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Keeping the underdog mentality: how brands can sustain success

By Elise Stieferman, Director of marketing and business strategy



The Drum Network article

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February 18, 2022 | 4 min read

Challenger brands often succeed thanks to a scrappy, nimble ‘underdog mentality’ – but they can lose that edge as they grow. Coegi’s director of marketing and business strategy, Elise Stieferman, argues that as brands grow into household names, it’s important to keep thinking like an underdog.

Coegi on how brands can learn from underdogs to achieve long term success.

Coegi on how brands can learn from underdogs to achieve long term success.

Everyone likes to root for the underdog, whether it’s in sports, in business or in love. We enjoy the adrenaline of the ‘upset’, the excitement of wondering whether the unexpected will become reality.

The underdog is always fighting to get out of the beta position. They’re working to better themselves, to emerge from the perception of inferiority to being the one to beat. The same is true for brands, striving to go from a new entrant challenger brand to being a household name synonymous with the product - Kleenex, Coke, Ziploc, Google.

Even the most well-known brands should never lose that scrappy, underdog mentality in their marketing efforts. Feeling unbeatable will result in loss of market share as brands claw to the top trying to capture their own share. The ego of invincibility has crippled brands, from Blockbuster to Kodak.

Feeding the hunger for continuous learning

Even the Coca-Colas of the world need to learn from their marketing efforts to maintain relevance with their audiences and ensure they are continuing to grow sales. It’s critical to build on a cycle of testing and learning in marketing measurement and optimization so that your brand can avoid stagnancy and reduced efficiency.

Whether it’s perfecting the media mix, refining your audience targeting, shifting your KPIs, or improving user experience on your website, there should always be a question you are looking to answer. Answers don’t always remain the same over time. Revisit questions regularly to ensure you aren’t falling subject to confirmation bias. Complacency can be costly, as legacy brands often are forced to buy competition when they gain market share, like Coca-Cola did with BodyArmor in 2021.

Competing with yourself

As technology advances and data availability grows, brands can find themselves buried by vast amount of information about themselves, their customers, and their competitors. While it is valuable to understand the competitive landscape, it’s more important to stay laser-focused on continually outperforming yourself and your goals.

Pointing your attention too heavily on others’ marketing tactics can cause divergence from the brand’s core strategy and result in fighting for your ego rather than results.

Maintaining likeability through authenticity and respect

One reason why people enjoy rooting for the underdog is because they ‘like’ them. They seem nice. They work hard. They see themselves in the underdog. As your brand grows and perhaps rises above the status of a challenger brand, maintain the likeable ethos that got you there.

For many brands, that means fostering an authentic brand voice and making your brand feel accessible to consumers. Another way is by gaining and retaining respect from your customers and even other brands for your values, your business practices, or your willingness to give back to communities.

Whether your brand is a start-up, challenger brand, or an established household name, it’s important to maintain an underdog mentality in your marketing efforts. Your brand is going to continue to evolve, as is the marketing landscape, so ensure your strategies evolve with it. Maintain an element of ‘scrappiness’ to your efforts. This will help avoid the perils that come from complacency and pride and, ultimately, will keep your brand in a continuous state of growth.

Brand Purpose Brand Strategy Marketing

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Coegi is an independent digital agency providing services across digital strategy, media buying, paid social, search and influencer campaigns. We bring together...

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