Challenger Brands and Black History Makers

Historically, Black luminaries have harnessed innovative approaches, creating breakthrough opportunities in various industries and truly influencing culture. Their collective impact in reshaping mainstream mindsets mirrors what modern marketers call "challenger brands'' today. Challenger brands flip everything we think we know about an industry or product on its head, introducing perspectives that captivate audiences, create attention, and drive growth. Black change makers and challenger brands refuse to play by outdated rules or be defined by limitations.

To honor Black lives and voices, we amplify all those who harness a challenger mindset to transform systems and perceptions across all industries. By celebrating Black culture and icons in spaces like fashion, healthcare, STEM, and the arts, their alignment with the 10 challenger brand personas showcases how Black History embodies what it means to challenge a brand.

As we explore where challenger brands and Black culture converge, let’s use some of today’s Black culture icons and brands to understand what’s at the core of each of the 10 challenger brand personas.

People’s Champion: Rihanna, Fenty Beauty & Savage Fenty

The people's champion in the challenger brand persona line-up is the epitome of "by the people, for the people." This challenger brand type is defined by their innate ability to build strong and deep connections with customers because they fill much-needed gaps in the market. The people's champion understands that because this customer base might not be the majority, they desire and deserve products and services that cater to their needs. The People's Champion brand, though marketed to niche communities, often ends up being so multifaceted it appeals to large audiences, too. At the Kulur Group, we often say Community scales Reputation that develops relationships that drive revenue.

We see this with Rihanna and her Fenty Beauty & Savage Fenty lines. As a champion for inclusivity and diversity in the beauty and fashion industries, Rihanna has built a devoted customer base by creating products for more melanated skin tones, a section of the market historically underserved by traditional brands. In the pursuit of providing a high-quality product to people of color, Fenty's quality and brand experience began to appeal to a broader consumer base. Not only did Rihanna break down barriers in cosmetics, but she was also one of the first brands to showcase "real bodies." Her inclusive body types in her ads and fashion shows led the way, with other brands bandwagoning to feature different body types in the intimates and athleisure fashion lanes.

People’s Champion Traits:

Inclusive, Empowering, Revolutionary, Diverse, Authentic

Real and Human: Barack Obama

By keeping messaging authentic, transparent, and accessible, Real & Human brands build trust and resonance quickly. These brands have mastered emotional intelligence and personability. Audiences don’t have to think too deeply to find themselves in the brand story, they fit in organically. You’ll never see a Real and Human brand being accused of being inauthentic. They do the work to connect with their consumers. No cold calls over here, just a warm and genuine connection.

Former President Barack Obama’s political brand was firmly rooted in everyday realness and humanity. Obama was the first president we saw engaging in pop culture, creating a connection with the American people. From sharing his Spotify playlist, fangirling over Duke basketball, and unapologetic PDA with Michelle, Obama’s brand was defined by the perception of authenticity and overall relatability.

Real and Human Traits:

Authentic, Relatable, Genuine, Inspirational, Personable

Maverick: Deion Sanders 

Their flashy and bold disposition defines the Maverick persona as a challenger brand. The Maverick leans into using grand showcases of disruption in their approach. This challenger brand persona usually attracts controversy by having no concerns about political correctness, or some may even say “tact.” If the Maverick had a tagline, it would be like, “All news is good news as long as they’re talking.”

Deion Sanders oozes Maverick energy as a football legend known for trash-talking, backing up the trash talk, and shaking up the college football coaching world. Creating hype and fanfare, whether fans loved or hated Sanders' approach, one thing was certain… they were watching. Sanders' buzz resulted in Colorado University selling out a complete football season for the first time in university history. That's where Maverick brands like Sanders shine. Whether it's the fanfare, the swag, or even the controversy, Sanders created enough curiosity and commotion to elevate a football program before they even played a single game.

