There has never been a more fascinating time to work in marketing than right now. 50 years ago, there were core products, core strategies, core plans for a tried-and-true marketing mix that was just starting to evolve. Today, those marketing elements look nothing like they once did. Beloved core products like Goldfish and Oreos now offer dozens of new flavors, shapes, and sizes. (Have you tried the Organic Wheat Parmesan Goldfish or the Lady Gaga Oreos?) Media strategists now have hundreds of channels, thousands of publications, and a seemingly infinite number of digital options to consider. Today, the modern marketing mix focusing on customers, cost, convenience, and communication takes an extraordinary amount of creativity and calculus to crack. Even more daunting are the paths those of us in challenger brand marketing are tasked with forging. Compared to the category leaders, challenger brand marketing is like painting with half the colors. Cooking with half the ingredients. Crafting a story with half the words. For those privileged to be category leaders, that probably sounds horrible. For those of us in the challenger brand trenches, it’s game on!
STARTING WITH THE BASICS
In the same ways advertising differs greatly between category leaders and challenger brands, so too does marketing. Like in advertising, challenger brand marketing requires a brand to first embrace a challenger brand ethos understanding who they are, where they stand in the market, and how prepared they are to go to battle. Only then can they put together a challenger brand marketing strategy strong enough to topple the giants they’re facing.
According to the American Marketing Association (AMA), there are a number of crucial factors brands must consider when developing their marketing strategy, including:
- “Orientation” — Marketing orientation refers to the guiding principles of the business itself, often referred to as business philosophy or corporate culture. Typically, organizations will decide to orient around product, sales, production, or marketing.
- Mix — The marketing mix functions as a decision-making guide for a company’s marketing efforts. A modern marketing mix will usually focus on the four Cs: client/customer, cost, convenience, and communication.
- Environment — The marketing environment refers to every factor that could impact a company in the execution of marketing strategy or decision-making. In this vein, companies should consider the internal environment within their organization. External factors—such as macro and microenvironments—are also important to consider.
- Market — The target market refers to the characteristics of a company’s ideal client case. Research and segmentation efforts can help isolate the geographic and demographic factors that will help a company market and sell its products or services.”
As fundamental as these four factors are for marketers, for those of us in challenger brand marketing, they can present a bit of a challenge. By definition, underdog brands don’t have the assets and resources of the category giants but all that means is we can’t buy our way into relevance. We have to earn it with sound strategy, inspiring creative work, and smart media plans that move the needle, drive sales, and put butts in seats. That’s half of how LOOMIS became the country’s leading agency for challenger brand marketing and challenger brand advertising. The other half was our borderline obsessive focus on the one thing most companies in America completely ignore.
OUR SECRET WEAPON
In the AMA listing of crucial marketing factors above, there are three that are so fundamental to a brand’s marketing efforts that everything in the marketing process grinds to a halt without them. First, a brand has to have orientation. If you can’t decide whether to focus on product, sales, production, or marketing, nothing can move forward. Second, every savvy marketer will spend time working out the marketing mix. And third, they will look at the market and identify who it is they are trying to reach. What most companies overlook, is their environment. Their culture.
Consider again what the AMA counsels regarding environment, “The marketing environment refers to every factor that could impact a company in the execution of marketing strategy or decision-making. In this vein, companies should consider the internal environment within their organization.” But many don’t. In fact, most don’t. For challenger brands and challenger brand marketing agencies alike who want to succeed, fostering a healthy environment and building a thriving, transcendent company culture is more than a requirement. It’s the secret weapon that changes everything.
As much as we try to find the perfect work life balance, most of us spend more hours engaging with our work families than we do with our own. That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. It’s a necessary consequence of not being independently wealthy and not having to work for a living. The fact that we spend 40, 50, 60 hours a week engaged with work shines a very bright light on why it’s so crucial to develop a great company culture. Some companies like to think of their culture as something that can be set aside and viewed independently. The truth is, company culture is a marinade our teams are working in every day and just like a true marinade, culture flavors the output of everything that comes out of it.
Not every challenger brand marketing firm puts culture front and center. At LOOMIS, we do. Because we’ve seen what happens when we do. Employees stay with the agency twice as long as the industry average. Clients do the same. By curating an empowered, supportive, encouraging culture that lets each member of our team be the best them they can be, we elevate our work. We elevate our ideas and strategies and relationships with our clients. We get results. And when we don’t, we double down and work harder.
