SEO for challenger brands
Getting someone to buy something they don’t know they need, from a business they’ve never heard of, now that’s a tough sell. Breaking into a new industry is never easy, and for start-ups the challenge is multiplied. Your competition has more money, more resources and more customers. When you have less of everything, how can you carve out space in the consumer consciousness amid a multitude of options?
Whilst SEO can’t spontaneously secure you more funding, double your workforce or prevent competitors stealing your ideas, it can help you to:
- Build brand awareness
- Communicate your proposition
- Create sustainable growth
If you’re struggling to break into a new market, SEO could be just the tactic you need to make an impact.
Building brand awareness
Before they can buy anything, consumers need to know you exist. Faced with fierce industry competition, this is best approached by creating highly targeted content. Focusing on long tail, low, or no volume keywords can be an effective way to get a foothold in SERPs that are otherwise dominated by behemoth brands. Honing in on less competitive topics will build authority within that niche, which over time will help your site rank for increasingly popular keywords and topics.
Ranking for lower volume search terms rather than struggling to appear for more competitive terms, isn’t just a practical way to build awareness, it can also help build positive sentiment towards your brand. People prefer brands they are familiar with, which is described by behavioural economics as the mere exposure effect. The more we are exposed to a brand the greater our preference towards it, regardless of whether we interact with it or not. Appearing frequently in the SERPs positively influences consumer perception and can reduce the ‘preference gap’ between you and the market leader.
Communicating your proposition
As a new market entrant, educating customers often comes before selling to them. SEO gives you the space to explain your proposition in-detail, and reshape industry narrative in a way that’s difficult to achieve with other marketing channels.
When your product or service is completely novel, tapping into existing search habits gives you the opportunity to change perceptions and pull users away from the established brands. Optimised content can be used to connect with potential customers, even when they aren’t searching for you or your solution directly. And when people choose to interact with your content, that’s a powerful affirmation that your product or service is wanted, needed and has ongoing potential.
Many marketing tactics are very transactional – the customer sees an online ad, visits the landing page, converts (hopefully) and the interaction ends. When the marketing activity stops, so do the benefits. In contrast, the benefits of SEO have longevity, which makes it an incredibly efficient tactic over the longer term. A successful piece of content can inform customers, create backlink opportunities and boost your reputation among industry peers. It doesn’t lose its impact once it’s been seen, it works again and again to communicate your message. Appearing in the SERPs creates a positive ripple effect that grows with time, positioning your brand as a credible source that customers can trust.
Creating sustainable growth
Taking your business from mouthy upstart to market leader requires continuous growth. Marketing activities need to work hard to increase your momentum year-on-year, whilst your budget remains a fraction of established competitors. SEO works cumulatively, meaning you can maintain the same level of investment over time and still see increasing results. If producing four pieces of content each month creates an extra 400 visits to your site, in the second month site visits will climb to 800 and so on, without any change to your monthly investment. This, of course, is a simplification, but it makes SEO a very cost efficient channel, ideal for businesses who want to grow in a sustainable way.
Whether you want to increase traffic or conversions, as a challenger brand SEO offers huge potential for uplift, as you start from a low baseline. To get the best results from your activity, it’s important to have a clear target, which we describe as your ‘North Star Goal’. This is a singular goal, that is SMART and allows a timescale of at least 12 months to allow success to be evaluated YoY. With a solid strategy and appropriate resourcing, ROI should be clear after a year of consistent effort, and investment can be scaled up accordingly, to reach milestones faster.
Can SEO work for your brand?
If your buyers search online, the answer is probably yes. Mapping out buyer personas is a helpful way to work out how your potential customers search. At what stage of the purchase journey do they look online, where do they look for information and what sort of searches do they carry out? For example, Gen Z may prefer to use channels like TikTok. When they do use search engines they typically use long tail keywords with modifiers such as ‘best’ and ‘cheap’. Older audiences tend to rely more on Google and search using short phrases.
Take a look at what competitors are doing too. If major industry players are missing from Google or have a limited presence, this might indicate your audience is better reached through other channels, which is sometimes the case with very high-tech propositions. If your customers use search engines and you can answer their questions, then there’s a space for you in the SERPs.
Audience using Google? Check. Lots to say about your niche? Check. The final thing you’ll need to make SEO work for your business is enough budget and resources to get started and stick at it for at least 12 months. To determine your budget we recommend evaluating the size of the opportunity – if you’re running a ecommerce fashion site the opportunity is likely to be larger than for a B2B SaaS brand. Once you have an idea of the ‘size of the prize’, consider whether a proportion of your marketing budget could be reallocated to optimisation. Over time investment in SEO can reduce your reliance on activities like paid advertising, so this is worth considering in your calculations. The more you can invest, the quicker you should be able to scale up results, but remember to select an amount you can commit to for at least a year.
To deliver your optimisation plan you’ll need, as a minimum, someone with SEO expertise to advise on strategy and delivery, one person dedicated to SEO for a few days each week, developer support and a content writer. If you don’t have the right skills in-house, you can hire extra freelance support or engage with an SEO agency.
Putting it into practice
A real world example of a disruptor brand using SEO to break into a well established market is Heycar. Heycar launched in the UK in 2019 with the aim of shaking up the online used car marketplace. They used SEO to grow their online visibility from zero to five over a four year period, as measured by the Sistrix visibility index.
Whilst working with Blue Array, Heycar focused on three key areas to achieve this:
- Content generation – a targeted content strategy enabled Heycar to gain visibility among its target audience and connect with them by providing helpful information, such as their Heycar guides and car reviews.
- Creating linkable assets – Promoting linkable assets such as the value my car tool helped Heycard to attract backlinks and generate industry interest. Creating talking points and offering new industry insights can be a good way to attract the attention of news publishers and other relevant sites, and generate discussion around your brand.
- Reviewing page type and quality – Local SEO was an important part of Heycar’s strategy. Ensuring a high quality, relevant page existed for each target location enabled them to challenge the sites dominating the SERPs.
An effective SEO strategy can help you crack new markets and connect with potential customers, even in hypercompetitive industries. Telling the story of your brand through optimised content, allows you to gauge the customer response (through search queries, clicks and content paths etc.) and increase your industry authority. Creating content focused on less competitive terms, gives you the opportunity to explore customer needs and explain your proposition in-depth. Though your budget may be tiny compared to industry leaders, SEO can help you find a foothold within your niche, and scale sustainably over the long term in a cost effective way.