You might have heard that Apple released the latest iteration of its mobile operating system, iOS 7. With its clean lines, bold colors, and new camera settings, it makes me think of…referral marketing.
Why? Passion. Let me explain.
Apple invokes an incredible amount of passion among its fans. (Check out these product reviews here, here and here for examples). This is a relic of days past, before the company was one of the world’s richest, when it was a scrappy little PC-maker alternative with minuscule market share. While it lacked size then, it made up for it with loyalty among its devotees. Apple, once upon a time, was a challenger brand. It was David taking on Goliath, Microsoft. How times have changed. A recent Ad Age article even encouraged Microsoft to start acting like a challenger brand!
Technically, being a challenger brand just means that you’re not the category leader, but being a challenger brand really goes beyond not being #1. When you can’t rely on your size or market superiority alone, you have to be a little more resourceful. You can never rest. As UK challenger brand consultancy eatbigfish points out, you need a narrative. eatbigfish identifies 10 of them, including “The People’s Champion,” “The Missionary,” and “The Democratiser.” What they all have in common is that they engage their consumer audience in a way that deepens the connection. Customers want to support challenger brands. While Apple certainly can’t be called “scrappy” or “little” any more, it has done a superb job of maintaining this connection with its customers–hardcore Apple fans will never buy a non-Apple smartphone, even if one comes out that makes toast and then plays a Flash video of itself making toast on its 9″ screen.
Because of such passionate consumer support, challenger brands are in a prime position to take advantage of referral marketing. Loyal, believing customers are going to carry the power of your brand and products to their friends and family. They’re also more likely than customers of non-challenger brands to be incredibly knowledgeable about what you do, making their recommendations to others more specific, useful and persuasive than ones that say, “Buy [x] because I will get $5 if you do.” The fans of challenger brands are an incredibly potent driver for acquisition, and if you’re a challenger brand who’s not taking advantage of that, you’re missing out.