Small business: Mike Cooper - challenger brands

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Mike Cooper, Global CEO of media agency, PHD. Photo / Supplied
Mike Cooper, Global CEO of media agency, PHD. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand businesses need to be more ambitious in expanding their brands overseas and should adopt challenger thinking to get there, said Mike Cooper, Global CEO of media agency, PHD visiting New Zealand this week.

"That is the way to take a disproportionate share pretty quickly," said the CEO of PHD, named Global Agency of the Year 2012 by Adweek. It is part of the Omnicom Media Group.

PHD, which owns Spark PHD, Spark PR & Activate and digital media specialists PHDiQ in NZ, has just released a new book and e-book, Overthrow: 10 Ways to Tell a Challenger Story. Co-authored by Adam Morgan of EatBigFish, rather than the old 'David vs. Goliath' model, it makes the case for 10 new-generation challenger types, from the Enlightened Zagger and the Missionary challenger, to the Irreverent Maverick and the People's Champion. Virgin's Richard Branson would be described as the People's Champion, says Cooper.

The book demonstrates how businesses can drive breakthrough by being a new-generation challenger.

Used as an example of the Enlightened Zagger, Newcastle Brown Ale's attempts to make inroads into the competitive US market are described, the company reaching back into it's almost 100 year history to find authentic stories and using its "No Bollocks" campaign to emphasise its down to earth coal mining and ship building customer base.

British jeans brand, Hiut Jeans launched by entrepreneur David Hieatt, is a Missionary challenger. Hieatt decided that the Welsh town of Cardigan, which used to be a big manufacturer of jeans, should be so again. A Missionary challenger is defined in "Overthrow" as someone with a transparent sense of purpose, a force for good which others will engage with and identify with. In the first week of business, Hiut sold two months' worth of jeans.

"If you are not using challenger brand thinking you are pretty vulnerable these days. You could be someone else's lunch," said Cooper whose business works with The Economist, The Guardian, Unilever and The Gap among others. The company also has a number of smaller up and coming company clients.

"New Zealand is inherently a challenger brand," said Cooper. "It is innovative with some of the best inventors in the world. It also has an earnestness and a naturalness," he said.

New Zealand should have excellent potential as a challenger brand in China, says the Brit who spent 20 years working in Asia.

The Chinese are not just obsessed by wealth accumulation as they are portrayed, he says. "They are very rapidly thinking about more about the environment and being healthy. Launching NZ brands in some of the big Asian markets could be really successful," he said.

Companies should realise that Generation Y has very different expectations from brands compared to other generations, said Cooper. "They expect companies to stand for more than just selling a product."

Some current successful challenger brands in New Zealand would include 42 Below, DB's Tui brand and Monteith's Apple Cider, he added.

Cooper described PHD itself as a challenger brand up against big media agency names a few years ago. "In the past few years, we have taken market share with clients like Unilever, Kraft, GSK, and the Volkswagen Group. Challenger brand thinking has worked for us."

It's not just small businesses who can be challengers, he added. What has been achieved with Procter & Gambles' Old Spice and Unilever's Dove was challenger brand thinking.

- NZ Herald

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