Back to the future – Business classics revisited


How to succeed at smaller brands

Eating the Big Fish 

Adam Morgan
Adweek Media

This was arguably the first book to propose how the also-rans – or challenger brands, should behave. Its fundamental point is that most marketing books are written about brand leaders, but most marketing people don’t work on brand leaders, and so cannot apply the wisdom they contain. Challenger brands (that’s everybody who isn’t a brand leader) need to behave differently if they are to compete with the big boys – effectively doing more with less resource.

It proposes eight credos:


1. Break with your immediate past 

Forget everything you think you know and think again. Far too many companies keep referring back to the past. This does not create the right attitude or preparation for a truly distinctive strategy.

2. Build a lighthouse identity

State what you are insistently and emotionally – don’t just reflect what consumers say they want, or base your approach on echoes of what your competition does.

3. Assume thought leadership of the category 
Become the one everyone talks about. If you haven’t got the funds to swamp an audience with your message, then come up with an inspiring idea that they will all talk about.

4. Create symbols of re-evaluation 
Do the unexpected to get noticed. A change in company attitude can be conveyed rapidly by appearing in unusual places and saying unusual things.

5. Sacrifice 
Work out what you are not going to do. The ability to enact such a strategy relies on disciplined behaviour. Companies always want to be seen to be doing lots of things, when in fact doing one thing well would be more effective.

6. Over-commitment Karate experts aim two feet below the brick to break it. It takes more effort than they really need but it guarantees the job gets done. This is the attitude that challenger brands require when enacting their marketing. Half-hearted attempts don’t work, especially when you lack brand leader resources. Fast cash advance is sometimes needed at this stage to put your ideas into practice.

7. Use advertising/publicity to enter popular culture 
Playing by the existing rules in your sector or category won’t work. You need to attach your brand to something that resonates in popular culture and make it stick.

8. Become ideas-centred, not consumer-centred 
Constantly re-invent what you are doing. Successful challenger brands are not static, so you cannot invent something clever and rest on your laurels. Keep coming up with ideas and enacting them.


This advice is helpful because it concentrates on the practical things that pretty much any marketer can do. Most of the credos can be used to overcome company inertia and get things underway. It can certainly help small, under-resourced marketing teams to mobilise a single idea, if they can be clear enough about what that one thing is.

If there is one pitfall, it is that it is far too easy for people to grab the gist of the argument and then walk the corridors talking about “building a lighthouse identity” or “sacrifice and overcommit”, without actually realizing what they are saying and without the actions to follow it up.


Kevin Duncan is a business author, speaker and trainer. His blog summarizes over 250 important books. Contact him on