At BI SF, Digging Into What Makes Challenger Brands Tick

If America is the land of the underdog, then challenger brands must be one of our greatest creations. There’s something endlessly fascinating about a bold outsider revealing a new truth or a better way while throwing a few rocks at the establishment.

If America is the land of the underdog, then challenger brands must be one of our greatest creations. There’s something endlessly fascinating about a bold outsider revealing a new truth or a better way while throwing a few rocks at the establishment.

From OG upstarts (think Pepsi & Avis) to a tech-fueled newer generation (Airbnb & Uber) and brands of the moment (Allbirds & Purple), challenger brands continue to captivate us by disrupting the status quo. Last week’s Brand Innovators summit hosted by Ancestry in San Francisco drilled down to reveal the triumphs and hazards of being a challenger brand. We heard real stories from brand marketers who live it every day.

BI co-founder Marc Sternberg kicking off the day at Ancestry

Challenger Life

Devon Chulick, eCommerce Product Manager for Chubbies Shorts, offered three pieces of advice for challenger brands: act fast, activate your people and count on your team to “achieve the impossible.” Chulick articulated how Chubbies grew their brand by growing up with their customers. They went, in his words, “from being a Frat Brand to a Dad Brand.”

Devon Chulick, eCommerce Product Manager for Chubbies Shorts with Catherine Reich, Director-Paid Search at Tinuiti

Taj Alavi, Senior Director of Global Brand Marketing for Uber and a veteran of the Instagram marketing team, stressed the need for challenger brand marketers to remain nimble and open-minded, particularly when appealing to Gen Z and younger consumers.

Taj Alavi, Senior Director-Global Brand Marketing of Uber (at left) with Nate Bucholz, Vice President of Partnerships for Cardlytics

Brand identity is important to any growing company but especially so for challengers. “Brand is not just the logo or a font or color theme: it’s a 360-degree experience,” said Molly Hayward, Founder and Chief Brand Officer of Cora. “To develop real relationships with customers, there are three pillars: attraction, shared value and trust.” Hayward revealed how hard it was to get funding from the male-dominated VC community for a company that makes tampons. What finally turned the tide? “Storytelling,” she said. “It promotes empathy and understanding of a need they may not have themselves.”

Molly Hayward, Founder + Chief Brand Officer of Cora (at right) with Elliott Easterling, CEO of TrueData

John Koller VP-Global Marketing for live streaming upstart Twitch, talked about the wild success of his brand’s “Stream Bowl,” which brilliantly paired NFL athletes with Fortnite players for an epic gaming showdown. It turned out to be the biggest Fortnite event Twitch has ever hosted so don’t be surprised, Koller said, if you see more partnerships like this in the future

John Koller, VP-Global Marketing, Twitch (at right) with Chris Crichton, Vice President, Client Solutions, Hathway

Amy Kepler, Marketing Director for Cruise, stressed the importance of awareness marketing for challengers seeking to bring their products to people in real life. Interestingly, Kepler also mentioned Cruise uses upticks in recruiting as a way of measuring the impact of its billboards.

Amy Kepler, Marketing Director of Cruise

Kepler’s comments came during a panel on “The Challenger Mentality” that explored themes like disruption and risk-taking, the new TV landscape and leaning into unexpected channels like direct mail.

Challenger Mentality Panel (L-R): Heather Cutter, SVP Brand, Innovation, and Marketing, Harmless Harvest; Amy Kepler, Marketing Director, Cruise; Jillian Scott, Senior Marketing Manager: Acquisition and Retention, Le Tote; Ben De Castro, VP of Marketing, Eargo; and moderator James Heller, CEO, Wrapify

A few more photos and stray thoughts from San Francisco…

The view from Ancestry’s nice digs

Caroline Sheu, Senior VP-North America Marketing for Ancestry (at right) with Ray Erickson, Director of Sales, Brand-US, Samsung Ads. “One thing that’s stayed consistent over the years for us,” said Sheu, “is using the voices of our customers. We’re so lucky to have customers who love what we do.”

Panel on Creating Compelling Content & Personalization at Scale (L-R): Kayla Glanville, Founder & CEO of Viaje; Anisha Raghavan, Senior Director, Brand and Product Marketing, Rodan + Fields; Alivia Birdwell, Senior Manager, Global Marketing Creative Strategy – Performance Media, Ancestry; and moderator Matthew Halliday, Programmatic & Brand Sales Director, Vungle

A fascinating panel discussion focused on the organizational benefits of forging tighter bonds between brand’s marketing departments and sourcing/procurement. (L-R): Moderator Jonathan Sorkenn, Senior Vice President, Evergreen Trading; Mehra Massoudi, Marketing Procurement Lead, Dropbox; Catherine Haiston, Senior Director, Strategic Sourcing, GAP, Inc.; and Mithun Sharma, Vice President, Global Strategic Sourcing, VISA, Inc.

Women in Marketing Leadership Panel (L-R): Lindsay Chastain, Senior Director, Global Marketing and Partnerships, Ancestry; Caroline Sheu, Senior Vice President, North America Marketing, Ancestry; moderator Monique Pintarelli, Vice President, West, Teads; and Amber Masud, Sr. Director, Marketing Strategy, Analytics & Operations, Ancestry

Innovation in Partnerships Panel: Reinaldo Parreiras, Global Social Media & Digital Marketing Manager, Intel; Sean McQuaid, Global Lead of Partner Marketing, Ancestry; Brigitte Brady-Harris, VP of Marketing, MIXT; and moderator Dash Rothberg, SVP Of Strategic Partnerships, MediaJel

Digital Marketing 2020 Outlook Panel (L-R): Kevin Rice, Co-Founder and CMO, Hathway; Ash Duvernois, Director of eCommerce Operations, Honey Baked Ham; Doug Milikin, VP Marketing Transformation, The Clorox Company; and David Pfister, Senior Manager, Marketing Technology & Analytics, Esurance

Kamal Bhandal, VP Global Brand and Consumer Marketing, Align Technology (at right) with Dash Rothberg, SVP Of Strategic Partnerships, MediaJel

Panel on the Evolution of Challenger Brands (L-R): Lindsay Chastain, Senior Director, Global Marketing and Partnerships, Ancestry; moderator Ray Erickson, Director of Sales, Brand – US, Samsung Ads; and Jina Wye, Vice President Marketing, Dang Foods

After a fantastic but exhausting day of learning, sharing and connecting, marketers, sponsors and BI staff retired to Mastros restaurant celebratory VIP dinner.

To learn more about this and other Brand Innovators events, go here.

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