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Opinion: We’re All Challengers Now

With economic uncertainties continuing to weigh heavily on consumer sentiment, now is the time for brands to embrace a challenger mentality, writes David Quinn.

These are strange days. Despite some record-breaking numbers for the government there seems to be a real slowdown in some quarters of the economy.

On the one hand we are still witnessing record employment and bumper tax takes. While on the other hand we have a cost-of-living crisis thanks to the recent interest rate hikes and surges in inflation. It’s almost as if the economy can’t make up its mind and so, like a controlling parent in a playground, is sending weird mixed signals.

Apparently, the domestic economy entered a technical recession at the end of last year. Even though it doesn’t feel like the proper old school recessions we used to have back in the 1980s or even in the 2008ies, it is still causing some confusion.

Look at the headlines for the last three months in the Credit Union Consumer Sentiment index for example. At the end of January of this year it declared: “Irish Consumer sentiment starts 2023 on a stronger note” but by the end of February it was starting to sound a bit more circumspect with “Consumer confidence continues on a cautious but positive path” but by the end March it was “Irish consumers remained concerned and cash-strapped”. The national consumer sentiment is like the weather. You don’t know whether to wear shorts or a raincoat when leaving the house.

This inevitably has led to many experticians predicting a slowdown in consumer spending this year. Not an unreasonable prediction given all of this uncertainty. This in turn could lead to a cooling in the marketing marketplace. A more cautious approach to marketing communications seems to be the order of the day. Like poker players a lot of brands are holding tight for the moment.

But this is no time to hold. Arguably this is one of the best times to play your cards. Because at times like this we are all challengers. And you don’t have to be a new entrant to adapt a challenger mindset. You could be a well-known brand looking at own- label eating into your market share. Or an established premium brand that is losing ground to an economy offering. It doesn’t really matter who you are actually. Even many smug market leaders are facing the challenges of a reduced budget. Indeed, some of our best-known challenger brands emerged at times like this.

As it happens, we have a lot of experience over the years of working with great challenger brands. Here’s a couple of tips we learned along the way.

Be bold: One of the truisms of marketing communications is that every category tends to speak with the same voice. No matter what the category, most of the competitors eventually end up sounding the same. If you really think about it most of your marketing sounds like the marketing your rivals. This gives challengers a great opportunity. Also it is easier to be heard if your competitors are shouting less. This is the time to be bold, to break the rules and challenge the status quo. And above all to speak with a different voice.

Do more with less: Challenger brands typically have limited resources when compared to their competitors, but that doesn’t hold them back. What they lack in financial resources they can make up for with innovative thinking, boldness, and willingness to challenge the norms. So, just because your resources are more limited right now doesn’t mean you have to sit there and do nothing.

Be authentic: Keep it real. Consumers, particularly Irish consumers value authenticity in brands. Challenger brands, with their unconventional approach and unique positioning, have the opportunity to come across as more authentic compared to established brands that may be perceived as corporate or impersonal. This authenticity can create a strong emotional connection particularly in the current economic climate.

Be nimble: Another advantage many challenger brands have is that they are nimble and agile. They are able to respond quickly to market changes and consumer demands. This ability is especially important these days.

Some of Ireland’s biggest and most successful companies still behave like challenger brands. (no prizes for guessing who they are). And even though they tower over their competition in terms of size and market share they still walk the challenger walk. Because you don’t have to be a small start-up to be a challenger. You just have to adapt the mindset. And in strange times like these that mindset is more important now than ever.

David Quinn is a founder and director of Bloom, part of the LWA Group.

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