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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Lerner

Any Brand Building Shortcuts?

Brand building doesn’t have to be slow or expensive. Many top startups have gained notoriety super-quick by adopting a “challenger brand.” For example:

If you want attention, it’s helpful to be against something, that’s a rhetorically strong position - not just for PR, but as a guiding purpose for your company. But it can also backfire.


Why Not Then?

Consider the examples above - this mainly works if you have a “high NPS product in a low NPS world.” If an industry is widely disliked, you can stoke that frustration and bring those feelings to the surface. But you need to pay that off with a great solution! Also, avoid calling out specific brands or companies to avoid legal risk. Finally, it’s your brand, you need to be personally comfortable speaking from a “negative” place (to get to a positive goal of course).


Choose your Enemy Carefully

The thing you’re against has to be universally disliked, something people won’t feel bad opposing. And again, avoid naming specific companies.


Three Possible “Bad Guys”

  1. David vs. Goliath: Some brands challenge an entire hated industry (“big banks” or “brand name razors” or insurance companies).

  2. Straw Man: It’s safer to challenge a tongue-in-cheek abstract concept: For example JustEat (jokingly) tried to “ban cooking” (even though their actual enemy was pizza delivery) and Salesforce.com staged a protest against “software” (even though they were a software company).

  3. Achilles Heel: If incumbents have an annoying feature or trick you can vilify (e.g. hidden fees, long contracts, unused minutes expire) focus your ire there.

In for a Penny, In for a Pound

Not for the faint of heart. If you choose this route, be bold and outrageous. Your goal is to get “free” coverage (e.g. PR stunts, social media virality) you could not otherwise afford to buy. And focus your message on the problem, rather than your solution (people will assume you have a good solution, so long as you deliver…)


Finally, stick with it. The initial PR blast will fade, but keep working the angle with new fresh content. And eventually pivot to a positive message, because that has more longevity. Remember, it’s not just a PR gimmick, it’s your mission. If you deliver real value, your customers will join you on that mission!

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