What are the rules of winning for challenger brands? But first, what makes a challenger brand? What differentiates them from market followers & qualifies them as challengers?
Let's take a cricket analogy here. The 1983 men’s Indian cricket team was an underdog that came from nowhere to dethrone an invincible West Indies. But there is another more apt team when it comes to satisfying multiple conditions of being a true challenger. The Sri Lankan team of the 1996 cricket world cup. They were a decided underdog, much smaller as a cricketing nation, in the midst of the worst days of the civil war and they definitely did not stay in the same place at the end of the tournament.
What is amply clear is that it’s high time the ‘challenger brand’ norm was stormed.
We do have an expert who brings his lived insights and experience with him — on what it takes to be a challenger brand and not end up in the same place. Listen to Mr. Vishesh C. Chandiok, CEO of Grant Thornton Bharat to shed light on this & more. Don’t miss the #StN Innovation #Hacks to help you change your game
Narayan Devanathan: Welcome to Episode 17 of standard arm in the fortnightly podcast where we pick up norms that come in the way of businesses succeeding in a disruptive world. I'm Narayan,
Anisha Motwani: and I'm Anisha Motwani and today Narayan before we proceed further, I want to share an exciting new update with our audience. Starting with this episode, we are proud to announce our association with one of the leading consulting companies in the world Grant Thornton Bharat. Going forward storm the norm will be powered by insights from GT Bharat, and the rich and varied perspectives they bring to the table from the world of business. And let me tell you, this is a wide ranging partnership that's going to extend into many other areas as we go forward.
Narayan Devanathan: To seal this partnership, we have the CEO of Grant Thornton Bharat as our special guest in this episode, but more on him later. On to today's episode now, I'm mindful of the fact that the norm we picked to storm today is a much discussed one. But like many taken for granted norms, I believe it's time we took a closer look at it. And not just what's behind it, but also what it takes to find success in this context. We're talking of course of challenger brands, but also specifically this particular norm about challenger brands, that they have to swim considerably more vigorously than the brand leader just to remain in the same place.
Anisha Motwani: You know what my biggest peeve is that many brands seem to think that merely not by being the leader is a sufficient ground for being a challenger. That logic, all followers should qualify as challenges, isn't it? So what aspects about the challenger brands do you see as being taken for granted? Let me hear you first.
Narayan Devanathan: Well, we have been being so direct. I'm going to use a couple of anecdotes to make my points. Malcolm Gladwell has written an entire book about it, where he busts many myths that merely being David, smaller underdog, is sufficient to beat a larger Goliath. And the most fundamental of those myths is the role of circumstances. Goliath being an unusually large person would likely have had some traits of gigantism, including short sightedness and slow movement. And to that the fact that their comeback was not at close quarters or hand to hand. And you say how lucky David scale with a slingshot was circumstances. So the first myth surrounding challenger brands is that being the underdog is a sufficient and sometimes necessary condition. Here's an additional example. Pepsi has always been seen as the quintessential underdog to Coke, right? But did you know that PepsiCo revenues are double that of the Coca Cola companies? As of 2019, PepsiCo stood at $67 billion, while coke was at $32 billion. Who exactly is the underdog here?
Anisha Motwani: Absolutely. And both of these are striking observations, and seem to reinforce the veracity of the norm. The Challenger brands need to work harder to stay in the same place. Circumstances and lack of cause not withstanding, and neither market standing nor size may make them a challenger. So what then,
Narayan Devanathan: I don't think I've used cricket as an analogical tool so far in our episodes, but I think it's probably pretty apt here. It's tempting. The 1983 men's Indian cricket team was the classical underdog that came from nowhere to be thrown, and until then invincible West indies. But I have another team in mind when it comes to satisfying multiple conditions of being a true challenger. And that's the Sri Lankan cricket team of the 1996 World Cup, they were decided underdog a much smaller as a cricketing nation, and in the midst of the worst days of the Civil War, and they definitely did not stay in the same place at the end of the tournament.
Anisha Motwani: So we all know that meaningful challenges can strengthen and give people's lives such a powerful purpose that can act like a propeller. And your example just bears that out. Also, picking up the thread between the various examples you've cited narayan. What is amply clear is that it's high time this norm must storm, isn't it?
Narayan Devanathan: Exactly. Again, we'll find out if we should have let this sleeping dog lie, or it's worth making it up,
Anisha Motwani: I think it is worth doing.
