Tactics for B2Bs to borrow from challenger brands

Estimated reading time
3 minutes
16th October 2019
Author: Natasha Keary
Posted in: Customer Insights, Strategy & Planning

The age of challenger brands is upon us. From banks to skincare, there’s now a challenger for every industry and a disruptor brand to match.

We’re all familiar with challenger favorites in the B2C world. Taking a ride on a Bird scooter (paid for with a Monzo or Revolut card) while drinking Bodyarmor and planning the next Airbnb escape has become a daily occurrence for many of us.  

When you think of challenger brands, B2C names instantly come to mind. However, when it comes to B2B, the landscape is much quieter. But many tactics that build the success of challenger brands are genius ideas – and can easily be borrowed by the B2B world. After all, whether B2B or B2C, it’s still reaching out to a fellow, emotional human being.

Here’s a list of some of the techniques which give challenger brands their edge and tips on how B2Bs can put them to good use themselves.

Become the democratizer

There’s a new way of thinking that came about with the great digitalization. No longer do you need to be a media expert to broadcast your videos or a master investor to enter the stock market. You don’t even need to be a pro designer to make great content resources. Everyone can do almost everything with a little help from the internet (and Turtl).

Challenger brands maximize on this mindset. That’s why The Challenger Project named one of the leading challenger brand types, The Democratizer. Think about something like Twitch – the live streaming platform – which grants everyone the ability to start their own streaming channel. Here’s its mantra:

challenger brands - Twitch text image; where millions of people come together and make their own entertainment

This is a classic challenger position that emphasizes the freedom the service gives its users. Consider how your brand can empower your customers to do something they couldn’t do before. Twitch was founded in 2011, bought by Amazon in 2014, and today the world’s largest live streaming service – it must be doing something right.

Be proud of your humanness

Challenger brands have one thing in common: they say goodbye to dull, impersonal business fronts. Instead, they’re all about the power of humanity.

Look no further for awesomely human B2B marketing than Mailchimp. The company cultivates a quirky, honest tone of voice, which makes their campaigns particularly entertaining and occasionally odd. Here’s an example:

Make a name for yourself then outgrow it - Mailchimp - challenger brands


Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your mistakes, make the most of them, and have a laugh along the way. Mailchimp’s success skyrocketed from its foundation in 2001, and the brand gained 14,000 customers a day by 2017.  Not bad for a company with a no-longer-relevant name.

B2B brands often feel pressure to appear perfect all the time. However, making the most of your personness can bring a friendly edge to your messaging while building your brand to be more transparent and relatable for your customers.

Don’t shy away from shock

Challenger brands have the ultimate excuse for shock: they need to stand out, do it fast, and on a tight budget. Cue Brewdog’s shockingly eye-catching ads and messaging. The craft-beer brand is a fan of seeing marketing differently.  Shock tactics are useful for breaking the cycle of unconscious scrolling many of us fall victim to. If you can wake your customer up from the constant bombardment of brands, you’re off to a great start. 

Advert for Brewdog - challenger brands

The B2B world is just as competitive as the B2C world. Taking lead from Brewdog’s feistiness in the face of competition might just give you a headstart on the competition.

Keep up with your customers

This is the main motivation behind a challenger brand: they’re better than the bigger alternatives. They’ve found what’s wrong with the current way customers are treated and are set about fixing it themselves. Being better for customers is their middle name. Check out how European bank-alternative Revolut puts it:

A Radically Better Account - Revolut.com - challenger brands

Getting to know your customers and offering solutions to the problems they face is challenger 101. It means that customers are more likely to trust that you have their best interests at heart. Don’t be afraid to recognize the flaws in the existing way of doing things – you can almost bet your customer already has. The important part is what your brand can do to fix them.

Let’s recap: borrow these from your challenger brands …

  •     Flaunting your humanness (warts and all)
  •     Showcasing your democratization
  •     Rolling out the shock tactics
  •     Grabbing a coffee and a chat with a customer