How to understand emerging brands (a.k.a. challenger brands)

Many established companies face the threat of emerging brands or challenger brands along the way to staying relevant today. In this article, I discuss how established companies can use consumer insights strategies to understand and continue winning over emerging brands.

Topics covered include:

What is an emerging or challenger brand?

An emerging brand is a newer company or even product trying to break into an established market. This could be a brand that is just a few years old, solves a consumer problem differently than established brands, and even uses different marketing strategies, like social media influencer campaigns.

Sometimes emerging brands are called challenger brands because they are vying for a spot in a market that another brand currently occupies. In essence, they a

How to compete with emerging brands?

To get started, remember about your existing community of consumers, sellers, and advocates.

“We have an army of Avon representatives – there is about 5 million around the world – which is basically our sales force,” said Jo Munton, former global insights senior manager at Avon. “They are our No. 1 core target.”

Those millions of reps are also very similar to the consumers they are selling to and use Avon products themselves.

From there, Avon makes sure those representatives understand the product and know how to sell it. In other words, build on what is working already.

“Understanding what they want is absolutely vital,” Jo said. “They are our biggest and bravest ambassadors.”

We've been developing products for over 135 years and there's a reason why we still do what we do.

Then the trick is to involve those already-existing ambassadors in the process of new product development to get their feedback. If they are excited about a new product, they will likely pass on that excitement to others in their networks.

Keep testing new products

Even as the incumbent in a marketplace, it is important to innovate as a business. Ideate new products, test them and see if consumers want them.

Read next: How to follow the design thinking process to be more relevant to customers

“We have a fantastic product-development center based in the U.S. that continually strives to get the best innovation for our customers,” Jo said, adding that one example is a new product that offers seven skin-care benefits in seven days.

Build on the nostalgia

An established brand – like Avon – has a certain level of nostalgia attached to it. There are consumers who have used it their entire life.

“I know people – like 80-year-old family members who say, ‘I swear by Avon and have been using it my whole life,” said Jenn Vogel, host of “Reel Talk: The Customer Insights Show” and vice president of marketing at Voxpopme. “That’s a thing you can’t create with these new brands that are emerging. You really can’t compete with the nostalgia piece.”

Finding new ways to sell

How consumers buy certainly has changed as well and is also an area Avon has embraced by seeing more reps use new social selling tactics.

Read next: [Consumer study] How do consumers feel about drone delivery?

“It’s just a really nice way of how Avon has evolved,” Jo said. “It’s not necessarily door-to-door selling anymore. It is in some markets because that still resonates really well but it also might be a representative selling online or even our website.”

At the end of the day, Jo said, it’s about bringing all the channels together. Social selling, network selling, face-to-face all have roles to play.

She said that some consumers want to experience a new product in-store, so that experience also can’t be neglected.

Read next: [Consumer study] What’s a good in-store experience?

“Plus, having a representative who can top of that experience as well is really valuable,” Jo said. “That’s why we provide samples. If you haven’t bought a certain skincare product and haven’t tried it, there’s a certain amount of risk. So we try to provide samples and tools that help them make that product choice easier.”

Connecting with consumers directly

Being close to consumers and truly understanding them, their situation, and current needs and wants matters – for any brand really.

Jo said she likes using video surveys because you can hear directly from consumers and are part of what’s currently going on in their lives.

“Looking at her makeup, through her makeup bag, what she’s up to and how she applies her makeup,” said Jo. “Just to understand what kind of products we should develop. We use Voxpopme, which is a very valuable tool for us.”

Connecting with consumers through video also gives brands an opportunity to explain what certain products do. Those conversations can lead us to understand that the benefit might not be as clear.

The need to hear from consumers

“Getting it direct from the consumer is really helpful,” Jo said. “The way Avon predominantly operates is through the representative or brochures. With a brochure, we only have a certain amount of time to pull them in. We need to ensure that what we are writing in that brochure is easy to understand.”

The brochures need to say what the product does and how it will help them and testing that content with consumers through video is a huge benefit, she said.

“Doing those consumer videos, we actually learn what language they understand and what they don’t understand as well,” Jo said.

"That integration of videos with consumers is just so beneficial."

“Sometimes we have to explain an idea internally why it’s worth it and having that consumer on video saying ‘here’s my problem’ is worth its weight in gold,” she said.

“There’s such a difference of somebody saying it in their own words than showing a graph or chart,” added Jenn. “There are people behind all these numbers and it’s not just out of thin air.”

Embrace the speed

Established brands are sometimes not known for speed while emerging brands pride themselves on moving fast. But using the right technology can help older brands move fast as well, Jo said.

“The biggest advantage that goes across everything is time,” Jo said. “A lot of the newer technological research techniques that we use are just quicker. I could launch a video survey today, and by the time I get home from work it is completed. Consumers already have logged on and submitted their responses. ”

The speed is key. So is agility, which can include asking additional questions based on what was already learned.

Use advantageous budget

Established brands often also have larger budgets that can be used for bigger marketing campaigns and more insights activities. Take advantage.

“When you work with a larger brand with a larger budget, there’s more funding that can be allocated to research,” said Marnie Steffe, insights and innovation director at Elida Beauty and a member of the Voxpopme Advisory Board, on an episode of the market research podcast “Reel Talk.” “There’s also a higher risk in a sense, so you need to make sure all the ts are crossed and is are dotted. It really needs to be buttoned up.” 

Understand what new brands have to go through

When a new product comes to market, there certainly can be challenges from marketing, consumer acceptance, and need to testing the right things at the right times.

“It’s more like you are in the dating pool, and you are trying to find a date and get them interested,” said Sherwette Mansour, author of “Why no one is buying your product.” “And keep going with the conversation and see if it works.”

On the flip side, an existing product is more like a marriage.

“The key thing between the two is to listen to the customers and give them what they need,” she said.

Certainly, established brands can learn something by keeping an eye on what emerging brands are doing and which ones consumers seem to like.

"You need to have that conversation to ensure your product fits the need of the customer as their needs evolve."

Embrace the change in consumer behavior

Keep in mind and embrace how consumer behavior changes. Today, people shopping on their phones isn’t that unusual. Ten years ago, it wasn’t really a thing.

"Just making sure we don't get left behind and use these research techniques that you can have on your phone now."

Technology has changed for consumers and it is also changing in how we can research and understand our shoppers.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what research looks like in 10-15 years,” Jo said.

Like this article? Read more like it here. 

Listen to our market research podcast 

What’s a question you’d like to ask consumers?