What is a Challenger Brand and How To Become One?

Photo by Monica Silva on Unsplash

In this article, we explore how Gymbox built a successful business by being a challenger brand, and how you can become one too.

Gymbox is a very successful Fitness brand with 300 employees, 11 gyms around London. 🏋️‍♀️

And there is something that massively contributed to their success: a unique, disruptive, and bold brand. 🔥

In other words, a challenger brand.

Gymbox is different, it’s not for everybody and they are not afraid to say it.

Rory McEntee, Brand & Marketing Director at Gymbox, was my guest on The Implement Podcast 🎧.

Rory is an expert in building challenger brands with his work at Gymbox, Paddy Power, Everyman Cinema, and others.

So what is a challenger brand?

It is defined, primarily, by a mindset —

“it has business ambitions bigger than its conventional resources, and is prepared to do something bold, usually against the existing conventions or codes of the category, to breakthrough”. (The Challenger Project)

Defining a challenger brand is not an easy task.

And if we could do it easily, we’d be rich, as Rory tells us. 😆

There are a lot of brands trying to be challenger brands at the moment.

And it’s something that doesn’t come easy.

Being a challenger brand is ingrained in the culture, in the business.

Here is how Rory would define a challenger brand and how to become one:

1/ You’ve got to be consistently inconsistent 🥸

You have to do the unexpected.

Do what normal brands wouldn’t do.

If people go left, you go right.

Quite a simple principle right?

Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that, but it’s a good start!

Carry on 👇

2/ Don’t work with the same agencies as everyone else 🧐

Or actually don’t work with agencies at all…

Rory doesn’t work with agencies that have worked with other gyms before.

Instead, he’s worked with comedy writers or individual freelancers.

Agencies will tend to have an “industrial” or standard approach.

So search for people who can bring a unique POV instead.

3/ Really understand your customer 👋

I know… You know that.

But here is why it’s important to say it again in this context.

A lot of people think challenger brands just come up with their crazy ideas.

The truth is it takes a lot of time.

And to succeed you need to be embedded in your tribe, your community.

To appear different to them, first, you need to see through their eyes.

You need to see things as they do.

It’s the only way you can find ideas that will entertain them and surprise them, but not offend them.

4/ Being disruptive VS being offensive ⚠️

Yeah, you need to take the risk of offending people if you want to be a challenger brand.

And offending people is easier than ever, sadly...

There is a real difficulty in balancing being disruptive and being offensive.

But, if you know your customer well, you’ll know how to find that balance.

Your tribe will know you're being disruptive, when others, will find you offensive.

But, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you potentially offend other people.

What counts is your tribe.

Occasionally you do cross the line when you’re trying to be a little bit different because you’re trying stuff that hasn’t been done.

There’s no template for it so you’ve got to be brave and you’ve got to be up for a challenge.

5/ Put a smile on your customer’s face 😊

Ultimately, for Rory, all you have to do is try to put a smile on people’s faces.

An example of this is how Gymbox tackled reopening after COVID lockdown.

Everybody was doing the same safety videos on how they’re gonna welcome you back to the gym.

Gymbox’s was a little bit more humorous.

They had dancers in hazmat suits spraying around the gym.

If you do things a bit differently, your tribe will recognize it and love you for it.

I hope this helps you better understand what a challenger brand is. 😇

By the way, you can listen to the podcast episode that inspired this post here. 🎧

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Co-Founder @ Implement. 👉 join-implement.com | Podcast Host | Book Author