What are emerging and challenger brands?

FlexMR
5 min readJun 25, 2023

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An emerging brand, also known as a challenger brand, is one with ambitions larger than the resources it has access to. These brands compete with established, dominant brands and niche alternatives within a specific industry of market.

Emerging brands typically have smaller market shares and resources compared to their competitors but aim to disrupt the status quo and challenge the industry leaders. In addition, challenger or emerging brands often have unique value propositions, innovative approaches, and a strong focus on differentiation to stand out in the market.

There have been several notable challenger brands that have successfully disrupted their respective industries. Here are a few examples.

  • Tesla is a prominent challenger brand in the automotive industry, specifically in the electric vehicle (EV) market. They have challenged traditional car manufacturers by offering innovative electric vehicles with cutting-edge technology, longer ranges, and a strong focus on sustainability.
  • Airbnb, as an emerging brand in the hospitality industry, provided an alternative accommodation option for travellers. By allowing homeowners to rent out their properties to guests, Airbnb created a peer-to-peer marketplace that challenged traditional hotels and accommodations.
  • Dollar Shave Club disrupted the shaving industry as a direct-to-consumer subscription service, challenging established brands like Gillette. They offered affordable, high-quality razors and personal grooming products, leveraging a humorous and irreverent marketing approach to connect with consumers.
  • Warby Parker operates in the eyewear industry, offering stylish and affordable prescription glasses and sunglasses. They disrupted the traditional eyewear market dominated by high-priced designer brands by selling directly to consumers through their online platform.
  • Casper is a challenger brand in the mattress industry that introduced the concept of buying mattresses online and delivering them in a compact box. By offering a convenient and affordable alternative to traditional mattress shopping, Casper disrupted the market and gained a significant market share.
  • Beyond Meat is disrupting the food industry, particularly the plant-based meat sector. They have developed plant-based meat substitutes that closely mimic the taste and texture of traditional meat, appealing to consumers seeking alternatives for health, environmental, or ethical reasons.

One important note is that the challenger brand and emerging brand status doesn’t last forever. Many of the brands listed above that were once considered disruptors of established industries, have found themselves maturing into dominant forces themselves. This is a vital part of the entrepreneurial lifecycle that creates a constant stream of new innovation and consumer benefit.

How Can Emerging Brands Grow

Emerging brands can succeed by employing various strategies and tactics to differentiate themselves and capture market share. Because they are up against tough odds, these brands must make careful use of the resources and strategic advantages that they have. Here are a few key approaches:

Differentiation: Challenger brands must clearly define their unique value proposition and differentiate themselves from the competition. This can be achieved through innovative product features, superior customer service, pricing strategies, or targeted marketing campaigns that highlight their distinct advantages.

Nimbleness and agility: Being smaller and more agile, emerging brands can adapt and respond quickly to market changes. They should leverage their flexibility to identify emerging trends, consumer needs, and gaps in the market. By being nimble, they can seize opportunities and outmanoeuvre larger competitors.

Emerging brands face a challenging path to growth. But differentiation, agility and smart targeting based on robust market research can all contribute to a strong competitive advantage.

Targeted storytelling: Challenger brands should focus on connecting with their target audience on an emotional level. They can use compelling storytelling, authentic brand narratives, and niche marketing strategies to create strong connections and build brand loyalty.

Disruptive innovation: Innovation can be a powerful tool for emerging brands to challenge industry norms. By introducing new technologies, business models, or approaches, they can offer unique solutions that resonate with consumers and disrupt the market.

Leveraging new technologies: Online, digital, and new marketing channels provide cost-effective opportunities for challenger brands to reach their target audience. By utilising social media, online advertising, influencer partnerships, and e-commerce platforms, they can amplify their brand presence and engage with consumers directly.

By using these techniques and building products in line with customer wants and expectations, emerging brands have the opportunity to bring fresh approaches, models, and disruptions to their respective industries.

The Role of Market Research in Building Brands

Market research is crucial for brands to understand their target market, consumer preferences, and competitive landscape. Let’s take a brief look at how emerging and challenger brands, in particular, can use insight and data to fuel their growth.

First, all successful brands must be able to identify consumer needs and pain points. Conducting market research helps challenger brands gain insights into needs, desires, and challenges. By understanding their target audience, they can develop products, services, and messaging that directly address those needs.

Research is also a valuable way to assess market dynamics and competition. Quantitative surveys, in-home usage tests and focus groups all allow emerging brands to analyse the competitive landscape, understand industry trends, and identify gaps or weaknesses in existing offerings. This information can guide their strategic decisions, positioning, and differentiation strategies.

Moreso than a safe brand proposition, its important that a disruptive one resonates with consumers. It is, after all, consumer sentiment and will that will determine success. Once again, research and data can help challenger brands test their value proposition, messaging, and overall positioning. Surveys, focus groups, and customer interviews can provide valuable feedback that enables them to refine their marketing strategies and optimize their brand messaging.

As the brand grows, consumer insight should also play a role in uncovering untapped market segments, emerging trends, or unmet consumer needs that emerging brands can capitalize on. By identifying these growth opportunities, they can tailor their products, services, and marketing efforts to target these specific segments.

Consumer insight play a vital role in uncovering new market segments, emerging trends and unmet meeds. These are all gaps that innovative challenger brands are poised to fill.

Finally, a brief note on tracking and performance measurement. Ongoing market research allows emerging brands to track their performance, measure brand awareness, customer satisfaction, and monitor the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. This data helps them make informed decisions, optimize their strategies, and stay responsive to evolving market dynamics.

By leveraging market research effectively, challenger brands can gain a competitive edge, better understand their target market, and make informed decisions that contribute to their overall success. Want to know more about how InsightHub can help bring together multiple online research tools including surveys, focus groups and customer communities into one data-driven platform for brands of any size? Explore our free, online demo today.

This article was originally published on the FlexMR Insights Blog, and can be found here.

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FlexMR

FlexMR is The Insights Empowerment Company. We help brands to act decisively, stay close to customers and embed agile insight at the heart of every decision.