“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
Charles Dickens’ words certainly ring true more than 150 years after they were scribbled. We live in an age of contradiction; an age of tremendous technological advancement where so much is possible. The Internet has provided us a window to the world, at our fingertips; the world and all its joys more accessible than ever. We are witnessing the rise of transparency where everyone has a voice regardless of nationality or economic status. Yet the division of wealth and resources have reached vulgar proportions, meaningless numbers on a computer screen. Financial frivolity has scaled new heights (and lows), birthing a new class in luxury. And this conspicuous consumption has taken its toll on our planet and people.
People are not happy. People want change. And understandably so. The recent rise in political populism trails a somewhat analogous rise in what I will refer to as commercial populism. In branding terms, this is more commonly known as the Challenger Brand: a brand that resonates with the masses by championing a cause that has a positive impact on the world.
At our core, we love underdogs. And we love it even more when the underdog ultimately becomes a champion.
There are different interpretations, nuances and manifestations of the entity commonly referred to as a Challenger Brand. Validated through success and united in a complete commitment to oppose the status quo, the relevance of the Challenger Brand has grown considerably in an epoch of transparency and doing the right thing.
But, beware the Trojan Horse. A Challenger Brand needs to be constructed from the ground up. Cosmetic facelifts are meaningless. The credibility or authenticity of any company is paramount. Masking one’s identity or core purpose is subject to greater levels of cynicism than ever before. In marketing terms, we are witnessing a Dickensian revolution of sorts. The success of true Challenger brands, from Virgin and Airbnb through my personal favorite, the much-loved Rocky Balboa are a testament to this revolution. People in growing numbers are shunning the establishment in favor of the people’s champion.
So, what makes a brand a true challenger? Like all great brands, a Challenger Brand is a veritable onion—a complex, layered character that cannot be defined or explained in a sentence or two. At its core, a challenger is altruistically-inclined, driven by an adventurous spirit and in some cases, prone to a bit of playful irreverence.
To delve deeper into the psyche of a Challenger Brand, I will deconstruct the Company where I’m currently plying my trade: ClearCove.
ClearCove is inherently sustainable; not a Company trying to reposition itself due to some sort of existential (or customer) crisis. Its technology turns wastewater into renewable resources: from clean (potable) water to energy and other nutrients which benefit our planet. And the world certainly needs as much clean water and energy as it can get its hands on. Moreover, it does this more efficiently and effectively than any other technology in the world today, due to a highly innovative (heavily patented) process that takes its inspiration from nature, or gravity to be more precise.
Peel another layer off the ClearCove brand onion, and the figure of a Missionary becomes clearer. Completely committed to the greater good, missionaries are put on this planet to right a wrong—a challenger with a higher calling, a transparent sense of purpose. And what greater purpose than sustainably recycling critical resources that feed, fuel and water the planet?
Moreover, this is achieved in an environment full of Trojan Horses and questionable agendas (at best); agendas where financial return, voter and market share appear to be more important than doing what’s right for our planet. The Missionary challenges negative forces in the world because it believes they are ethically or ideologically flawed. Overcoming these considerable obstacles is a challenging road indeed. But the path less traveled is never an easy one, and the Missionary’s unflinching commitment to the greater good, to doing something “big, brave and beautiful” is what makes it so appealing to millions of people, across all walks of life.
I consider myself lucky to be one of those people.