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Coronavirus is Forcing Every Business to Act like a Challenger Brand

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INFLUENCER: Jones Knowles Ritchie's Andi Davids on five challenger brand behaviours you can adopt to see you through to the other side
Coronavirus is Forcing Every Business to Act like a Challenger Brand

There’s no denying it — as marketers, we’ve entered a new normal. Lockdowns have altered physical touch points, making out of home and shelf stand-out less relevant. Increased psychological uncertainty has shifted consumer purchase drivers from wants to needs. And social-distancing measures have threatened the very existence of the booming experience economy.

No longer able to rely on traditional brand building, Covid-19 is ushering in an era where all businesses must act like disruptors to survive. Here are five challenger-brand behaviours you can adopt to see you through to the other side.


1. Integrate purpose into your proposition

Brands like TOMS and Warby Parker famously built competitive advantage by anchoring their core proposition in purpose. As we unite globally to fight Covid-19, the brands that people remember fondly will put purpose above profit, at least temporarily, with responses that strike the right balance of meaning and marketing.

The key: do something tangible that aligns with your brand. Can you provide essential goods or services, or are you more suited to offer a sense of entertainment and escape? Both can be appropriate and authentic ways to help. For example, Brompton Bicycles offered 200 bikes to NHS key workers in London through an existing hire scheme, while the Cartoon Network (below) released a series of PSAs for kids about how to properly wash their hands.No matter what approach you take, it’s important to get the basics right. Treat your employees and supply chain well. Communicate transparently to consumers. And finally, address an actual problem. Updating your logo to raise awareness of social distancing may be clever, but it should be done in tandem with efforts that drive real impact. McDonald’s Brazil learned this the hard way with the separation of its famous golden arches. Intended to promote social distancing, the move sparked backlash from consumers and politicians alike, who criticised the company for its employee sick leave policy.


2. Repurpose your products

Many challenger brands were born as a result of their founder identifying an unmet need. Similarly, the best brand responses to Covid-19 identify what’s needed most right now and adjust their product offering to help. Some great examples include Virgin Atlantic repurposing grounded staff with first aid training and security clearance to join the front lines at the new Nightingale hospitals, BrewDog shifting operations to produce Punk Sanitiser, Gap adapting factories to make masks, gowns and scrubs, and Edible Arrangements shifting from selling gift baskets to produce boxes. This way of thinking can lead to the creation of new products too. Back in WWII for example, hazelnuts were mixed into chocolate to extend rations. The resulting product tasted so good, that household favourite Nutella was born. It’s time for brands to get creative, and their ideas may just lead to new products or portfolio diversification in the long-run.


3. Rethink your business model

You don’t necessarily need to change your product to make a difference. Many challenger brands — from Spotify to Casper — had similar offerings as their competition, but disrupted their categories by fundamentally rethinking the business model. With storefronts shuttered, many brands are having to reconsider the way they deliver their existing offering. A great example is East London’s Signature Brew. In response to government calls to avoid public gatherings, the brewery developed the ‘Pub in a Box’ delivery service. Each package contains their core range of beers, bar snacks, stem glasses, a Spotify playlist with a QR code, and a music quiz to recreate the pub experience at home.


4. Engage social communities

Most challenger brands have a digital first approach, building a strong following online before moving into other channels. Now, with Covid-19 limiting in-person interaction, digital engagement is more important than ever, and knowing your brand is key to developing the right content. Two great examples are Knorr & Getty. Knorr pivoted their social strategy with the launch of Knorr @home to provide inspiration and recipes for new home chefs. Meanwhile, Los Angeles’ Getty Museum challenged those in quarantine to recreate famous works of art at home, with hilarious results. But digital doesn’t stop at content. Consider what your brand can offer in terms of online events, such as virtual wine tastings, gallery tours and online classes.


5. Adapt, adapt, then adapt again

From Netflix to Amazon, the most successful disruptor brands continue to evolve, modifying their offer and operations as the situation demands. As much as we’d all like to see a swift end to Covid-19, the reality is, we’re in this for the long-haul, and the landscape changes daily. We still don’t know if the virus will re-emerge post-lockdown, and the best-case scenario for a vaccine is 18 months away. In the meantime, it’s likely we’ll face periods of relaxed and more stringent social distancing. That means rather than focusing on how to revert to business as usual once the curve has flattened, brands will need to continually adapt to novel conditions, whether that’s new government regulations, or reduced shelf-space in stores due to safety screens.

While this is no doubt a painful time for the world and business alike, as brand builders we need to embrace the uncertainty we face as an opportunity for creativity. Imagination is a powerful tool, and the ways in which we apply it today may open doors for brands when consumers are once again allowed to step outside theirs.



Andi Davids is strategy director at Jones Knowles Ritchie

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Jones Knowles Ritchie, Thu, 16 Apr 2020 09:29:20 GMT