It is not unusual – and possibly preferable – that a company thinks its brand is unique. We spend a lot of time talking about “what makes us different” and leaning into the differences that may give us an edge over the competition.

But in reality, there aren’t many truly unique services and products. And in at least one sense, all brands are remarkably similar: every brand fits into one of four categories.  

Knowing which category your brand fits into and why is the first step toward developing an effective marketing strategy that will grow your business.

So before you dive into crafting and implementing any new marketing strategy, take a few moments to learn about the 4 Brand Types, decide which one fits your brand, and discover how your brand type dictates your marketing strategy. 

Learn Your Brand Type: The Four Categories of Branding   

As many different brands as there are globally, it can be hard to believe that everyone fits into only one of four types, but these types cross all industries.  Read on to see which one best fits your brand. Remember: there are four, but you can pick only one. 


If your brand is a market leader, it will often be the first name that comes to mind when consumers think of a particular industry/service/product. You might not necessarily be the first of your kind, but you have since become the clear leaders in the marketplace – even if you had to push past pioneer brands to get there. 


No doubt you have no trouble thinking of your own examples of leader brands, (it’s what makes them leader brands!) but Kleenex, Netflix, and Nike would all be examples of leader brands. 


If your brand is a follower brand, you likely saw another company’s success and thought “we should get in on that.”  You seek to take part in the market share by leveraging differentiation from the market leader. Your brand may be recognized as an alternative to the leader brand (perhaps by offering a lower price or addressing a particular need), but ultimately, your bottom line benefits from the path they have paved or are paving in the industry. 

An example

Popular meal kit Hello Fresh may be the market leader, but other meal kits like Blue Apron (which has more plant-based options and optional wine pairings) and Home Chef (which focuses on providing fewer steps) are followers earning their part in the market share. 


In direct opposition to follower brands, challenger brands seek to unseat the market leaders. You cannot be satisfied with merely riding the coattails of the leader. Your brand aims to become the leader (and you have good reasons why you should be.) Challenger Brands are on a mission, and that mission involves righting some wrongs in an industry that has lost its way.

According to The Challenger Project, your mission is “less about business enmity and more about an often mission-driven desire to progress the category in some way in the customer’s favor.” You may not be the market leader (yet), but you’re determined to do things differently, do right by the customer, and be the best at what you do. You challenge the norms previously established by the leader and these actions – more often than not – will earn you a loyal following of dedicated consumers. 


Warby Parker challenged how much we pay for eyewear by making it more affordable and Aldi gets you to pack your own bags in exchange for value where you want it the most. 


If your brand is a disruptor, you are bringing a game-changer to the industry. Often the inspiration for disruptor brands starts with insight into an untapped technological capability or an otherwise innovative breakthrough. You’ve spotted a gap in the market and you’ve found a better way to deliver what the customer needs. Through modern technology, you’re able to create a truly unique offering. 

Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen coined the term “disruptive innovation,” with his Steve-Jobs-and-Jeff-Bezos-praised book, “The Innovators Dilemma.” Becoming a disruptor brand means taking on an entire industry by appearing entirely new and different from “the way we’ve always done it.” And you’re likely to leave a change in long-term consumer behavior in your wake. 


Uber’s ride-sharing disrupted the taxi industry and brought new transit to previously unreached geographic market areas. Airbnb’s accommodation sharing dramatically impacted the hotel industry turning their business model from the standard to hopelessly outdated. Netflix introduced the concept of “binge-watching” our favorite shows and forever changed the way we watch TV and movies. 

How Your Brand Type Defines Your Marketing Strategy

Consistency matters, and understanding your brand type is the first step toward establishing a consistent position in the marketplace. Studies show that companies with consistent brand positioning outperform on average by 20% (McKinsey). 

So if you want to build successful marketing strategies, you must first accurately identify your brand type. Then consistently reinforce its characteristics across all marketing channels.

What That Means

For leader brands…

Recognize that you are in the proverbial “cat bird’s seat.” You have the ability to buy market share, freeze a market by announcing a “soon” to be released feature, and manipulate the other players in the market space. It may not be that way forever. 

Recently, Netflix announced that “instead of adding more than 2 million subscribers in the first quarter of the year, as it predicted three months ago, it ended up losing 200,000.

Even worse: Next quarter, Netflix expects to lose another 2 million subscribers. Netflix’s stock is now collapsing, down 25 percent” (Vox). It seems the many follower brands – HBO Max, Peacock, Disney+, and so on – have begun to catch up. 

To remain a leader, you may have to take a page from Victoria’s Secret rise, fall, and comeback, and evolve as your audience evolves. 

For follower brands…

Look for a market segment that the leader has left untapped. Sometimes this untapped market may be white space (in which case it is a good idea to ask why).  In other cases, that particular niche may be occupied by a few other followers. 

Your brand can experience moderate success for decades whether you promote low-price versions of the leader’s offerings, find an unserved or underserved niche, or simply establish yourself as a viable “alternative” to the leader brand. 

For challenger brands…

Adopt an altogether different voice. Instead of competing with the leader, promote your mission to change the industry. Let your target audience know that you’re rewriting the rules – to their benefit. 

You’re bringing a superior product or service, offering more realistic prices, updating products, and in general, satisfying your customers with better products or services than what has been offered so far. 

For disrupter brands…

Capitalize on the convenience you provide. In business-to-consumer markets, convenience is the knockout punch. In business-to-business markets, pair convenience with another attribute (e.g. lower overhead) that adds quantifiable value to their bottom line. 

As a disrupter, you get to have the most fun because it’s your job to keep all the other brands on their toes. 

How Your Brand Type Is Really Determined

There’s one really important thing to remember: No matter how much you want to define your brand type a certain way, it’s not up to you.

Brand types are not determined by the view of the company ‒ but by the perception of the target market. To determine brand type accurately, you must first have an understanding of how the target market “types” your brand and the brands of your competitors.  

According to CB Insights, the number one reason startups fail is that they don’t have a good product-market fit. An astonishing 42% of companies reported that their customers had no market need for their products.

Check in with your target audience. How do they perceive you? That’s what matters most. That’s how your brand type is determined and how the strategy you need to implement going forward is defined.

The Bottom Line

When accurately defined, your brand type will provide the strategic foundation you need for all of your company’s marketing and communications going forward.

Lead, follow, challenge or disrupt – those are the choices. Get honest about which one your company does and make it a consistent part of your brand story and strategy. 

Learn how Michael can help you align your marketing moves with your revenue goals and give you clarity for continued, predictable growth.

Schedule your free 30-minute consultation today

Michael Carter has more than 15 years of executive technology leadership and more than 25 years in financial services.

Ranging from early-stage start-ups to international organizations, he has helped tech companies through startups, pivots, IPOs, acquisitions, and brand launches, repositions and consolidations.

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