There’s a saying that goes something like, “A challenger needs to act like it’s the leader, and the leader needs to act like it’s still the challenger.”

In marketing, that means the challenger brand must have the hunger, the cleverness, and the nimble response to set itself apart from all other competitors to overtake the industry’s leader.

Disruptor brands, on the other hand, come at the challengers and leader with an extra-large serving of braggadocio and a side of recklessness. Disruptors like to pitch themselves as “rulebreakers” or “gamechangers.”

While a disruptor brand’s message may sound refreshing, you can’t help but suspect it will end up like the dog that doesn’t know what to do after it catches the car. A challenger brand that reaches the top, however, will know what to do because it planned to drive that damn car all along.

In comparison to the other two brand types, the leader needs to act as if it’s still clawing its way upward or reaching for some higher standard. Most importantly, a leader must avoid becoming another face in the crowd.

When a leader decides that standing out from the crowd is unbecoming of its status, it risks being knocked from its perch. Heck, it deserves to get its tailfeathers kicked.

Quick, name the leading brand for computers and electronics.

Chances are you thought of Apple, whether or not you like the company and its products. Apple still finds a way to break through the noise with its marketing message, which is always rousing, absorbing, and still somewhat clever.

Apple is the leading computer and electronics manufacturer according to several metrics, although its rivals and detractors will say the company has more style than substance. Criticism of Apple aside, can you think of any standout ads by HP, Lenovo, or Samsung? “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” is nostalgia,
but it isn’t an effective challenger message for today.

Quick, name the leading brand for power management. For industrial clean-ups. For machine tooling.

When you leave the realm of consumer brands for the industrial, answers don’t come as quickly. And to be fair, the average person probably isn’t aware that certain industrial markets exist, let alone who their major players are.

But if an industrial brand’s message reaches the average Joe and Jane as well as its targeted customers, odds are people perceive it to be the leader in its market (even if it isn’t) while it becomes a household name.

The leader stands out. And good things start to happen.

Want to lead? Be bold.

Yes, be bold, even if your company manufactures gears, or is in an industry as regimented as accounting. (And where’s the rule that says people and businesses shouldn’t get excited about hiring an accountant? We haven’t seen it.)

Being bold requires a clever and creative campaign that inspires everyone from the board room to the mail room and reaffirms the Prime Directive of business: outsell the other guys to be the leader.

The leader thus understands a dull message gets lost in the crowd.

If you want standout marketing deliverables that enlighten, excite, and engage your customers — that help take your brand to the top and keep it there — contact Branch Creative Group today!

By Steve Fleishauer

Steve is co-founder of Branch Creative Group and is responsible for business development and client experience.  His past experience includes being a managing partner at a regional marketing agency, account representative, and a pressman.  He has a proven 25-year track record of practical business success and client satisfaction in marketing and printing.