Challengers are contenders. They think differently. They grasp the fact that there are always opportunities if they dare to carve out a new niche for their brands within existing categories; or (gasp) create new ones. Contenders pack as much power as they can into every aspect of their unique brand: the story, the product, the packaging and every interaction that the consumer has with the brand. They get it at gut level: customer experience is everything. And it has to be seamless.
Challenger brands can literally change the world as Apple has done with its technology-based consumer products and apps. Or as Airbnb has done in the hospitality space. Or as Zara has done at retail, with its fabled “fast fashion” offerings. Emerging brands set their sights on taking their categories by storm by redefining them. But disruption can come in many forms and it doesnt have to be earth-shattering. It can come from a singular, simple product. A great core idea is one thing, but execution is everything.
Creating your own (unfair) advantage
Small brands generally operate on a shoestring. Few have access to crowdfunding. Even fewer have angel investors. They aren’t in a position to create expensive marketing campaigns online and off. They don’t have a large team of employees who can dedicate their time to doing specific functions within the company. On top of that, challengers face stiff competition from well-established category leaders with deep pockets. You know what? All of this can actually be advantageous for challenger brands with vision; the upstarts who aren’t afraid of what they can’t do but focus instead on leveraging everything that they do have control over to the max.
When they come to market, challengers create a compelling story in a world filled with also-ran narratives. When fans avidly share the story via social media, the visibility of the brand explodes, driving consumers to seek it out. A mystique begins to build around the brand. On store shelves replete with endless me-too choices, product packaging is so compelling that it makes the brand story come alive so that the product becomes irresistible.
Technology is leveraged in an ingenious manner. Brand marketers partner with their most enthusiastic fans as well as influencers who are being followed by the consumers to whom they wish to appeal. Their collaborations bear fruit when beautiful product shots appear on Instagram, unboxing videos are posted on YouTube and influencers blog in a gushing manner about the brand, sharing photos of product and packaging. What’s more powerful? Advertising tha’ts orchestrated by a brand or marketing that is optimized by influencers? And on the back end, challengers are working behind the scenes to create a seamless customer experience online and off. Every aspect of their brand is in sync.
And here’s the biggest edge of all: contenders don’t wait for competitors to challenge them. They compete against themselves. By constantly pushing the envelope, they continue to redefine their brands and in doing so they remain relevant to their fans.
Going ape over a new toy product concept
The toy industry has witnessed an explosion of hot new collectibles recently. Moose Toys’ Shopkins brand and Spin Master’s Hatchimals have redefined the category with their unique offerings. As a result, they’ve shot to the top, creating legions of loyal fans. Given the tremendous success of collectibles like these, the inclination of many would-be competitors is to knock them off with “me too” offerings. But challengers will have none of that because they’re always thinking outside of the box. That’s how the idea for Montreal-based toy company WowWee’s Fingerlings brand was born.
Not only is the Fingerlings toy interactive, it is also a wearable as well as being a pet, which in effect creates a whole new category for collectibles. In a recent interview with WowWee marketer Sydney Wiseman, she divulged that the toy is inspired by a real-life animal known as a finger monkey. “I kept asking if the technology was small enough that we could make our version, and finally it was. Wearables are so popular in general, but I don’t think it was ever done properly with a toy. And I think there was something about the fact that you can wear it on your finger that made it quirky and unique.”
A child’s touch, sounds or gestures elicit a response from a Fingerling, which is programmed with more than forty responses to stimuli from its owner. Fingerlings appeal to both genders and every kid’s age group, so it isn’t surprising that with a price point of $14.99, over 100,000 units sold in the U.S. during the first week of their debut in August, 2017. Since then demand has exploded and major toy retailers cited Fingerlings as one of the hottest, must-have toys of the holiday season. There are six Fingerlings color choices, as well as playsets. After all, monkey bars, jungle gyms and swings are a natural for these playful little monkeys, aren’t they?
Package design is simple and effective. A unique logo features a font with long tails on the letter “g” in the Fingerlings name. Beneath that: ”friendship @ your fingertips” spells out what the brand is all about in four words. The cute baby monkey appears with clasped hands and feet clinging to an imaginary tree as a backdrop. The brand communication “40+ sounds” appears on a bunch of bananas right next to it. In the upper right-hand corner, there’s a visual of three people with Fingerlings wrapped around their fingers. The message is clear and the product and is cute and irresistible.
WowWee’s strategy is to continue to collaborate with influencers to keep the momentum going for the Fingerlings brand. YouTube is populated with videos of kids playing with Fingerlings and unboxing them. L.A.-based Striker Entertainment has been retained to develop and implement a global licensing program for the brand. And plans are in the works to develop new characters using the technology that drives the brand besides the Fingerlings Baby Monkeys and Baby Unicorns that are currently being stocked by major toy retailers. It’s tantalizing to consider what this challenger brand might do next, isn’t it? If WowWee continues to push the Fingerlings brand to compete against itself, there’s no reason why it can’t continue to be a force within the collectibles category, or any other category on which the company sets its sights.
Packaging that (literally) conveys emotion
It’s deja-vu all over again. Wicked Cool Toys might be a small, Pennsylvania-based company, but its executives are long-time toy industry aficionados who understand what kids want and how to deliver it. Developing licensing partnerships and private label programs gives the company the opportunity to innovate; to create, in their own words, wicked cool toys. The company web site recently announced the official return of Teddy Ruxpin this fall, an iconic toy from the 1980’s. “After a long hibernation, Teddy Ruxpin is more ready than ever to share his love of reading and storytelling with a whole new generation of kids”. Well expressed.
But it’s the package design that tells the story in a comprehensive manner at a glance. We see on pack that the new Teddy Ruxpin is interactive; that he has LCD eyes that feature over 40 expressions. As we know in working with kids’ toy and entertainment brands, the eyes have it. When a toy makes ”eye contact” with kids, it creates instant connection. The fact that Teddy’s eyes magically change with many emotive expressions, is a huge selling point. He has an animatronic mouth that syncs to his speech. Touch sensors in Teddy’s hands and vest allow kids to start, pause or fast-forward his stories and songs. But for all of this new technology, we read that Teddy Ruxpin is now “smarter, softer and more cuddly”; a new friend for children aged 2 and up. Lastly his outstretched arms within the packaging invite hugs from kids.
Can Teddy Ruxpin challenge a host of inventive new toys flooding the marketplace? Of course he can. For children, the promise of friendship means more than all of the interactive bells and whistles in the world. Bluetooth compatibility and a downloadable app to access more stories don’t give the loveable bear staying power; there are too many interactive toys out there that attest to that. But a Teddy Ruxpin universe which his late creator, Ken Forsee, didn’t complete might come to life, per a recent interview with toy company co-president Michael Rinzler. ”Wicked Cool Toys says if kids take a quarter million of these furballs home with them, Grubby and other characters could make it onto shelves, too – possibly expanding on the story Forsee never finished.” A tantalizing thought. And we all know the power of creating separate universes around beloved characters, from Barbie to our culture’s most beloved superheroes. Could Teddy Ruxpin become another licensing juggernaut like properties such as Paw Patrol have become with preschoolers and young children? We’ll have to wait and see.
In an article published in November, 2017, CNN Money proclaimed Teddy Ruxpin to be one of the “11 Hottest Toys for this Holiday Season”. He is found on major toy retailers’ must-have toy lists, as well as that of Toy Insider on a CBS News video posted on YouTube. Odds are great that with Teddy’s continued exposure on many social media platforms, his favorable press and strong sales, he’ll be the success that ensures that the next phase of his universe will unfold. Who said that a teddy bear can’t take over the world?