Unknown Speaker: Okay, we'll go with that. For now. We do have an expert as always to shed light on it first, and I prefer to him at the beginning. As always, this is an expert who brings his lived insights and lived experience with him on what it takes to be a challenger brand, and not end up in the same place after expending all that effort. Well, let's see if he's up to that challenge. Please welcome Mr. Vshesh and the CEO of Grant Thornton Bharat, Vishedh is a 15 plus year veteran of GT organisation, having held global roles and pioneering many practices that have been adopted across the organisation worldwide, including helping define the brand's promise of an instinct for growth. This is a voracious reader and clearly has an instinct for taking up new challenges all the time. We're delighted to have issues with us to unpack and storm the norm on challenger brands today.
Anisha Motwani: Thank you, vishesh, for joining us, and we are delighted to have you not just as a guest, but as a partner in this episode.
Vishesh C. Chandiok: Thank you know, Narayan, and thank you Anisha. I think, you know, for a firm that has always stood to challenge the status quo, you know, as what we call status go at Grant Thornton, nothing could be more appropriate than partnering with people who want to storm the norm or storm norm, generally. So absolutely delighted that we're doing this together. Great to be here with both of you today. I guess we're back to Narayan's question. That challenger brands have to swim considerably more vigorously than the leader to stay in the same place. I obviously, partly agree and partly, obviously, vigorously disagree. You're definitely challenger brands have to, you know, swim considerably harder. But it's definitely not to stay in the same place. If anything, it's the incumbents who feel or would feel that they are really on a treadmill, staying on the same place, challenger brands are the ones who are gaining that ground over the incumbents. So therefore, I agree with the first part. Yes, you have to swim considerably harder. No question about that. And ought to be willing to do that, if you want to challenge anything challenge any norm. But you're definitely making much more progress quicker in a challenger than you would as an incumbent. It certainly feels that way.
Narayan Devanathan: And I assume one of the things that you said, and I loved that you, right out of the gate, you've challenged the norm itself as a challenger. I guess my my follow up was actually going to be Is it because the challenger is a couple of paces behind the leader is that why there is room for pro forward movement or irrespective of where the brand leader is
Vishesh C. Chandiok: I think the brand leader, category leader, territory leader, has established a certain size scale, for anybody else who wants to play in that space, there will always be distance to to catch, you don't have to do exactly the same thing in order to, you know, catch that, in fact, if you were to do exactly the same thing, you would most likely never catch that brand leader.
Anisha Motwani: Yeah. And then in many ways, then that's not storming the norm. You know, I mean, you would just follow the norm, if you were to do the same.
Vishesh C. Chandiok: At the same time, I am a fan of copying. I think there's nothing wrong with copying people you know hesitate. That Okay, there is a very big player in a space. But look at Uber and Lyft. Right. Uber is a very big scaled up player now startup in itself in some ways, but there's the opportunity for lyft and there's the opportunity for Ola, within that same marketplace. I think the same opportunity exists even in complex spaces like airlines, right, we have a big scaled up airline, indigo, really successful, India could probably have two other such airlines. And there is a playbook out there on how to create a successful airline that at least indigo and spicejet have shown in different ways. There's no reason why a challenger brand could not come up and copy some of the things they've done. But they can't copy everything, and still be successful.
Anisha Motwani: So you're refering to getting creative with copying. Because if you just copy, then you are the Me too. And you will always struggle to get a little bit of the space where they already have a dominant share. So creative copying is you have you're giving a licence for that. And that's something that challenger brands can do is what you're saying?
Vishesh C. Chandiok: Absolutely. I think size and scale does matter. And at the same time, you always have to know beyond that certain size, you know, sizes absolutely irrelevant. You know, you look at the airline space, again, that I just quoted, you know, when virgin entered the market, British Airways was a certain with the massive size, they came in changed the game, That the real journey actually begins at home. It doesn't begin when you just arrive at the airport, and they change that entire customer experience. I don't think anybody asks today. How many planes does British Airways have or what revenues they have versus virgin? before deciding which one they want to fly? People fly one or the other based on first availability and secondary experience.
Anisha Motwani: So in your space Vishesh, you know, you are a challenger brand taking on what we call an India the Big Four, the market is dominated. They're almost like the big four and there are others. So what is it that you are doing differently?