WE WROTE THE BOOK ON CULTURE AND CHALLENGER BRAND MARKETING
At LOOMIS, we use our culture to drive all of our challenger brand marketing. We wrote a whole book on the subject. But here’s what it looks like in a nutshell. At their foundation, great company cultures have seven key elements: Safety, Vulnerability, Purpose, Connection, Belonging, Creativity, and True North Leadership. Here’s why each of those are so significant to your challenger brand marketing solutions.
SAFETY – Beyond the basic physical, mental, and emotional safety needs we all need to perform, finding innovative, disruptive challenger brand marketing ideas that challenge convention requires a culture that encourages trial and error and grants the freedom to fail without the fear of repercussion.
VULNERABILITY – Building on safety, when leadership and employees are allowed to be vulnerable enough to say, “I don’t have all the answers,” and “I need your help,” a powerful shift takes place. Guards come down. Empathy increases. When leading from a place of “me,” shifts to “we,” company teams buy in collectively. Not just to the company’s challenger brand marketing, but to each other.
PURPOSE – More than ever before, today’s workforces want to be committed to something bigger than themselves. Purpose is a beacon that draws extraordinary talent, gives them meaning, and keeps them all moving in the same direction.
CONNECTION – Connection isn’t always easy because it’s personal. People are intricate. Feelings are complicated. Life and work are hard to balance. Fostering connection requires intention and constant cultivation from everyone in your organization. But when it’s done well, it’s the one tether that can hold you all together no matter what the world throws at you.
BELONGING – as challenger brand marketing experts, it’s impossible to ask our clients to go all in if we’re not willing to do the same. But to do that, we both need to feel a sense of belonging. There has to be a sense of trust and a shared vision for what we can accomplish together. That’s not to say there will never be differences of opinion. There will be, and that’s a good thing. Diversity of ideas, perspectives, people, and solutions only makes you stronger.
CREATIVITY – people cannot create out of fear. Creativity is the one element that draws its power from the other six. When people feel connected, safe, and led, when they feel they belong and can take calculated risks in the service of a higher purpose, that’s when challenger brand marketing that’s unexpected and brilliant shows up.
NORTH STAR LEADERSHIP – North Star Leadership is about understanding the privilege and responsibility you’ve been given as a company or brand leader. It’s about working to develop the clarity of thought and the vision to inspire your team to do what no other company has done before. It’s about building a culture that will not only attract the best talent but keep them for years to come. Here’s the rub – only you can do what it takes to become a person worthy of leading your team, your clients, and the challenger brand marketing you’ve been challenged to lead. Your colleagues don’t need a manager. They need a beacon of clarity. They need an inspired thinker. They need a champion who can build them up and lead them into the battle for their professional existence. Be that, and you’re already ahead of the vast majority of your competition.
THE BIG TAKEAWAY
Challenger brand marketing is a thrilling business to be in. In fact, those who have given the better part of their careers to challenger branding and advertising like we have at LOOMIS can’t get enough of it. We love the challenge. We love learning about new companies and categories. Most of all, we love building new relationships with clients we know we can help.
Over our 30 plus years in business, we’ve been proud to win shelves of trophies and awards for our creative and media work. Our leaders have been recognized as the best in their fields and the agency has been recognized as Adweek’s Small Agency of the Year and included on multiple Best Places to Work lists multiple years. at least seven times. The accolades feel great. But as a challenger brand marketing agency, they pale in comparison to helping double the AUVs for one of our longest tenured QSR clients and helping another blow past 200 units in record time. We developed a strategy and campaign that helped a small mattress retailer turn the category on its ear on the way to record sales year after year. We made a carpet cleaning company a national household name with brand music and a butt-scooting dog people couldn’t forget. And we created the national Sports Marketing Promotion of the Year for a pizza brand that was so successful, every time the promotion was activated, competitors told their delivery drivers to just stay at home.
These are the challenger brand triumphs that light us up. Challenger brand marketing is way more than what we do. It’s who we are from our CEO to our newest hire. And as long as there are underdogs in need of a champion, that will never change.