Embracing the Underdog Spirit: Strategies for New Brands to Thrive


1. Setting the Playing Field: The Myth of the Underdog Expectation

Why is there an unrealistic expectation from an underdog? The underdog enters the marketplace alongside large and small players, aiming to carve out and own its space. The key question is: where in the overall space does it want to operate? Should it compete with its equals or take on the giants in their own game? This requires courage, and it is the kind of brand that audiences like to follow and engage with.

Case Study: Kcal

Kcal, a healthy fast food chain in the UAE, entered a market dominated by well-established international fast food brands. Instead of competing directly, Kcal positioned itself in the niche market of health-conscious consumers. By focusing on high-quality, nutritious meals and transparent calorie information, Kcal attracted a loyal customer base that valued health over convenience.

Actionable Advice:

  • Identify niche areas where your brand can excel and address unmet needs.
  • Focus on building a strong local connection to differentiate from global competitors.
  • Communicate your unique value proposition clearly to your target audience.

2. Aligning the Three Key Critical Areas

Once the new entrant brand understands the expectations of its audience, how does it deliver on its promise consistently? For the brand owner, before launching their service or product, aligning three areas is crucial: Delivery Expectation, Brand Promise, and Financial Resources. If there is slack in any of these areas, the brand may struggle to take off and soar. Clearly establishing these core areas before launching is paramount.

Case Study: Mumzworld

Mumzworld, an online retailer for mother and child products, meticulously aligned its brand promise with its delivery expectations and financial resources. By focusing on a wide range of high-quality products, excellent customer service, and a user-friendly website, Mumzworld quickly became a trusted name among parents in the UAE. Their strategic funding rounds ensured they had the financial backing to support their growth.

Actionable Advice:

  • Conduct thorough market research to understand audience expectations.
  • Ensure that your brand promise is realistic and aligned with your capabilities.
  • Secure adequate funding to support your brand’s initial growth phase.

3. When Things Don’t Go as Planned

What happens when the brand doesn’t deliver on its promise? Here, I refer to inadvertent instances, not intentional ones. Being authentic, apologetic, and taking steps to rectify the situation is what people truly appreciate.

Case Study: Deliveroo UAE

Deliveroo faced significant backlash when there were delays and issues with deliveries. Instead of staying silent, Deliveroo took proactive measures by communicating transparently with customers, offering compensation, and improving their logistics to prevent future issues. This approach helped them maintain trust and loyalty among their customers.

Actionable Advice:

  • Develop a crisis management plan that includes clear communication strategies.
  • Be proactive in addressing issues and transparent about the steps taken to resolve them.
  • Show empathy and prioritize customer satisfaction to maintain trust.


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George Ninan

Managing Partner