How to build an effective challenger narrative




Carlotta Saxton

With so many companies claiming they are a ‘challenger’ and the term becoming something of a catch all, how do you ensure a challenger narrative is effective and cuts-through? 

At Good Relations, we help a number of challenger brands like Airbus, Lidl and Nationwide to tell their stories.

But with so many companies claiming they are a challenger and the term becoming something of a catch-all, how do you ensure a challenger narrative is effective and cuts-through?

Firstly, it’s important to understand what really defines a ‘challenger brand’. So many underdogs revert to the label as a way to challenge the market leader. We like to think that challengers are defined by a mind-set – an ambition to be bolder, bigger than their resource limitations and importantly, to break conventions.

The most successful challenger brands lead discussions on the issues facing their industry and the steps they are taking to respond.

The first step of our “Seven Steps to Effective Thought Leadership” model prioritises long-term effects. Research shows that decisions are made at an emotional and rational level. While the rational can be won over by short-term communications, winning the emotional takes time. Building an effective, challenger narrative is no different; if you want to create an emotional connection, you must identify your unique mission and prioritise this in the long-term.

But prioritising the long-term does not mean resting on your laurels and repeating the same narrative. It means prioritising your challenge for the long-term and finding new, culturally relevant ways to champion it. Unlike Alexander the Great who famously wept because he had no other worlds to conquer, challenger brands need to be consistently looking for new areas where they can continue to advocate their mission.

1. Airbus asked us to help them become the leading pioneers in aviation. To support this we developed the “Future By Airbus”, a visual campaign that illustrated what they believe flying will look like in the next fifty years. The campaign was launched at the Farnborough Airshow and helped Airbus dominate share of voice in its first year. Airbus continued over the following years, to campaign around its ‘next generation’ narrative by building on its commitment to innovation. As well as promoting cutting-edge technologies, it sought to inspire the next generation of engineers to innovate for the future through its “Fly Your Ideas” competition.

2. Nationwide has successfully built a human challenger narrative, creating a human face in what is usually considered an impersonal and distrusted industry. Nationwide’s brand purpose is centred on its great customer service that puts their society members first. A great example of how Nationwide communicated this is the award-winning Arthur Webb Challenge. Using a former Building Society President from the war era, who was passionate about the value of home-ownership as a figurehead, we helped the internal communication’s team at Nationwide launch a campaign that encouraged employees to drive innovation and efficiency from within the business for their members. Not only was the campaign a success internally– inspiring staff and making efficiency savings of around £2 million, it also helped drive the personal commitment of their employees who drive the overall quality of their service.

3. Lidl has earnt a place as the UK’s second favourite consumer brand by being a champion of the people. In an industry where it is easy to be seen as “all the same”, Lidl have forged a distinct challenger narrative by fighting to ensure their customers get the best quality produce at the cheapest prices. This has helped Lidl earn the trust of customers who perceive the traditional supermarket leaders as the “fat cats”. The #LidlSurprises campaign first began in 2014 when foodies were invited to attend an exclusive farmers market where they were given various food samples from fresh fruit to cheeses and steaks. The bloggers were enthusiastic about the products and when they went to purchase them, were surprised to see the low prices and even more so, the brand behind the products. Since then Lidl have continued to surprise customers with new, top-quality products at accessible prices and as a result, customers have continued to organically use #LidlSurprises on social media.

Clear purpose is key

We think by reflecting less on what you make and more on what you make happen for customers and stakeholders beyond your business, you’ll never be short of opportunities to challenge the status quo and create positive change in ways that help you fulfil your purpose.

If you would like us to help tell your story, please do get in touch. You can also join our Thought Leadership LinkedIn group, visit our website, or attend one of our events.

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