Challenger brands identify pain points and ideally offer a better experience than their predecessors, but if they are truly going to disrupt entire industries, they need to attract and retain customers. At Brandweek: Challenger Brands, three such companies talked about how they overcame that challenge and continued to grow their communities.
Here’s a closer look at how these upstarts upended the underwear, cannabis and fitness markets respectively by appealing to consumers in distinct ways.
MeUndies: Inspiring customers to be bold
Jonathan Shokrian was probably the only speaker to talk about his underwear, but as the founder and CEO of startup MeUndies, he can get away with it.
MeUndies calls itself the world’s most comfortable underwear, thanks to a fabric called Lenzing MicroModal. They offer fun, colorful prints like Heart U, Plant Babies and Significant Otter. In other words: These are not your average undies.
“We’re based on fun, irreverence and being bold and out there,” Shokrian said.
This, in turn, has inspired customers—even shy ones—to share images of their undies on social media. On Instagram alone, the brand has a following of 285,000 and some of the brand’s most “undie-obsessed” customers have hundreds of pairs.
“We made a product [that has] conversational prints,” Shokrian said. “People who wouldn’t normally go on Instagram are feeling inspired and having confidence they didn’t have before. It’s the equivalent of Red Bull giving you wings.”
MeUndies also has a much more inclusive message for the “more than 9 million butts covered,” particularly compared to predecessors like lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret. To wit, its product is made for a range of genders, skin tones, body types and families.
“I think we’re building something that’s a little different and stands for different values,” Shokrian said.
Papa & Barkley: Educating consumers and normalizing cannabis
Papa & Barkley distinguishes itself among cannabis brands as a wellness company focused on demystifying the plant and showing how it can improve the lives of individuals with chronic pain.
That’s a huge market. According to the CDC, more than 50 million U.S. adults suffer from chronic pain conditions.
The legal landscape limits where the brand can sell and pitch its products. For now, products are only sold through licensed dispensaries and delivery services in California. But Papa & Barkley also had to overcome consumer trepidation about products related to what has long been an illegal drug.
“Fact: You cannot get high from a lotion,” said CMO Kimberly Dillon during her Challenger Brands presentation.
Thanks in part to homegrown content like web series PlantMade and blog posts on topics like cannabis for topical inflammation and CBD for pain management, Papa & Barkley is helping to normalize cannabis and demonstrate how its products fit into consumers’ everyday lives.
Cannabis-related restrictions also mean the brand has to get creative with its outreach sometimes, like hosting events like scent bars and making appearances at farmer’s markets, yoga classes, tarot readings and assisted living centers. In the process, the brand has built a community of 32,000 followers on Instagram.
“We want to be the most approachable brand in cannabis,” Dillon said. “Our products have to live seamlessly with everything else in your bathroom cabinet.”
Another selling point: Cannabis is an attractive alternative to opiates as it is cheaper and has fewer side effects. In fact, Dillon said Papa & Barkley buses around 75 senior citizens to dispensaries every week for pain management.
“They are a hoot because they buy more than you can even imagine,” she added.
Mirror: Offering a personalized at-home workout
The interactive home gym Mirror was born when founder and CEO Brynn Putnam was pregnant and wanted to work out at home but couldn’t find a high-caliber option.
As a former dancer for the New York City Ballet, her standards are high, and mirrors were often a part of her workouts. By infusing interactive content within a mirror, the company she founded created a new category of in-home workout equipment. It offers more than 50 new live classes per week, including cardio, yoga, pilates and boxing. On-demand workouts are also available. In addition, Mirror personalizes each workout based on factors like age and physical shape.
“When you purchase a Mirror, we learn about your goals and preferences and use that to serve you a weekly program, but with personalized content in real-time,” she told Adweek’s Kelsey Sutton.
Despite a price tag of nearly $1,500, the company has built a loyal customer base that posts rave reviews on its website. Part of the appeal lies in both instructors, who provide real-time feedback and shout-outs to keep students motivated, and the option to train with other members of the community, who also provide encouragement.
Even though a New York Times story called it “the most narcissistic exercise equipment ever,” it reportedly sells $1 million of product every month and has a long list of celebrity fans, including Alicia Keys and Kate Hudson.