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Triumph of the Underdog: Digital Marketing Case Studies

These brands have used clever digital marketing strategies to catapult ahead of the competition. Here's how they did it.
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At many businesses, January is the time to roll out new marketing strategies and tactical plans. From year to year, the objectives of these plans don't diverge much: increase revenue, cut expenses, innovate this or streamline that, yadda, yadda.

Not to belittle these objectives, but if you want change, you've gotta shake it up a bit, folks. I have to admire, for example, companies whose No. 1 objective for the year ahead is to eat their competitors' lunch--especially when the company setting forth that objective is the little (or much littler) guy.

In these situations, the so-called Challenger Brand, a term coined by marketing expert Adam Morgan, recognizes that its ambition exceeds conventional marketing resources--and that in order to capture more market share from industry leaders they have to first capture mindshare. With ambitions and limited marketing dollars like these, Challenger Brand companies make fascinating digital marketing case studies.

From Underdog to Industry Giant

Challenger Brands come in all shapes and sizes. Some Challenger Brands started as underdog start-ups and have grown to huge behemoths. Think about Apple, Southwest and Virgin airlines, Google (and ironically, now, Google+), Amazon.com and its Kindle, and Under Armour.

Other Challenger Brands are established names that languished on lower rungs of their industry ladder until fresh blood at their company invigorated new thinking and the gutsiness to take a different approach (Avis, Dos Equis). Though many Challenger Brands have used mass media advertising to make a play for market share, in today's digital age, companies can harness more diverse tactics. (Who didn't catch the Old Spice viral video campaign a couple of years ago?!)

Case Studies: Making It Work

Two companies I interviewed for my book took full advantage of Twitter to help reinforce their Challenger Brand positioning.

Technology manufacturer and Intel rival AMD (@AMD_Unprocessed) prides itself on its innovation and non-conformist ways. Rather than follow the so-called rules of Twitter, AMD embraced the platform as a means to "reach its current and new audiences in transparent and meaningful ways"... although the company is also not above some wily PR tactics.

Early online banking pioneer ING Direct (@INGDirect) took a similarly non-conformist approach. It decided early on that rather than use Twitter to deliver customer service, it would differentiate itself from other banks by providing clever information, taking on a thought leadership position and posting tweets that express passion for a cause.



Another Challenger Brand, automotive manufacturer Audi, picked up on a user tweet "#wantanr8" and made her wish come true by giving her one to drive for a whole weekend! Audi then turned the idea into an ongoing promotional campaign, reinforced on Facebook and YouTube.

Inc. 5000 stalwart and guerrilla marketer extraordinaire Honest Tea takes to the streets as well as the Web, with an active CEO blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts and YouTube channel.

Unilever, the company behind the ϋber-successful Dove Beauty Bar, the campaign for "Real Beauty" and the Axe line of men's products, seems to have perfected the underdog strategy. Now the brains behind the award-winning Cornetto Ice Cream street campaign using a multi-player mobile "wall projection mapping game" where successful players won a code sent to their mobile device, redeemable for a free ice cream.

And of course, there are the up-and-coming companies like Sheets Energy Strips and EOS lip balm: You may not have heard about them yet, because they haven't quite made their mark, but they are aggressively trying. It might be interesting to see where these brands are in a year from now. Because who doesn't like a good underdog story?

Got more underdog stories to tell? Visit my Scoop.it account on the topic.

IMAGE: Chase Jarvis/Getty
Last updated: Jan 6, 2012

HOLLIS THOMASES | Columnist | President & CEO, Web Ad.vantage

Client advocate, digital strategist, and thought leader Hollis Thomases, founder of Web Ad.vantage, helps companies navigate the complexity of the ever-changing digital marketing landscape and develop digital strategies.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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