Vishesh C. Chandiok: Yeah, so I've always considered the so called Big Four tag a fallacy in itself, that you know, we just seem to assume without questioning or understanding what is this big four, it's a tag that was relevant at a different time in a different business in a different market. All the four firms aren't global partnerships, but independent country by country, so called member firms right in, in each country, which is the same for us and others in the marketplace. It used to be big 12 became 8, 6, 5. Now 4, and I would hesitate to say it is a dying breed. Therefore, anything that goes down that clif would be a dying breed just by that number, right, you can, you can see that, certainly, the so called Big fall still dominate the listed company market in some Western markets. But that's not the position in China. That was never the position in India. And to whatever extent it is gravitating towards that in India is only because of this, you know misimpression that big equals quality. Of course, individually, each of those firms are credible, capable, in audit and beyond. But there are many others were equally capable of it, if not more. And even in terms of size. Let me challenge another norm in India, for example, our affiliate is now the fourth largest audit firm by market cap audited by revenues audited by audit fees, you know, for NSE listed companies. So are we the Indian Big Four, therefore, I believe one has to see the position and capability in each area of practice in the local market, versus just assume you know, that the big are capable for all things. And in all markets.
Narayan Devanathan: Its actually is a good segway, if I may jump into the second question. I'm going to use a cliche over here, which we're all familiar with, I think the foremost advantage that a challenger usually has is that it's it's not about the size of the dog in the fight, it's about the size of the fight in the dog, right. And coupled with that is the is the advantage of agility and speed that challenger has versus at least the stereotype of a lumbering, slow moving market leader, if you will, right. But more and more, maybe, to borrow another concept from physics, it's neither just speed alone or size alone. But momentum, which is a factor of both the energy behind mass as well as the speed with which the velocity with which it moves, and with vendors may be size irrelevant. A lot of times, like you were saying, is that if that's something that you prioritise either speed or momentum, at GT.
Vishesh C. Chandiok: So again, I touched on it earlier, I think, you know, size and scale does matter, Narayan, but I think certainly beyond a certain size, it's absolutely irrelevant. What that certain size is, depends on the market, you want to serve, you know, speed matters to the market of fast growth companies. And again, within that, you know, speed itself, I would say, is the ability for a service provider to mirror the agility of each client without compromising quality right. Now, you know, again, to go back to my example of airlines, you know, Indigo talks about that fast turnaround time in order to achieve the customer objective of on time performance, right, without, of course, compromising quality, is that on time performance as important to someone, you know, travelling with a full service airline? Probably not. Right. And that's why it's important to make, you know, be clear about your market and what's important to your market. You know, certainly, you know, speed, agility has been a big differentiator for us at Grant Thornton, the ability to deploy teams at short notice when someone calls you on a Friday and says, I want to begin to diligence on Monday, or, you know, I want to proposal tomorrow, the ability to deliver to tight timelines to find solutions, versus throw problems at clients. I think that agility comes from both structure and it comes from culture, I think there are many layers, protecting the organisation, the firm the company, and putting the client at the end versus, you know, people across those layers working together in the interest of the client and still protecting the organisation, you know, is the culture one of listening to understand, or is the culture listening to respond to to clients, I think incumbents also often suffer from trying to behave as if they are the adult, and their clients are the children who ought to listen and be taught. Right? I know, most of us have children, if children don't like to listen or be taught anymore, but I keep reminding our people to keep our challenger brand culture of a relationship of equals with our client personnel alive. You know, to listen to them. Want to view with an open mind? You know, to leaders, you know, within the firm roll up their sleeves? And are they willing to listen with an open mind to help solve client issues or wait to receive things through a waterfall or filters for approval eventually, right? That those are the differences between, you know, do you feel like, you know, a challenger or do you feel like an incumbent. And I think it comes down to, you know, remembering to value each and every client each and every customer as if you know, they are your first customer, they are your only customer. I think if you can preserve that, you know, then you can keep growing in size and scale without matter,
Anisha Motwani: there is a certain amount of reassurance and trust that these big players, the so called market leaders bring, okay, inherent in using their services or products is that there is trust and there's consistency and quality, what would make me stop and consider somebody else
Vishesh C. Chandiok: Well again probably for reference to another favourite book of mine, the milkshake moment, you know, the milkshake moment is fascinating. It's a story on how when businesses become big, they are forced to adopt policies that actually end up stopping people, the people who are the frontline of serving customers to focus on following process versus meeting unique customer demands. And I just said, customers have unique demands. And the person the altar, you know, gives an example of He is enjoying a vanilla milkshake. And he travels a lot and most hotel, most hotels when he checks in, asks room service. You know, first thing he wants to order is a vanilla milkshake. And most of them say they don't have it on their menu. Right? And, you know, therefore, the standard answer to his asking for a vanilla milkshake. milkshake is no not on the menu. But all of them are, at the same time willing to serve him a glass of milk and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Once he asked for that, and therefore, you know, if only our people were taught not to say things are not possible, but let me check what I can do
Anisha Motwani: Vishesh one last one from my side, you know, your future aspiration brand leader or brand challenge, and why
Vishesh C. Chandiok: I much prefer the place as an underdog in each fight versus the incumbent, and believing you're destined to win. Even if you know, we are the favourite, and the stronger one, which is now often the case that, you know, really stops us from taking things for granted. And becoming incomplacent. Being comfortable with losing, you know, should not be a problem, and I believe is not a problem. And I've you know, at the same time, never believe that we ought to be in everything at any cost. At the same time, one has to have the culture to learn from every loss so that, you know, we don't keep making the same mistakes as cliched as that, as that may be. So, you know, I'm very comfortable, you know, always having that challenger brand attitude, irrespective of now becoming a leader, if not the leader in many areas of practice.