Maverick Traits:

Bold, Unconventional, Flamboyant, Trailblazer, Unapologetic

Game Changer: Mia Ray, Glam-Aholic Lifestyle

The Game Changer challenger brand persona embodies a brand that thrives on innovation, boldness, and a willingness to challenge industry norms. These brands are characterized by their confidence and adaptability. Pivotal to how they innovate, Game Changers embrace direction from a customer-centric lens. Game Changers consider the needs and preferences of their audience while reshaping the industry landscape. Often challenging established giants, these brands are adaptive and quick to adjust their strategies to stay ahead in the market. They don’t see industry norms as red tape, instead, they might just use the “red tape” as inspiration for their next venture.

Leveraging Instagram trends and aligning with pop culture, Mia Ray, founder of Glam-Aholic Lifestyle, achieved a remarkable feat—generating $1 million in a mere 24 hours while celebrating a decade in business. Transitioning her popular fashion blog into a thriving retail enterprise, Ray merged her two passions: luxury fashion and financial literacy. Though they may seem opposite of one another, Ray's overarching goal is to deliver luxe experiences while instilling financial mindfulness in Black women. Glam-Aholic Lifestyle goes beyond traditional notions of luxury by providing access to high-end bags, totes, and accessories, empowering women to embrace boldness and confidence. In doing so, Mia Ray is revolutionizing the landscape of luxury consumerism not only within the Black community but in fashion and retail at large.

Game Changer Traits:

Revolutionary, Fearless, Boundary-breaking, Bold, Trendsetter

Missionary: Joel Bervell, Medical TikTok Influencer

We find our purpose-driven persona in the Missionary. This challenger brand finds meaning in its brand beyond the bottom line, acknowledging that challenging the status quo comes with disrupting business as usual. The Missionary uses its platform to actively seek change in its industry by providing a product or service that shows how the current state of things lacks ethical or ideological merit.

A strong example of a Missionary-based challenger brand mindset is researcher, med school student, and TikTok influencer Joel Bervell. Bervell has amassed nearly one million followers across TikTok and Instagram, with his content focused on diversifying the field of medicine and showcasing racial disparities in medical practices and devices. Not only does Bervell’s work educate the Black community on how to properly advocate for themselves in blind spots within the healthcare industry, but provides useful knowledge to anyone interested in learning how we can collectively advance medicine for all.

Missionary Traits:

Educational, Inspiring, Bridge-builder, Influential, Purpose-driven

Democratizer: Black Girls CODE

The Democratizer aims to take something exclusive and make it more accessible to all. The Democratizer is driven by removing elitism from industry and finding ways to add participation from consumer groups with limited access or awareness. The Democratizer and People’s Champion are similar, but the Democratizer is defined by providing access to underserved audiences versus creating something that doesn’t exist for underserved audiences.

By providing coding skills and tech education to young women of color, Black Girls CODE has a clear Democratizer persona. They are removing the barriers to accessing STEM education that could propel young Black girls into better educational and career opportunities. This approach also created a pipeline for Black talent in tech to diversify the industry. Black Girls CODE demystified what coding and STEM are, providing Black women with a collaborative, empowering, and fun space in a competitive but homogenous sector.

Democratizer Traits:

Inclusive, Accessible, Equality-driven, Empowering, Progressive

Next Generation: Kevin Barnett, CoolxDad

As the name would suggest, the Next Generation challenger persona brings new energy and perspective to an industry they deem antiquated. They see plateau-protecting approaches across the industry as being a threat to future sustainability. These brands accelerate improvements to the industry to keep it relevant and responsive for today’s consumers but do not adopt all of the traditional approaches from the past.

Kevin Barnett is the Founder and Executive Director of Houston-based CoolxDad. CoolxDad is a non-profit that fosters family bonds and challenges negative stereotypes in support of fathers of color. Founded in 2020, CoolxDad brings together fathers from diverse backgrounds, including those in tech, art and culture, athletics, media and entertainment, entrepreneurs, and community changemakers to help fathers deal with financial literacy and mental health. At its heart, CoolxDad is an organization for father figures who want to build close relationships with their children and the community around them. Kevin Barnett is an idea generator who combines an old soul with a modern mentality. CoolxDad, through its unique programming like Sunday Supper and CoolxRuns, has continued to grow over the past year. The Knights Table, CoolxDad’s signature event, encourages deep member-based conversations steeply rooted in elegance and excellence and has been held in Houston, New Orleans, and other larger cities.

