So You Want to Challenge the Leader in Your Category.

In this series I’ve written about the good things that happen when you have a strong brand; why some companies have weak brands; and what’s minimally necessary to do to put a competitive brand in place.

What if you want to be not just a competitive brand, but one strong enough to challenge the leader in your market? Let’s discuss.

First, please recognize why a leader brand sits in first place: it has invested the necessary time, people, and resources to get there. Because of that, it will likely benefit from significant advantages in market awareness, market share, revenue, products, distribution, an installed customer base, perhaps even cultural or political clout.

For the purposes of this discussion, what all this really means is that a market leader has set the argument for what is important in the category, and has defined the playing field in terms that fit its advantages.

This is huge. For you to challenge this leader, you need to figure out how to change the argument of what’s important to fit your strengths. Meanwhile, the leader isn’t going to sit back and idly watch you do this. There will be war.

But you decide to go ahead with the challenge:

  1. First, your company needs to have the clearly stated ambition to go after the leader; everyone in the company has to know what the marching orders are.
  2. Second, you need the energy, and aggressiveness, needed to get the market’s attention. Think of it this way: most everyone knows what the highest mountain in the world is; many fewer know what the second highest is. The leader is Mount Everest; the challenger (you) is K2. You will only climb steep (business) hills with energy and aggression (sorry for the pun).
  3. Third, necessary commitment to resources: time, people, money. You will expend more resources in catching up to the leader than the leader itself is currently expending. Don’t underestimate the commitment required.
  4. Critically, a product/service with clearly better quality/value/innovation. The best tool you’ll ever have in your challenge to the leader is a superior offering – do you have it?
  5. Then, with the right message – which comes from the correct positioning for your “new” brand – you can begin to change the argument in the marketplace that will lead to new attention, interest, desire and purchase for your product or service.

Not an easy road, to be sure, but we suggest Embraer is an example of a successful challenger brand – attacking the status quo, most notably the dominant Cessna Citation products, with ambition and focus; energy and commitment of resources; with a product with demonstrable innovation and value.

Despite the inopportune timing of starting deliveries of its Phenom 100 in 2009 as the Great Recession was in full roar, Embraer’s line of clean sheet products was exactly what the market was looking for accompanied by the backing of excellent customer support. Embraer’s market share continues to grow with the introduction of additional models. Its product support rankings quickly went from nothing in 2010 to reach the top tier of OEMs a mere three years later – indicative of a dedication to quality products and customer support.

Leaders can fall, challengers do rise – it happens all the time. 

If you are currently a leader brand, congratulations – don’t get complacent.

If you are an aspiring challenger brand, good luck – prepare well, with eyes wide open.

Tomorrow we’ll wrap this series – final thoughts on making sure your brand is working as hard for your company as you want it to.

Mark Ryan

March, 2020