How Bright Is Your Lighthouse Identity?

September 19, 2022 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Every brand wants to be adored. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But for those brands that measure their success primarily on adoration, wanting to be liked can cause some very real problems. Namely, brands start navigating themselves by what it is their customers want, rather than building what we call a “lighthouse identity” and inviting consumers to navigate by their brand. That’s what successful challenger brands do. And it’s the first step toward building a brand adoration that’s lasting and profitable.

What’s so wrong with wanting to be liked?

Let’s be honest. We all want to be liked. America is all about the likes. In 1952, “we liked Ike.” In the ‘80s when Air Jordan was dominating the NBA, we wanted to “be like Mike.” Is it shocking to anyone that the first great obsession on social media was getting more “likes?” It’s human nature to want other people to like us. And by extension, the same is true for brands. Where it gets dicey for companies is when they start chasing what customers want instead of being who they are, and here’s why: customers are fickle.

Buyers change their wants, their preferences, and their allegiances on a dime. Wholesale brand changes at a corporate level tend to be a bit more glacial. Companies have to invest in products, in menus, in inventory. And if what they invest in isn’t what people end up wanting, well, that can make for some pretty uncomfortable meetings.

For any brand, the antidote to that scenario is creating and living into a lighthouse identity. For challenger brands, it can literally be the difference between surviving and not.

Brands that chase their customers tend to do a lot of “that’s why” advertising that simply functions as a mirror to consumers’ lives. “We see what you’re going through, what you want, what your life is like… THAT’S WHY our product is the perfect solution.”

Challenger brands don’t do that. Instead, they understand with crystal clarity who they are for and who they are NOT for, and then they build a lighthouse identify around that truth that’s so pure and bright, consumers pay attention even when they’re not looking for it. People follow category leaders for all kinds of reasons. Ubiquity. Familiarity. Flat out market dominance. But for brands in second place on down, consumers are drawn to strong personalities confident in who they are and what they stand for. Do you know who you are and what your brand stands for? If not, it may be time to pause and figure that out.

4 Elements to build your lighthouse.

As the country’s leading challenger brand ad agency, we’ve spent 20 years helping underdogs build their lighthouse identity, grow their consumer base, sales, and profit, and win. We’ve worked beside brands in just about every category. But regardless of business type, every lighthouse identity has been built on the same four key elements.

1. Point of View

For successful challenger brands, the story is always about them. Challengers have a strong, distinctive – and here’s the key – unwavering point of view. They are who they are, and they dare, challenge, and invite you into connecting with them. But on their terms. What brands come to mind when you think of that kind of mindset? Red Bull? Apple? Whole Foods? Those brands are unapologetic. They blast their light through a prism of individuality, confidence, and exclusionary welcome. They’re not for everyone. But if you’re someone who aligns with who they are, you’re a customer for life.

2. Intensity

Successful challenger brands are never weak. To paraphrase the great Tim Robbins from Bull Durham, one of our all-time favorites, challenger brands are always ready to “announce their presence with authority.” The whole point of having a strong point of view is to drive emotion and intensity which strengthens the connection consumers feel with the brand. What is it about your brand that’s intense enough to drive an emotional connection with your customers? Relationships are built on emotional connection. The more of those connections you share with your customers, the stronger your relationship will be.

3. Salience

By its nature, your lighthouse identity has to be highly salient. In other words, your light must be bright enough to be highly intrusive. Bright enough to shine where even those who aren’t looking for it will see it anyway. Think about brands you know well that you’ve never actively looked for. Tesla. Jet Blue. Mountain Dew. GEICO. Burger King. What is it about these brands that shines so brightly they can’t be ignored?

What is it about your brand that’s so luminous people will see it and be captured by that light?

4. Built on a Rock-Solid Foundation

The lighthouse identity of every successful challenger brand is built on an inarguable product or brand truth. Sometimes that truth is articulated in the company’s tagline. “15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance” (GEICO). “Have it your way” (Burger King). “Good to the last drop” (Maxwell House). Sometimes, it’s simply who they are, and their customers know it. Patagonia is known for both quality and fashion – thus the nicknames “Pradagonia,” and “Patagucci.” In a decade, Yeti has become THE brand for quality coolers and insulated mugs. When Range Rover says, “made for Planet Earth,” you understand exactly what that company is about.

Consumers may be fickle, but they are undeniably drawn to brands that unapologetically know who they are and live into that truth. What is that truth for your brand? What is that inarguable element that makes you different from the other brands you are fighting for relevance? Figure that out, and you’re halfway home. Building your lighthouse identity is the first step toward transformational success. Give your customers a beacon to follow and you’ll be amazed how quickly – and how steadfastly – they do.

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 agencychallenger brandchallenger brand marketingchallenger brandingchallenger brandslighthouse identityMike SullivanThe Voice of The Underdogtop 10 Dallas Ad Agency

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.