The North Star for Challenger Marketers: Adding Value

Driving growth and building a brand is a tough job in today’s competitive and cultural environment. Advertising is no longer limited to the big companies with bigger budgets to hire agencies and launch TV-centric campaigns. Now, every brand – from global enterprises to start-ups to individual influencers –  is able to dump content into the ecosystem. 


How do you break through with all this noise? You bring value. You earn people’s attention instead of expecting it. The brands held up as best-in-class in this era are the ones that bring value to their audience through their marketing. Pick almost any challenger brand and you’ll see evidence of this approach. Away has grown as a challenger in the luggage business by telling beautiful, inspirational stories about travel on social media. Cash App is growing like crazy in the mobile payments space by leveraging influencers to post fun, engaging content on channels with underpriced attention like TikTok. One of our favourite examples is actually from more than 100 years ago when Michellin started their fine dining guide to get people in France to drive more. (Remember, you don’t need to be a start-up to be a challenger!). 


On the other side of the conversation, the incumbent brands held up as the worst examples (or the ones ignored entirely), are still stuck in the old model. They use marketing to extract value. They start with them – their business, their product, their sales targets, instead of their audience. Take your pick here, it’s not hard to find examples and you likely already have a few in mind! 


The new model isn’t all that new. Inbound marketing, content marketing, the “publisher approach” – all of these methods stem from the same philosophy: marketing as a function exists to add value instead of extracting it. 


So, how do you add value? The tactic will depend on your business, but the approach is the same for everyone who’s done it well: you reverse-engineer from your audience. You start with the customer and put him/her at the center of everything you do. You push yourself and your team to understand who they are, what they care about, and what problems they’re trying to solve. You define the value you want to add and constantly reassess whether you’re delivering against it. 


Adding value is the North Star for challenger marketers. They seek to produce content and experiences that will be valuable to their customers. Challengers  invest heavily in the content their audience will find most valuable, distributed in the channels most convenient to them, not where the marketer (or media agency) wants them to be. Anything and everything they do starts and ends with the question of “how can we add value through the marketing we do?”


Most companies struggle to grasp the ‘add value’ marketing model. Especially in B2B businesses, It’s not the way things have traditionally been done, and it can be hard to close the loop with the commercial return. You’re giving something away with no expectation of getting something back in the short-term. But marketing’s primary function is and will always be to drive growth. That should never change. And setting ‘add value’ as you’re North Star is still a means of driving growth. It’s actually more effective in the modern competitive, cultural and content landscape because attention is so scarce. Value delivers growth because attention is the first ingredient you need to make any marketing work. (You might want to pause for a second and re-read that last sentence again – it’s fundamental to thinking differently as a challenger marketer). Your product might be amazing, but it won’t matter if nobody knows about it. Your e-commerce site or sales pitch might be stellar, but it won’t matter if nobody comes to check it out. You need to collect and capture attention in order to convert it into business.


The way you capture attention is by adding value to the audience you’re trying to reach. You can still buy attention, but it’s increasingly ineffective – in most modern channels people can skip ads they won’t want to watch. And even if you can buy attention effectively, you can’t buy your way to growth unless you’re willing to outspend everyone else. You need to outsmart your competition, not just outspend them. 


The world is starving for good content that educates or entertains. People don’t care where content comes from, they care that it’s good. Attention spans aren’t getting shorter, it’s just that people don’t have to watch bad content anymore if they don’t want to. What’s changed is the choice people have, not their fundamental behaviors or needs. Your audience will watch your ads if they add value. 


Challenger marketers focus on adding value as their North Star in order to earn the attention they need to build their brands. 


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