Next Generation Traits:

Progressive, Trailblazer, Innovative, Future-oriented, Cutting-edge

Cool Contrarian: Andre 3000

Deviating from the mainstream and a commitment to standing out from the crowd is what defines the Cool Contrarian challenger brand. Cool Contrarian brands purposefully take an unconventional approach, zigging while others zag. They ask, “Conformity? What’s that?” This persona is marked by a rebellious spirit and a willingness to take risks, even if it means not being a part of the “in” crowd. Uniqueness and carving out their own niche are cornerstones for this challenger brand persona.

Andre 3000 stands as a quintessential Cool Contrarian. Teaming up with Big Boi to establish Outkast, he helped reshape the landscape of hip-hop by infusing funk, jazz, and rock in genre-bending ways. Beyond his musical contributions, Andre 3000 also gained notoriety for his eclectic and flamboyant fashion choices, never straying away from bold and unexpected attire on and off stage. As a true non-conformist, his unique lyricism and narrative approach to music carved out a distinctive lane in hip-hop. Recently, Andre 3000 sent shockwaves through the music community by releasing his first album in over a decade—a surprising collection of flute music. Consistently defying expectations, he exemplifies how Cool Contrarians reinvent themselves, continuously triumphing in their respective industries. Andre 3000's ability to deliver the unexpected solidifies him as a remarkable example of how Cool Contrarian brands can consistently evolve and thrive.

Cool Contrarian Traits:

Innovative, Fearless, Nonconformist, Trendsetter, Original

Visionary: Jordan Peele

When it comes to challenger brands, the Visionary plays the long game. Their willingness to invest in research and development inspires industry stakeholders and consumer audiences with a sense of advancement. These brands position themselves as thought leaders, setting the “what’s next” for the industry. They consistently push boundaries to achieve their forward-looking objectives. Their agenda is focused on a complete narrative shift in the industry, not just creating a better product for the industry.

As a movie producer and writer, Jordan Peele has demonstrated an inspiring vision for cinema, especially in the thriller, satire, and horror genres. Movies like “Get Out” and “Nope” have created a new lane for comedy horror while showcasing Black leads. Defeating the “Black people get killed first” trope in movies, Peele’s movies have introduced audiences to Black talent and narrative in genre-bending categories where they didn’t exist before.

Visionary Traits:

Forward-thinking, Groundbreaking, Imaginative, Trailblazing, Creative

Underdog: Rich Bloomfield, Funkytown Brewery

The Underdog is the “classic” challenger brand persona. Think, an unsung hero of industry. Underdog brands are known for their grassroots efforts, tenacity, and ability to connect with consumers looking for traditional products or services but with a nontraditional twist. The underdog doesn’t shake the room like the Maverick but definitely shows up to compete. Whether emerging from a niche market or purely challenging industry giants, the Underdog persona thrives on the journey from underestimation to success.

From brewing in their garage to being nationally recognized by Samuel Adams, Grambling alum Richard Bloomfield is shaking up the beer game in Chicago with Funkytown Brewery. Funkytown Brewery’s commitment to fostering diversity and representation in the beer industry has resulted in it emerging as a regional retail staple. Their brand sits at the intersection of craft brewing and their love of 90’s hip hop. With a grassroots approach, Funkytown Brewery has tapped into the community, making beer approachable for not only Black consumers in the area but also pushing the beer industry of Chicago to offer more innovative brews. Community is everything to Funkytown, being the only Black-owned brewery to brew its beer in Chicago.

Underdog Traits:

Tenacious, Resilient, Challenger, Determined, Gritty

These 10 Black culture icons are just a few of many with a challenger brand mindset. Whether pushing boundaries in the beer business, redefining beauty standards, or making STEM accessible, so many facets of Black culture epitomize what it means to be a challenger. As culture continually gets shaped by the daring and innovative, we know Black culture breaks barriers and helps create the society, culture, and products we love today.

Celebrating Black voices and contributions that challenge the status quo reminds us that standing proudly apart from conventional practices is exactly what inspires people to rethink everything. We will continue to amplify the power that lives in Black culture and within challenger mindsets alike to transform spaces for the better.

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