These 3 Challenger Brands Have a Bigger Purpose Than Just Profits and Growth

Values and business can mix

It's not always a balancing act to align a purpose with a brand.
Sean T. Smith for Adweek

In today’s advertising and marketing landscape, there’s no shortage of brands taking a stand for something bigger than the bottom line. For some, like Patagonia or Nike, those messages become iconic cultural moments. For others, like upstarts Bombas, Naadam and Encantos, they serve as a different way to connect with consumers.

At the Brandweek: Challenger Brands event in New York, these three companies spoke about the values the brand embodies and why it’s still so important to remind each of their customers what they stand for.

Part of the brand’s mission means never forgetting to tell the origin story

Bombas, a sock company, originally started out with a mission to help an underserved community. The co-founders realized that homeless shelters are in need of socks—since according to Randy Goldberg, co-founder and chief brand officer of Bombas, they can’t accept used socks because of hygiene issues. So, in Bombas’ quest to remedy that need for homeless shelters, they set out to create a new sock with a model like Toms Shoes: buy a pair, donate a pair.

We got a little bit obsessed with socks,” Goldberg said. “We realized there was a lot of white space and a lot of features and a lot of ways that you could bring comfort to something that was an afterthought in the marketplace. It was an afterthought for donation, and it just seemed like the perfect marriage.”

Five years later, Bombas has donated 15 million pairs of socks. While the number is definitely great for the company, part of Goldberg’s job as chief brand officer is to make sure consumers are still understanding what the company stands for. Part of that entails collaborating with the in-house creative team to come up with the right messaging and experiment with it.

“When we went to market, we were focused on two things: the mission and the product,” Goldberg said. “These are always the two pillars of our company. We struggle with always with what we tell first—the mission or the product. We just did a lot of testing. If something didn’t work, it got pulled and then a new line or a new visual or a new cut of a video.”

"We struggle with always with what we tell first—the mission or the product. We just did a lot of testing. If something didn’t work, it got pulled and then a new line or a new visual or a new cut of a video."
-Randy Goldberg, co-founder and chief brand officer, Bombas

Down the pipeline, Bombas will continue expanding into more socks, as well a new category: T-shirts, with the same philosophy of donating one for one. The company also plans on expanding internationally and looking into wholesale and retail.

If consumers feel part of the brand and the mission, it’s a win-win

Naadam, a direct to consumer cashmere company, first started out internationally in Mongolia. Co-founder and CEO Matt Scanlan quit his job, tried to find himself in the middle of the Gobi desert and ended up on the other side of that experience with a business and non-profit mission. Naadam’s core business value is sourcing the cashmere material directly from Mongolian growers to better assess how well it’s growing and what can be changed.

“[W]e realized in the process of purchasing the material [that] the most value we could create was owning the end-to end supply chain,” Scanlan said. “The way we think about the business we built is we don’t want to own machinery and manufacturing.”

The proof that it’s working? Naadam sold 100,000 $75 cashmere sweaters three months after the product debuted, said Scanlan.

“For us, it really typified our brand value, which is affordability, sustainability and really high quality,” Scanlan said. “And if you can make sustainability—and I don’t love that word, I’m really not married to it—but if you can make it accessible, you can equalize it. You can offer it to everybody. You can make it something that everyone feels like they should be a part of.”

"If you can make [your product] accessible, you can equalize it. You can offer it to everybody. You can make it something that everyone feels like they should be a part of."
-Matt Scanlan, co-founder and CEO, Naadam

Naadam is planning on opening up more retail shops, as well as a new category—the Naadam ultra thin-ribbed cashmere.

The company also has a non-profit arm that supports people in Mongolia via projects like building a soccer field for kids and fencing off grasslands to avoid desertification. Because the community is highly dependent on goats for its means of income, the non-profit also supports the goats by providing veterinary care. To date, Scanlan said, the organization has given vaccinations to more than a million animals in the country. 

“It’s always been our first and primary role to support these communities,” Scanlan said. “I don’t assume to know everything or do everything or assume to know more from the people who have lived on this land for thousands of years. But every year, we’re going back and putting back hundred of thousands of dollars back into the communities. We think it’s the way to do non-profit work. A symbiotic approach so that they benefit, we benefit [and] we can grow and give more back.”

Diversity isn’t that complicated of a brand mission

Despite the ongoing conversations around companies trying to become more inclusive and diverse, it’s not always a top priority. But for Encantos Media Studios, a children’s media company, it is—not only because the company focuses on a multilingual market, but because it’s just not that hard.

"When you have authentic creators who know what they're doing with multicultural, who know how to build world-class brands, you can really transcend that barrier and appeal to everybody."
-Susie Jaramillo, co-founder and CCO, Encantos Media Studios

“I come from advertising, and over and over again, I heard the same thing, which is: ‘We don’t want to alienate our general market.’ … I preach as loud as I can—multi-cultural done well does not alienate everybody. It has universal appeal,” said Susie Jaramillo, co-founder and CCO at Encantos Media Studios. “When you have authentic creators who know what they’re doing with multicultural, who know how to build world-class brands, you really can transcend that barrier and appeal to everybody.”

That mindset is particularly important for Encantos, which is attempting to reach both the “fragmented” hispanic community that’s made up of a diverse set of customs, cultures, and countries and non-Hispanics who are watching the program for a completely different set of reasons.

“We hold ourselves to the bar of what’s really good, and we put out content that we think is authentic and that does a little bit more. It goes the extra mile,” Jaramillo said. “The idea is to pivot a little bit more so that our audiences are getting extra value for what we’re putting in front of them today.”

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