Challenger brands used to be exceptions, but marketplace progression now requires companies to embrace defiance and fight for market share. These challenger brands enjoy the chase. When category leaders are lulled into complacency by their positions at the front of the pack, challengers look for opportunities to overtake them. They work smarter, try harder, and think differently.
As the owner of a performance marketing agency, I can tell you firsthand that these traits make challenger brands better clients. Challenger brands keep their agencies accountable and welcome accountability in return. These challengers breed improvement in several ways:
They Foster A Commitment To Mutual Success
Too often, brands in leadership positions treat their agencies like it’s a privilege to serve them—but they should stop that and start working from a place of mutual ambition.
Unfortunately, the short-term success demanded of most CMOs has created a need for highly disproportionate agency contracts. This is certainly true of so-called market leaders. Just look at the move to extend payment terms: The result is a noncommittal relationship that’s structurally designed to make it harder for one party to deliver the services it’s hired for.
Challenger CMOs see their agencies as valuable aspects in their marketing investment portfolios. If you want yours to deliver sustainably, it also needs to grow. Challenger CMOs want to see their agency partners grow in material ways: hiring more talent, investing in their current talent’s skills, building infrastructure, increasing their footprints, and increasing their gross revenues and margins. A marketer might want to achieve these things through the acquisition of his customers, and the ambition must be mutual.
They Use Procurement As An Adviser
Challengers rarely let their procurement teams lead the process to hire their performance agencies. The standard points of comparing agencies are nice for spreadsheet evaluation but terrible for forecasting performance and the working relationship.
Challengers know the better approach is to focus on the potential performance rather than cost. The cost of a performance agency is irrelevant because if cost is tied to performance, the partnership delivers against the collective business goals.
They Encourage Opportunism And Agility
Challengers take action, opting to be better rather than perfect. They constantly look for optimizations, and they’re organized to adopt them quickly.
Agencies are willing and able to work fast when they’re given a longer view of horizons and deeper responsibilities. Rather than working toward deliverable dates, they should be working toward goals that pay off. The focus shifts from tasks to real business opportunities.
When challenger clients invite their agencies to work toward shared performance incentives, they know they have to deliver against a primary KPI. Anything that stands in the way of earning that performance incentive is quickly dispelled. When a CMO meets an agency halfway with responsibility and mutual success, the agency goes all the way with effort, every time.
Developing The Challenger Mentality
Every challenger has several key elements in common. If you want to enjoy the benefits of the challenger mentality, you have to do these three things:
1. Constantly be on the lookout for opportunities: Your focus on improvement should be never-ending, and you should constantly search for windows of opportunity. Complacency is a virus to which true challengers are immune, and a challenger brand must find an agency with the same immunity. Your agency should push you as hard as you push it.
If you see that the market for growth is bigger than a particular client’s marketing budget, try working with the client to create a performance-based remuneration model that earns a commission on every sale. You can agree to reinvest a portion of that commission as client media funds, and the result could be ideal: a self-funding model that pushes the client’s budget further, with a built-in return for both of you.
2. Focus on actionable insights: Challengers don’t have time to waste with pseudoscience and proxy measures. A focus on actionable insight is what drives performance forward and closes the leadership market gap. Focus on the metrics that actually measure business success.
Consider aligning your performance incentive to the executive team bonus program. This ensures that you’re all working and focusing on the same valuable measures. It also ensures that both client and agency critically consider potential distractions before making them a campaign dependency.
3. Go where you’ve never gone before: Challengers push beyond their comfort zones. To achieve something new, you have to do something you’ve never done.
Start with an unorthodox approach to finding the best agency partners. Skip the request for proposal: It wastes time and focuses attention on the lowest common denominators of vendor contracts. Instead, first meet agency principals in person. Let them ask questions about your business that reveal their insights and uncover your challenges.
Fail better. Embrace the idea that a performance approach inherently means making mistakes—and that’s a good thing. Only through failure can anyone learn to improve. But failure should be contained within a testing and optimization method that makes consistent improvement over time, not in one-off campaigns that sink or swim.
We all love a good David-versus-Goliath story, but we don’t always see everything that goes into big upsets. Work with your agency to constantly pursue a better way, and you will develop partnerships that will help you not only challenge market leaders, but also triumph over them.