CREATING A MODERN CHALLENGER BRAND: A CASE STUDY
Last month I discussed the work carried out by Adam Morgan in the field of “Challenger Brands” and began to relate this to the birth of a real-life Challenger Brand in the shape of DirectAsia.com, a new direct-to-consumer insurance brand launched earlier this year in Singapore. This month I pick up the story from the point at which DirectAsia.com’s particular vision came to life in the form of a highly distinctive brand identity and communication strategy.
- TAKE THE HIGH GROUND – THOUGH LEADERSHIP
The term ‘though-leadership@ is commonly used, but less commonly delivered. However, it is a feature of challenger brands. Though leadership can come in many forms, from the authoritative intellectualism of an Economist of Harvard Business review, to the questioning aestheticism of a Philippe Starck, but it requires a distinct frame of reference and world view, delivered with an unerringly consistent tone of voice. For DirectAsia.co part of this thought leadership component came from the combined and varied experience of the team, but an equally important part came from what Morgan refers to as ‘Emotional Insertion’. This is the practice of recalibrating the expectations of a particular category by injecting into it an emotion or set of emotions with which it is not ordinarily associated. In the case of DirectAsia.com, this mean going against the grain of most insurance companies’ preoccupation with size, scale and number of claims, to a more people-centric mentality that had at its core a commitment to building individual customer relationship with a refreshing openness and positive. This attitude infused the development of the brand’s products and customer interaction and also the look and feel of the brand itself.
- IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME
Another of Morgan’s credos is the building of what he calls ’A Lighthouse Identity’. This is a key observation for challenger brands. There is a temptation for wannabe challenger brands to behave as anti-establishment crow-pleasers that try to be all things to all people but ultimately lack what Morgan calls a “magnetic compass” and come across a superficial. A true challenger brand has innate confidence in its view point and an unshakable faith in its understanding of consumers. This liberates such brands to create identities which are – first and foremost – true to their own principles and personality, rather than trying to second-guess their target audience. In this way, challenger brand stand to create identities that are fundamentally purer articulations of their singular vision. They tend to be simpler in styling, less contrived and free of the need to follow trends or appease focus groups. This more-often-than-not allows them to break (or at least wilfully ignore) existing category conventions and create something fresh and surprising. Think Apple’s wilfully un-technological marquee, or Virgin’s signature script – now as effective an evocation of the brand personality as Steve Jobs or Sir Richard Branson themselves.
In the case of DirectAsia.com, the company name and identity were to be a natural extension of the very essence that underpins the business: a commitment to being “Bright, Bold and Direct” in every its does. This philosophy drove the decision to adopt a very straightforward, no-nonsense name when many larger competitors used abstract creations or impersonal abbreviation. It also drove the creation of a bright and friendly graphic identity and the adoption of ‘Insurance Online’ as a consistent, direct expression of the business offer.
- CREATE A CHALLENGER CULTURE
A key differentiator of challenger brands, according to Adam Morgan, is that they ‘create symbols of re-evaluation’ by doing things differently. This is not about being contrary and bucking trends just for the sake of it, but taking a measured approach to understanding where new or additional value can be introduced to an interaction by conceiving it in a more open-minded, brand-centric way. This can certainly relate to all aspects of product development, design and delivery, but it can also be taken much further than that. A feature of DirectAsia.com’s approach was that it applied these principles not just to its product and channel strategy, but also to its internal culture. As a direct insurance provider, the customer service centre is a crucial component of DirectAsia.com’s offer. It may have been an easier (and cheaper) option for them to have outsourced this function, but it would not have given the management and HR teams the same level of control over the selection and training of these key members of staff. Instead, DirectAsia.com decided to bring this service in-house and developed a rigorous roadmap for the recruitment and development of the team. At the heart of this roadmap was the philosophy of ‘Bright, Bold and Direct’, which helped ensure that by the time of the launch, customer service staff didn’t just know their products back-to-front, they also had an innate understanding of the brand itself and their crucial role in bringing it to life on a daily basis.
- WALK THE TALKS
It is vitally important that a challenger brand carries its point of difference right through every aspect of its communications, especially when in many media channels it will be competing directly with the established market leaders. Morgan advocates using advertising and publicity as a “high leverage asset” through which the new brand enters and inhabits the popular mindset. As long ago as 1963, one of the archetypal challenger brands, Avis, catapulted itself into public consciousness with the refreshingly candid advertising slogan “We’re only No.2. We try harder’. For DirectAsia.com, the advertising campaign created by Ogilvy RedCard adopted a bold, conversational tone of voice that differentiated it from the rest of the industry. It also created world of mouth by ‘taking over’ CBD carparks with multiple-tactical, tongue-in-cheek brand messages.
Ultimately, launching a successful challenger brand is about taking a passionately-led vision and having the conviction, creativity and sheer bloody-mindedness to bring it to life – without compromise – across every conceivable touch points. SME
Graham Hitchmough is Managing Director of The Brand Union, a world-class global brand agency comprising of 500 people across 20 offices that are united thorough its deep-seated commitment to becoming masters of the art and science of brand building.