Underdog brands…

Malcolm Gladwell’s new book is out today: ‘David & Goliath’. He focusses on people who win against odds, but what about underdog brands?

At a glance, the point Gladwell seems to be making (I’ll be reading it in full later!) is that a relatively large proportion of people who ‘succeed’ have suffered some sort of tragedy in early life. That might have been the death of parent, having special educational needs, or some other difficulty. The main thrust is that having been affected by something terrible, although some people will be negatively impacted, others are determined to overcome their adversity.

It made me think, how does this apply to brands? Are there underdog brands in the same way? Of course, it’s difficult to see how a brand or company could suffer an awful tragedy in the same way as a person could. Inevitably, any disaster affecting a brand would actually be visited upon the individuals who work there. Maybe this could make them all the more determined as individuals, but that’s really only the same as Gladwell’s example of successful entrepreneurs who’ve fought back from difficulty.

But what about challenger brands? What can they learn from being a David fighting a Goliath. It’s about being nimble and fighting the battle in a different way.

There’s one technique that you could call the judo throw – use your opponent’s strength against them. Let’s take the example of a challenger beer brand, and assume it has reasonable resources to try to grow its share of the market. If it is sold in 500 pubs and bars, it can probably afford the capital expenditure involved in installing state-of-the-art pumps in every one of them. A bigger competitor with 10,000 stockists simply couldn’t afford the outlay – so it either does nothing or upgrades part of the estate – resulting in different brand representation in different outlets.

There are umpteen examples of underdog brands that have fought their way into strong positions – even if they’re not yet market leaders. Just think about Red Bull, Tyrell’s crisps, Ovo Energy, CafeDirect…

As I write this, something has occurred to me which had never crossed my mind before. And I hope this doesn’t sound too much like an advertorial – it wasn’t intended to be! know research probably counts as an underdog brand – a small company with limited resources going head-to-head with the big guns of the industry. We’ve just been named as a Finalist in the Best New Agency category of the MRS Awards having had a great first 18 months working with market-leading clients. From my point of view, it’s just about doing your best for your customer – listening to what they want and then delivering it, and more, when they want it. And we seem to have a model that allows us to do that. We’re not looking to grow too much more as I want to make sure we stay true to our objective of delivering great quality research for organisations of all sizes – but who knows how things might pan out!
Return to news..