Consumer behavior has changed. Consumer brand preferences have changed. Consumer life orbits—where they live, where they work, what they do—have all changed and those changes have cracked the door for the brands hungry and brave enough to kick it open.

Consumers are dying to get out, travel and try new things. Most immediately, we’re all ready to eat out in restaurants and enjoy new experiences. From cafes and coffee shops to QSR and casual dining, if you are a challenger brand in the restaurant category, now is the time to connect with new customers.

Tease them with innovative new menus. Entice them with a renewed commitment to memorable service. Deliver an atmosphere that’s more experience than location. Then give your patrons some manifestation of loyalty that tells them how much they are appreciated.

As restaurant marketing experts in QSR, fine dining, casual dining, fast casual, pizza, coffee, and more, these are the moments we live for. We’re constantly analyzing new strategies, innovative media planning, and attention-grabbing creative for every type of restaurant experience.

If you’re a challenger brand, there’s never been a better time to attract new customers, increase word of mouth, and build your brand.

The same goes for challengers in service sectors, packaged goods, healthcare and financial.

No matter what your category, here are five opportunities every challenger brand can leverage with their marketing and advertising partners right now to move to the next level:

Trade fear for confidence.

In a heady bit of wisdom, Wayne Gretzsky once pointed out he missed 100% of the shots he never took. There are a million things that can hold your brand back, but fear and apprehension shouldn’t be among them. Sure, you can tell yourself you’re too small, you’re undercapitalized, you’re not ready, you need more time. And while those may all be true, in our experience as the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency, brands that succeed are the ones that trade fear for confidence and paralysis for action. You can look at the uncertain nature of America’s recovery with trepidation, or as an unprecedented opportunity for reinvention and ignition. Believe this is your time for explosive growth and then make it so.

Lean hard on creativity in your language and look.

Emails don’t have to be straight, all type, boring blocks of copy. Come up with an overarching campaign concept for the month, the quarter, or the year. Once you have that great hook, make sure your copy and visuals bring the concept to life in a way that’s smart, engaging and impossible to ignore. You get a hundred emails a day. Which ones are you most likely to open and read?

Partner with category experts.

For many brand leaders, corporate expectations often come with a sense that all solutions have to come from within. Not true. In addition to the smart people you have around you, now is the time to lean on your advertising and marketing partners to help build the strategic and creative solutions that will drive your brand forward. For more than 20 years, we’ve worked with challenger brands of every size and category and, in every single instance, our best work was collaborative. Learn from category experts and challenge your advertising agency, your marketing partners, your media firms, your digital advertising agency to chart a bigger, better, bolder plan for your brand and then go, go, go!

Get personal.

Often, challenger brands can get caught up thinking brands are built by hundreds and thousands of consumers at a time, because that’s how we think about media. But, the truth is, brands are built one loyal customer at a time. Be it through social media, online through a digital channel, in store, or in restaurant, don’t forsake any opportunity to engage with your customers on a personal level. Yes, each customer is just one person and, yes, one-on-one connection takes a little more time and effort.

Rather than thinking of each customer as a single sale, look at that person as a potential fan who will come back for a second or third visit. Look at them as a potential brand advocate who will tell their closest friends about their experience. Love them enough, and they’ll become evangelists who will tell the whole world.

Don’t ignore the little things.

Being great on occasion is easy. Day in, day out excellence is where the best brands pull away from those that are inconsistent. Consistency starts with sound, foundational principles, but it hinges on not missing the little things. I recently read about one of the best, long-standing restaurants in New York. When the author went into the kitchen, he saw the cooks prepping dishes for that evening’s dinner using old, dog-eared recipe cards. These were dishes those chefs had made a thousand times and could put together in their sleep. But following the recipes every time made sure the meals patrons came back for time and time again were always the same.

In an upcoming episode of our “Voice of the Underdog” podcast, one of our guests recounted how she helped build a bakery brand from startup to $50 million in sales by responding to every customer, answering every Facebook birthday wish to her CEO (all 1,400 of them) with a thank you, and engaging with every customer she possibly could on a personal level. Good and bad, little things grow into big things. If you really want to take down your competitors, don’t leave either to chance.

Try something new.

As consumers start to groove their new normal, now is the time to try something new. After 18 months of forced change, the country is opening back up and people are adjusting to their post-COVID work patterns and settling into the brands they prefer. Now is the time to grab their attention with anything that’s fresh, interesting, innovative, helpful, or relevant before new behaviors become habit and before stores, brands, services, and restaurants near the office, school, and home become closed consideration sets. NEW may be the most attractive word in marketing and if you’re a challenger brand with that card to play, now is the time.

MIKE SULLIVAN is president and CEO at  LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency and a top Dallas advertising agency for digital, social, mobile and user experience. For more about challenger branding, advertising and marketing, leadership, culture and other inspirations that will drive your success, visit our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog and catch up on all of our posts.

For more about LOOMIS, or to discuss how we can help your company succeed, CLICK HERE

ad agencyadvertisingadvertising agencyappschallenger brandchallenger brand marketingchallenger brandingchallenger brandsCMOCOVIDloyalty programsThe Voice of The Underdogtop 10 Dallas Ad Agencyunderdog

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.