Ikea. Warby Parker. Southwest Airlines. Red Bull.
You have likely heard of these companies. You might even be able to identify a trait or behavior which makes each unique – Ikea’s flat-packed furniture and distinctive catalog, for example.
These companies sell different products, but they share a defining identity: they are challenger brands. Simply put, while brand leaders in their space have zigged, these companies have zagged.
Most energy drinks, for example, sought to outdo one another attracting athletes in traditional sports to their product. Red Bull, on the other hand, embraced an edgy identity and aligned itself with extreme activities like cliff diving or airplane racing which demand not only physical performance but mental acuity.
Challenger brands reject a fundamental driver of their category. Warby Parker’s founders disputed the notion that designer eyewear had to be prohibitively expensive. It shifted manufacturing in house, offered a home try-on program, and developed an- e-commerce site to enhance the consumer experience.
Often under-resourced compared to legacy brands, challengers also refute the prevailing culture prevalent within their category. Southwest brought a new approach to flight scheduling and boarding. But it also redefined the passenger’s high fare, long-haul, impersonal flight experience with its fun-loving commitment to “positively outrageous service.”
Challenger brands project what Adam Morgan refers to in his book Eating the Big Fish as a “Lighthouse Identity” – a clear sense of who they are and what they stand for – articulated in strong emotional terms. As path forgers, they demonstrate a curiosity about where their industry might go and the courage to alight toward the emerging path.
Now Parish does not sell eye ware, produce furniture, or transport passengers, but we do share with the companies profiled above the mindset of a challenger brand.
I have written and spoken extensively on boundless thinking this year. How fitting it is, then, to highlight Parish’s lighthouse identity as an educational leader transforming teaching and learning so as to better prepare today’s young people for the “complex global society.”
Our present effort to Reimagine School stands as a challenger’s quest. We contend that long-held operating paradigms of schools – some of which are highlighted in the chart below – require deep reconsideration if today’s children are to be prepared for tomorrow’s world.
These operational features have defined the student (or consumer, if you will) experience. Other societal factors have arisen within the last generation: increasingly competitive college admissions, the global economy, and social media among them. Together, they have cultivated a learning culture in college preparatory schools fixated on outcomes and metrics (e.g. GPAs, test scores, college placements) and thus steeped in anxiety.
Julia Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean, is just one of many who have gathered data – derived in her case from college counseling offices (see image below) to demonstrate how unhealthy the prevailing culture of the college preparatory school industry has become for young people (her TED Talk is among the most frequently viewed).
Indeed, this culture is bad for our kids and needs reimagining.
Since 2009, we’ve unfurled a fleet of signature programs to uncover and feed the passions of students. More recently, we’ve piloted initiatives designed to blend disciplines, personalize instruction or enhance enduring habits of mind. Presently, we are deep into Reimagine School and how time, technology and curriculum delivery might best serve our students in the future.
We believe we can be a North Star in our industry – a school that garners attention for unquestionably preparing students for tomorrow’s world without breaking their spirit or squelching their love of learning.
There remains one other noteworthy trait of challenger brands. As a result of their fearless commitment to challenge category norms and embedded cultural characteristics in their sector, they become the brand “everyone is talking about” and evoke the “highest sensed momentum” in consumer’s mind. They become thought-leaders.
As you can learn more about in this video, Parish has been visited by close to 70 schools, colleges, businesses and community leaders since 2013. We have commanded attention for posing the provocative questions; demonstrating a boundless spirit; and leading the way.
We embrace our role as a challenger brand. We derive energy from our quest to better serve our students and our global community by producing a new generation of leaders replete with robust minds and thriving, intact spirits.