March 6, 2020

8 Things you may have missed at Adweek’s Challenger Brands

Ashley Walters

Chief Development Officer, Partner

Back for a second year, Adweek’s Challenger Brands Summit was packed with over 900 brands, marketers and agencies looking to absorb insights from the world's most disruptive thought leaders. If you didn’t make it to this year’s summit, don’t worry. We took copious notes. After attending dozens of conference sessions, we’ve compiled the eight most interesting, actionable and terrifying learnings you need to know. 

1. Get to know Generation Z.

Also known as Gen Z, iGen, or — if you're super fancy — centennials. They are the generation born between 1996 and 2010. This generation was raised by the internet and social media. Gen Z is estimated to soon become the largest US consumer population. So what does it take to get their attention and ultimately get them to buy? Here are a few things Gen Z shoppers demand from brands: 

  • Give them a sense of Community: Support them. Talk with them. Listen to them. When they succeed, you succeed. 
  • Support their Entrepreneurial Spirit: Provide value. Help them save money and make money. Help them make an impact, have a voice or accomplish their goals in life. Figure out where your purpose and their purpose intersect and live in that space. 
  • Build in Sustainability: Your brand needs to be an extension of life. Ingrain it into your production, sourcing, recycling of the old, reusing of the new. It must be part of your story because they care. Products marketed for their sustainability accounted for 51% of market growth between 2013-18.

2. Love your customer feedback.

Don’t run from it; learn from it. Uncover the human truth hidden behind customer feedback and then activate upon it. Your brand story will thank you. 

3. Challenger isn’t just a word, it's a mindset.

As a challenger brand, it’s your job to create change for your employees, customers and communities. That means championing authenticity and vulnerability. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all road map. David&Goliath founder David Angelo offers these five things challenger brands can do to create real impact: 

  • Find your truth and embrace it.
  • Build a company that champions your truth.
  • Live it in everything you do.
  • Inspire your clients and partners to live their truth. 
  • Impact the world with your truth. 

4. If you like money, focus on inclusivity.

A Gallup study found that companies focused on gender diversity performed 58% better than less engaged and diverse organizations. Similarly, a McKinsey & Company report discovered that businesses ranking in the top 25% for racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to show better financial returns. The industry needs a wake-up call. Diversity and inclusion aren’t just a must for corporate morality, they’re key for fiscal success. Everyone remembers Abercrombie’s fall from grace. Brands and agencies need a transparent plan for hiring, training, mentoring, sourcing and more. Organizations like ANA’s SeeHer are paving the way to accurately portray all women and girls in advertising, marketing, media and entertainment, so they see themselves as they truly are. Hot take: We should all be doing this. 

5. Give them the keys.

Whether you’re at the top of your category or new to the game, you have to give your audience a reason to speak up. That’s how you build brand ambassadors. Shay Mitchell, actor and founder of Beis, suggests brands bring consumers along the journey. Bring them into your factory, store or restaurant. Let them peek behind the scenes and see how things are made. Social media is so oversaturated, you have to show consumers a different perspective. But be warned: You must be willing to let them in if you give them the keys. 

6. Do what you fear; watch it disappear.

You have to experiment. You have to try new things. You don’t always have time to test. Do. Watch. Fix. Repeat. Be fearless. Even big brands need to act like challenger brands and true challenger brands move at the speed of culture. 

7. What got you here won’t get you there.

It’s harder than ever to get noticed because it’s easier than ever to launch a brand. This is especially true in DTC. Consumers are finding new DTC brands through social media every single day. The best way to avoid disruption and take your brand to the next level is to self-disrupt. Be willing to fail forward. This is a challenge for companies who have found success. It takes courage to reinvent the wheel when you’re already winning the race — but that’s what it takes to stay ahead. 

8. Forget spray and pray.

Challenger brands have to be smarter. How can you optimize your marketing to increase performance? Start with these four mandatories: 

  • Creative, engaging ads are vital:  Consumers follow you on social for more than discounts. They want product updates, ideas and, yes, even to comment on your ads. Give them a reason to. 
  • Social media isn’t the only way to turn heads: Yes, 60% of consumers actively follow DTC brands on social media, but there are other business solutions — like loyalty programs — that can have an even greater return. 
  • Some verticals have more awareness than others: Think about investing in data-driven prospecting and awareness strategies.
  • Personalization makes it meaningful: Utilize data to improve targeting and communication. Make your customers feel like they’re an audience of one. 
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