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The rise of the challengers

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Purpose-driven brands are proving that businesses can be a force for good, while changing consumer behaviour and unsettling the incumbents. Our Brand Strategist, James, tells us more. 

In a world that’s rapidly changing and constantly unpredictable, companies and consumers alike are looking for answers to our future’s most pressing questions.

Experts point to a number of factors or turning points: the 2008 financial crisis, the 2016 US election, the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID-19 pandemic, to name just a few. In reality, it’s a culmination of global events over the past 20 years that’s led to a seismic shift in cultural needs and wants.

Mary Portas coined this ‘The Kindness Economy’, arguing that people have fundamentally changed what they’re looking for in products and brands. They’re even increasingly turning to direct-to-consumer companies to help solve societal issues. Where corporations and conglomerates once reigned supreme, there’s now clear demand for responsible niche brands that reflect modern outlooks, lifestyles and values. That’s where the challengers are filling the void for conscious consumers. And at the same time, many of these cause-driven disruptors have their eyes set on taking a hearty slice of the incumbent pie.

There's more to business than profit

If one thing unites the challengers – whatever their product category – it’s that there’s more to business than just making a profit. Of course, they need to make money. But it’s about making money sustainably, and for the good of the world.

Much of this starts by identifying a problem. Some founders set out to radically change their category; others start with more modest ambitions. Yet both types of entrepreneurs build their companies on a shared sense of higher purpose – a mission to make, create and deliver for the better of consumers, the planet and society. This is their very lifeblood and their reason for being.


As consumers, they provide hope, provoke action and stand for good. They make it possible for us to positively contribute, while enjoying a tasty snack or thirst quenching drink at the same time. They make us feel less guilt and more satisfaction. They signal our values and position on the right side of history.

Brands that shout loud and proud

While the incumbents are slow, even fearful of change and what this might mean for their audience, the challengers are safe in the knowledge that some brands aren’t for everyone. They’re happy to make a coffee for transgender ecowarriors, while the incumbents are fearful of simply featuring them in an ad.

The challengers know their consumers because they are them. They know what tugs at their heart strings and they know what makes them emotive. As highly adept verbal and visual storytellers, they have a narrative to tell that’s authentic, true and above all meaningful. The challengers have the storytelling ability as well as the entrepreneurial mindset, to transform products like fresh flowers and detergent pods into lifestyle aligning passion points.


Such creative and messages are often based around a combination of what their product uniquely offers AND their powerful vision. With one foot in innovation and the other in cause, the challengers can offer an unrivalled reason to buy – products that are better for consumers, as well as the planet and society.

Our Creative Director, John Taylor, said: “Challenger brands are always exciting to work with. They’re disrupting categories for the better and by their very nature they’re bold and brave.

“Backed up by courageous, change-making archetypes, this often gives them licence to challenge conventions and break established codes.

“This is music to the ears of a brand agency. As well as making them visually remarkable, it’s our job to make sure any creative direction is rooted in relevant strategic thinking that supercharges their brand and separates them from the rest of the category. Seeing these brands appear on supermarket shelves and breaking through as household names is the icing on the cake.”

A demand for authenticity

In the age of social media and instant analysis, brands need to get real if they want to connect with their audience. According to Stackla, 88% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands they like and support.

Everything brands get right and everything they get wrong is now broadcastable in just a few taps. The spotlight has never been brighter and the pressure has never been greater. It’s a time when hashtag movements are shifting brand behaviours just as much as high level boardroom decisions. Consumers want brands that align with their own beliefs and brands that fail to deliver are paying the price.

The challengers are already doing this. They’re instinctively living by the very values they were founded on; beliefs that centre around making a difference, not just a profit. Much of this has been accelerated by millennial and Gen Z consumers who tend to be more vocal about their demand for authenticity. It ties into the shift to ‘The Kindness Economy’, and brands that fail to transparently do good are more likely to be left behind.


Sergio Radovcic, Founder & CEO at baby care challenger, DYPER, said: “Everything we do is guided by our principles: transparency, integrity and respect for our team members, suppliers and customers. We’re not perfect, but we’ll respond to each challenge perfectly.

“We can’t solve every problem, but we’re trying to do our part to be part of the solution.

“We didn’t invent landfills and we don’t know what the final solution is. But we do believe that if we can build a better diaper that can be safely composted, we can move in the right direction.”

The challengers are here to stay

It’s safe to say that this is no market trend. And it might sound frank but just like our impact on the planet, companies are faced with an ultimatum: adapt or die. Those that don’t answer the demands for more sustainable business face an uphill task – one that’s likely to be compounded by future government legislation.

The truly great brands engage positively with the zeitgeist and seek to influence the important issues of our time. They identify a problem and make it their northstar to challenge that reality.

Whether it’s raising the bar on sustainability, increasing inclusivity and equality, or improving health and wellbeing, the challengers are more than just brands – they’re a mindset; a mentality. They’re the misfit, out-the-box, rule breakers who are going against convention to break through, deliver measurable impact and change the world.

Not so long ago they would’ve been looked down upon by the category, even society. But they were already way ahead. And that’s where they remain.

Article by Brand Strategist at Better, James Bolton.


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