Are you a maverick or a magician? People’s champion or rebel?

Two tools to help you decide

Challenger strategies

Why is it that, even if you’ve only just met them, you find yourself warming to some people more than others? Why does one person make you feel reassured, while another remains difficult to fathom?

Our brains are wired to constantly minimise the effort that’s needed to make decisions. We make judgements based not only on appearance, but also on our pre-existing beliefs about how personality works. And it’s the same with brands – we subconsciously apply human attributes to them and these help us decide when we’re trying to choose one brand over another.

In the discovery and creative process of our brand consultancy work we spend a lot of time finding opportunities to humanise a brand. Introducing human characteristics, however subtly, adds to a brand’s emotional appeal and helps carve a distinct identity. There are a number of ways of doing this but key among them are projecting personality and telling a compelling story.

Making your brand more human

Always on the lookout for injecting new ways of thinking into B2B branding, we’ve spent the past couple of years using a brilliant tool that really gets the creative juices flowing. It helps you approach your positioning with a fresh new mindset and offers the potential of telling your brand story through a narrative lens that you can make your own.

The challenger brand strategy, put together by the team from global consultancy, Eatbigfish, was originally developed with D2C brands in mind, but we saw no reason why it couldn’t be applied to B2B brands or indeed the charity sector. D2C shouldn’t have all the fun! (Incidentally, if you find that this tool doesn’t work for you, there’s another approach you can choose at the end of this post.)

The 10 types of challenger brand

This strategy works particularly well for brands that are underpinned by genuine passion and a strong purpose, and are seeking to be distinctly different from their peers. It engages you in some deep questioning that helps you get to the nub of not only what, but also ‘who’ your brand is. You may be shifting perceptions in your marketplace and challenging the norm but is that because you’re standing up for underserved audiences or because you’re at the forefront of a new generation of products or services? Do you zig while the rest of the world still zags? Interestingly, it’s not all David slaying Goliath (although that is the main thrust of the more binary, ‘small vs big’, ‘us vs them’ Feisty underdog strategy):

Feisty underdog

People’s champion (identifies an underserved sector and offers people-powered, community-driven solutions)

Next generation (capitalises on changing times, positioning itself as ideal for a new and emerging era)

Democratiser (focuses on accessibility and diversity, making what was previously available to only a few, accessible to all)

Local hero (reflects the renewed appetite for localism and local solutions)

Real & human (see ISL Case Study below)

Missionary (driven by a strong sense of purpose, often founded on indignation at the status quo)

Enlightened zagger (happy to swim against established norms, explicit about the shortfalls of the status quo)

Dramatic disrupter (seeks to upend the category it’s in, offering something significantly superior and going big on drawing attention to itself)

Irreverent maverick (uses wit and humour to challenge the status quo)

If you see your brand in any of these strategies you can then go on to use it as a creative jumping off point that has the potential to develop real standout in your brand concept, look and feel, tone of voice, messaging and content marketing.

Here’s an example of how we used the Real & Human strategy in our recent rebrand of recruitment company, ISL Talent.

What does Real & Human mean?

The Real & Human Challenger archetype sets out to appeal on a personal and emotional level. It positions a brand as rooting for its customers and caring about what its customers care about. Although being community minded and doing social good are also trademarks of Real & Human brands, these areas should be handled with care so as not to overtake or distract from the main brand message.

Real & Human brands challenge the dehumanising forces of industrialisation, or in the case of ISL Talent, the depersonalising digitisation of their category. For them, people are not just numbers on a spreadsheet and their work is not about pushing CVs and filling roles. Instead their focus is on placing quality people for cultural fit, in companies where they can grow and develop, and help the companies they’re working in grow and develop.

Real & Human capitalises on ISL Talent’s existing commitment to taking a personal approach. Its genuinely nice team prioritises human connection and building valued relationships with candidates and clients alike. This challenger strategy sits in stark opposition to ruthless, ‘numbers game’ and the faceless, algorithm-led recruiters. In the B2B arena, it’s an approach that’s typified by MailChimp, while Innocent Drinks makes for a good example of Real & Human in the B2C sector.

Real and Human ISL case story

Delivering the Real & Human Challenger

With its competitors choosing to take a strong stance on sustainability, ISL needed to distinguish itself in a clear brand space that played on its strengths and was communicated consistently across all of its messaging, the company website, sales decks and content marketing.

We delivered the Real & Human strategy for ISL Talent by dialling up the sense of real care and personal dedication they put into everything and placing that centre-stage. The idea of ‘brand’ in itself, deliberately took a back seat to ISL being presented more as a group of people united by their commitment to constantly do better for the people they serve – building partnerships rather than completing commercial transactions.

Being able to demonstrate how Real & Human percolates through into how ISL treats its own people played an important part in delivering the strategy. Showing the real faces behind the brand added to the credibility of the Real & Human approach, while communicating how ISL’s staff are well supported, have autonomy and lots of opportunities to grow and develop their careers ensured that prospective clients had a window on something that would resonate with them. When clients come to ISL Talent they find a recruitment company staffed by people they can relate to and work with.

ISL Real and Human strategy

The classic Brand Archetypes

If you can’t see your brand through any of the 10 challenger lenses then there is always another tool at your disposal – the classic Brand Archetypes model which provides you with a list of 12 archetypes (or combinations of archetypes – maybe you’re a combination of Sage and Magician?) which you can use to apply human attributes to your brand.

The subject of countless articles, this approach, introduced in Margaret Mark and Carol S Pearson’s 2001 book, The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes, builds (as does Eatbigfish’s work) on the very human tendency of using symbolism to understand concepts that was identified by psychiatrist, Carl Jung.

Brand archetypes

Inspiring creativity

Creativity never takes place in a vacuum – it thrives on stimulus. Like many strategists and creative directors I love using short cuts like the challenger strategies and brand archetypes to get the creative process under way. Tools such as these help you develop a deeper understanding of your business and the drivers behind it, taking you back to first principle thinking and making for a solid foundation from which to create a distinctive brand.

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