Social Media Strategies for Challenger Brands

March 12, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


Challenger brands can’t outspend the market leader in their industry, which is why they have to think outside the box to gain market share. Social media is a tool challenger brands can leverage to bridge the gap between them and the Googles of their industry that have a lot of money to pump into their advertising efforts.

The beauty of social media is that it immediately levels the playing field between challenger brands and their bigger-budget rivals. Having more money to spend won’t help a brand on social media since audiences care more about factors like engagement, brand personality, customer complaint resolutions, and very valuable, sharable content. In short, social media is the place where challenger brands can truly shine and seize the bull by the horns—if they do it right.

Here are some killer social media strategies made especially for challengers.

Kohl’s Keeps It Pithy on Facebook

Kohl’s is a challenger brand to Macy’s in the American department store category. Though Kohl’s has a lot of money to spend on advertising, its marketing people are smart enough to know that reaching its audience on Facebook in straight-and-to-the-point ways is a lot more effective than throwing more money at ad campaigns.

To wit, Kohl’s recently rallied its customers to shop at its stores with a clear-cut and succinct call to action on Facebook. This past November, the company posted an offer that urged its shoppers to:

“Save online with code FALLFB10 or in store with the pass.”

Kohl's online offer

It didn’t beat around the bush or hide its marketing call in highfalutin language. It used short and sweet language to tell all its shoppers how they could save money at Kohl’s. This approach paid off big-time: Kohl’s got more than 30,000 people to claim this offer that lasted just four days!

For challenger brands to succeed in social media, they have to use direct language in calls to action, so their audience understands exactly what they mean.

Cadbury’s Builds up Its Facebook Fan Base

Cadbury’s is the confectionary company that’s second only to Wrigley’s in the world. That makes it a challenger brand, one that decided to use social media to raise awareness among its online shoppers. The company made a huge shift from traditional advertising to inbound marketing in 2012, which is when it made a massive push to engage customers on Facebook.

The company’s initial marketing push was to launch an online celebration when it hit 1 million Facebook fans. However, a noteworthy problem popped up in the campaign’s design stage: Cadbury’s noticed with some dismay that only about 16% of its Facebook fans actually watched the content the company would post on its Facebook page!

That was a disaster, clearly, so the company had to think fast to remedy the situation. It couldn’t successfully celebrate and, thus, draw attention to its one-millionth fan if barely any of its followers actually saw its Facebook content. Cadbury’s knew it had to do something really unique, big and clever to overcome this hurdle.

LOOMIS Imagibrand Process

What it did was create a YouTube video to chronicle its construction of a humongous, chocolate thumb ups—a symbol for its 1 millions fans. This clever symbolism worked: Cadbury’s netted 40,000 more Facebook fans and more than 350,000 total participants in this campaign alone. After this massive score, Cadbury’s could be sure that a lot more than just 16% of its Facebook fans ended up viewing its content.

JetBlue Pleases Customers on Twitter

A lot of people like low-cost airlines like jetBlue because of their low fares. They’re more than willing to give up some comforts for cheaper flights. Since Southwest Airlines is the top brand among low-cost carriers, jetBlue had to come up with a very unique and ultra-helpful way of distinguishing its brand on social media.

It couldn’t just do what other brands where doing—such as tweeting out trendy hashtags and vivid images of happy passengers. No, jetBlue knew it had to do something that directly impacted its customers in a positive way, which is why its employees started to monitor Twitter to pick up all possible passenger complaints and get them solved as quickly as possible.

Even if the company wasn’t able to solve passenger issues in an instant, it would still come across as very personalized and attentive customer service.

JetBlue's savvy social media tactics

For instance, jetBlue personally responded over Twitter to a passenger who got to Denver for a connecting flight, but saw no gate agents were present. The company’s response explained why no gate agents were there, which calmed down a worried traveler and, just as importantly, told him that jetBlue listens to his concerns.

Now, contrast that with a horror story from last summer from Southwest Airlines, the market leader in the low cost-carrier industry. When a father tweeted about a rude gate agent, Southwest Airlines actually kicked him and his family off the flight! That’s definitely not how any brand should respond to customer interactions on social media, to say the least.

Dollar Shave Club Goes Viral on YouTube

Venice, California-based Dollar Shave Club competes with retail chains by shipping out its personal grooming products through the mail. Naturally, it can’t even dream of competing ad dollar for ad dollar with the Walmarts of the world! So what does a gutsy startup like this do?

It takes to YouTube to attract attention and get the word out about its services. This way, the company’s able to get around its severe, ad-budget disadvantage and still reach the entire world. Of course, to have your marketing video go viral on YouTube, it has to be totally one-of-a-kind.

Dollar Shave Club succeeded hugely, netting almost 20 million views to date and, more importantly, 12,000 additional subscribers in only the first two days that this video went live! That’s true, marketing power.

By watching the company’s video, we can learn what increases the chances of a challenger brand’s explainer video going viral. It needs to:

  • Communicate its value proposition
  • Establish its industry category
  • Use blunt humor
  • Stand out right off the bat

Social Media: An Opportunity for Challenger Brands

If you’re a challenger brand, yet you’re still not on social media, then you’re missing out…big time. As the above companies and case studies demonstrated, social media is a wonderful tool to empower challenger brands to level the playing field against their bigger-budget rivals in the industry.

All it takes is creativity and uniquely using social media to differentiate your brand from everyone else. If you can do these two things, you’ll be well on your way to using social media to boost your brand awareness, sales and all-around reputation.

challenger brandsocial media

Mike Sullivan

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


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