Anisha Motwani: Yeah, absolutely. Lots to chew on Vishesh. I think you just stormed this norm so well, and I'm delighted to have you with us. And thank you once again for sparing time and doing this.
Vishesh C. Chandiok: Thank you, Anisha. Thank you Narayan. It's a pleasure
Narayan Devanathan: Anisha listening to Vishesh I think I'm even more convinced that the norm won't remain unchallenged for too long, even if prevalent conversation seems to indicate otherwise. I like the way he picked it apart methodically, with really relatable examples that seem to have on the outside nothing to do with the business, but I think they were very relevant.
Anisha Motwani: Indeed. And so you know, as usual, what stood out for you from all the points that he made,
Narayan Devanathan: to not treat any tactic or framework as sacrosanct, do not fall prey to formulae, and above all, to take neither success nor failure for granted. What about you Anisha? What's your take on what Vishesh brought to the table? And what STN hacks Do you have this time around?
Anisha Motwani: You know, I'll start with this narayan. Being a challenger is a mindset. It's a state of the mind and not the state of the market. Like we started off in the beginning, how do we define challenger brands just by being a mere follower doesn't make you a challenger. So it's about an organisation with a team having ambitions that are bigger than the resources and challenging the codes of the category or the cultural context to create a criteria for choice that favours them rather than the established leaders. They need to stand out.
Narayan Devanathan: You know, I'm going to break the flow a little bit, but thank you so much for reiterating that I think it bears repeating multiple times. But how do you use that as a base for STN hacks.
Anisha Motwani: we've always been giving hacks to businesses and telling them that you can storm this norm too. If you are a challenger brand, this is what you need to do. To be able to succeed, and in that spirit, the first one for me on this particular norm is about creativity of innocence. The very first foundation of challenge is not experience but innocence, the ability to step back and question all the old assumptions of flesh challenge them, in fact, and see which can really withstand the Inquisition, counter the reassurance and trust enjoyed by market leaders, they need more influential currency of curiosity, desire re-evaluation, isn't it. In fact, one of the other things that you can do is zero in on the benchmark leader or the leaders that you want to question and pick out the individual elements of what the leader represents. Because there is a certain reason why people prefer them and it's out there in public domain. So you can focus on what you would like to challenge and use it as a blueprint to define your own unique identity. So in many ways, the Pepsi and Coke example that you shared best out, or even the Virgin Atlantic example from Vishesh. So in that way, challenger brands can capitalise on their creativity and imagination, while in mature brands win when it comes to the lineage and experience.
Narayan Devanathan: I like how you've used the word in a sense in here set a fresh take, usually experiences always seen as more important than a certain fresh naive the I loved the creativity of it. what's the second one?
