Challenger Marketing 101The 4 principles of Challenger Marketing

The challenger approach entered common lexicon with the publication of The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer, by Brent Adamson, Matthew C. Dixon, and their colleagues from CEB Inc. You can read a quick summary of The Challenger Sale here and The Challenger Customer here.   Being fairly new to the Challenger concept myself, I did a little investigating on your behalf around The Marketing Practice, asking not just for a definition of what ‘Challenger Marketing’ is, but for practical advice on how to do it.   And now, ta-da, here it is. An ultra-quick crash course into the four pillars of challenger marketing, courtesy of my colleagues.

What it is: As opposed to colorful ad campaigns that look great when pasted into an awards entry, but fail to convert customers, challenger is a sales-focused methodology. It is based on rigorous research into a handful of relevant prospects and a commercial insight into why those prospects should consider your product or service.

What it isn’t: It’s not a quick 1-2 formula. It’s not a collection of channels or a specific selection of assets. Nor is it a mindless attempt at shocking prospects with a controversial headline. Successful challenger campaigns don’t look alike. They might all share a strategic backbone, but they’re all dressed quite differently. Because every challenger campaign is informed both by the proposition (the product or service we’re trying to sell) and by a unique understanding of the personalities and driving forces of a customer decision-making unit.   In short, challenger marketing works because it’s so closely aligned with a successful sales strategy. It works hard to achieve the same thing that a sales team are after sales.

…Fine. So how do you do it? I’ve outlined below the four core principles of The Marketing Practice’s challenger method according to members of TMP’s centers of excellence.   They might look simple at first sight, but in reality, the ‘secrets’ revealed below are really just the starting point of a much greater, and more involved, process. Consider the steps below as a ‘starter for ten’, that could give you and your own teams a place from which to start thinking about being a bit more ‘Challenger’ in your own marketing.

  1. Find an insight that reframes This is what the CEB means when it talks about ‘teaching for differentiation’. Insight is not your proposition’s USP, a thinly veiled dig at your nearest competitor or an impressive savings calculation. It’s a single piece of crucial information that literally stops your prospect in their tracks and causes them to think “****, I hadn’t thought of it like that”.   Like a fun-house mirror in reverse, these insights reveal the truth from a new perspective, reframing a business issue, and turning the status quo on its head.   But it’s difficult to find an insight that is both true and provides cut-through. B2B marketing isn’t the same as selling fizzy drinks or mobile phones. It’s creating the business case for a significant investment in a long-term solution.   As Heather Barnett, Associate Director at The Marketing Practice, tells me:


"We’re not trying to argue against a competitor’s offering, we’re trying to argue for them to change their business."


  1. Tailoring for resonance That means more than just including someone’s first name in a subject line. It’s also not just looking at verticals, job titles or demographics.   That’s just tailoring for relevance.   Tailoring for resonance means finding out as much as possible about a prospect’s goals, fears, motivations, history, and ambitions. It means getting under the skin of a prospect, slipping on their size 8 slippers and understanding what would make them give a tinker’s about what you’re trying to sell.   Which, in turn, means conducting hours of research into companies and decision-makers at a granular level. It means scouring annual reports, company news, and individual LinkedIn profiles. Only when sufficient data is available is a prospect considered for a challenger campaign.   Jo Willis from The Marketing Practice’s data team goes so far as to say:  

    "We sometimes have to dismiss a targeted account if there isn’t sufficient information available. They may be a good target on the surface, but if we can’t verify our figures and information, then we can’t include them in the campaign"

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  3. 3. Taking control of the sale “Sell me this pen!”   According to Hollywood, ‘taking control of the sale’ means you’re about to kick your prospect’s door down and launch into a six-minute monologue that’ll have them signing a contract just in time for you to make it to your kid’s football match/stop the love of your life from boarding a plane to Madagascar/save your community dog-wash.   In reality, there is no pen, no football match, and – usually – very little yelling. Taking control of the sale from a lead generation perspective means taking the time to engage in a series of ‘nurturing’ interactions. By leaning on the previous two principles, marketers and salespeople work together to create a conversation platform that gently works to navigate leads towards a state of higher interest.   Again, there is no magical, gluten-free recipe that will work for all industries and clients. No set number of emails or InMails and no predefined messaging template. The only common ingredients are perseverance, talented salespeople, good content, a consistent cross-channel brand message… and step number 4.
  4. 4. Measuring and learning Research doesn’t end when the campaign is over. Digital channels are an excellent way of collating data on an asset. From a number of times a page has been visited, to the time spent reading an article, or the number of visitors redirected from an affiliate site. But a full account of a challenger campaign extends beyond an excel report. As I mentioned before, face-to-face, anecdotal feedback from the sales team is occasionally some of the most salient information a marketer can get. You can look at Venn diagrams until your eyes cross, but hearing first-hand from a prospect why an approach has worked, or not worked, is the purest and most straightforward form of feedback.   Unfortunately, I can’t give you a beat-by-beat breakdown of what assets to create for your campaign, and when to distribute them. Sorry.   The fact is that each challenger marketing challenge (see what I did there?) is unique. But by focusing your efforts on a methodology that uses business insight to convert customers instead of winning awards, you’ll already be on the path to more resonant, and more effective, marketing activities.


By Jade Mitchell | November 30, 2016

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