Anisha Motwani: The second one is about the power of reframing. Okay, the challenger brands have the luxury of looking at the category with a completely new lens and reframing the problem that they're trying to solve. Being able to question and shift your frame of reference is an important key to enhancing your imagination. Because it reveals completely different insight. It takes effort, it takes attention and practice, but it enables you to widen your horizon and create a completely different identity for yourself. Reminds me of a very famous study in 1960. I don't know if you recall, the psychologist Walter Mischel put four to six year old children alone in a room with a marshmallow. And before he left the room, he would tell them that they can eat it now. Or if they waited for a few minutes, he will come back and give them two. Do you expect kids be four to six years, they would he usually does end up eating the one that they had in hand. Sometimes later, Michelle tried out another experiment and he said that one way to resist the marshmallow now and get two later this took pretend that the marshmallow wasn't there. And by changing how we prepared them for the challenge, he dramatically changed their behaviour. Now children could now wait for almost 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow. Because they had changed the context. They imagined that the marshmallow does not exist in the room. So what Michelle study actually shows is our success depends on how we choose to see our environment. The real finding of this test is how flexible people are how easily changed if they simply just reinterpret the way they frame the situation around
Narayan Devanathan: beautiful example of reframing. Okay, what's the third?
Anisha Motwani: The third one is an advantaged challenger brands, which is everyone loves the underdog. So how do you leverage the love of the underdog? There is an eternal appeal of the underdog and challenger brand should know how to cash in on that. Everyone seems to like backing the underdog. And challenger brands are usually that up against the established big boys but attempting to carve out a space for themselves. So understanding the psyche of what makes underdog stick is the key to this leverage. And according to me, underdogs give people hope. It almost allows people to follow the journey of development and be entwined in a story and a plotline. It's almost like following a series on Netflix people want to see the plot, twist the new characters that journey and following a story of an underdog allows others to dream and hope that one day they will achieve or accomplish change. And in our lifetime narayan. We've been fortunate we've seen so many brands that started like underdogs and now have become like the go to platforms or our businesses. And to that extent, that has been one of the reasons why underdogs succeed so much. And the same thing on the other hand, because the expectations from underdogs is that they will not be as good that motivates the underdog team to therefore try harder. And you know, you you keep citing that famous example of so what we are number two we try harder.
Narayan Devanathan: Yes. Yeah. Okay. All right, that's three done. what's the fourth.
Anisha Motwani: The fourth one is all about emotions and great storytelling. A challenger brand does not break through in a mature category by being more convenient or trustworthy. it succeeds because it offers the consumer an emotional reward or a relationship that the established brand cannot match with great storytelling. And they are highly adapt storytellers that understand the way to a consumers heart is through an emotionally resonant narrative. And that's why, you know, they end up taking thought leadership vis-a-vis market leadership.
Narayan Devanathan: Okay, what's the last one,
Anisha Motwani: the last one of course has to be with the kind of experience that you give. Finally, the rubber hits the road when you experience a challenger brands. Challenge brands do have the additional responsibility to prove themselves and show keen interest in understanding of the needs and wants of their customers, their priorities, their preferences, they must find creative ways to demonstrate that they understand what their audience needs, and differentiate them at a human level. To use behaviour as the most important clue about what people want and more important What they need. Once you know what they need, you can serve them the right message at the right time and drive business results also hyper personalization being there for them all the time understanding over commitment, this whole experience that you give them has to be very personal and at a very human level. And that's what makes challenger brands preferred over market leaders.
Narayan Devanathan: Insightfully hacked as always Anisha. I want to bring back one of the examples I used in the beginning to reinforce your STN hacks. In the 1996 Cricket World Cup, Sri Lanka used the power of innocence to use your phrase. Nobody told them they couldn't go hammer and tongs at the opposition and the first 10 to 15 overs, a period that had been reserved for safe and sedate start the bad thing until then. And that's exactly what Sanath Jaysurya and Romesh Kaluwitharana did famously. But when they did that, they also reframe how batting in limited overs, cricket could be approached. So that combination of things made for a powerful story, one that at the hearts of underdog lovers everywhere. The rest, as they say, it's not just history, actually. But how cricket is played today. Even
Anisha Motwani: you know, I just loved the way you three, four hacks alive through this one very simple example and a very relatable example. Absolutely. Thanks narayan
Narayan Devanathan: I think the thanks to you for articulating the hacks in the first place. I think that's a good place to wrap up Episode 17 of Storm the Norm now powered by insights from Grant Thornton Bharat. There are multiple places you can catch us on Apple podcasts SoundCloud, and jiosaavn by just searching for Storm the norm. We're also on saregama Carvaan 2.0 devices on channel 453. This is Narayan,
Anisha Motwani: And I am Anisha
Narayan Devanathan: signing off for now. We'll be back with a new episode shortly. Thank you and talk to you soon.
Anisha Motwani: Thank you