What Challenger Brands Can Learn From The Golden State Warriors

By Ari Brosowsky

For the casual basketball fan it may seem like the Golden State Warriors have always been on top. But before Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Steph Curry you would be hard-pressed to find another team trying to emulate the Warriors or building a team with the sole purpose of beating them. In fact, the franchise has spent a whole lot more time towards the bottom of the league than the top, with both nine and twelve season playoff droughts in the recent past on their resume. Many challenger brands and startups face this same issue, they are apprehensive when it comes to competing against some of the most well-known names in the tech industry. So how did the Warriors go from the bottom to the challenger to the top dog?

challenger brands and golden state warriors

In honor of the Warriors fourth consecutive championship appearance let’s take a look at three lessons startups and challenger brands can learn from the Golden State Warriors.

1. There is no magic bullet.

The rise to the top takes time, patience, and consistency. While there will undoubtedly be significant milestones along the way, the Warriors did not get to the top of the NBA because of a single player. Yes, Steph Curry ultimately became a two time MVP. But the Warriors did not become a powerhouse as soon as he was drafted. Drafting Steph was a huge contributing factor but so was trading for David Lee, drafting Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Harrison Barnes, and signing Kevin Durant in free agency. Make no mistake about it if the Warriors did not put themselves in a position to compete for a championship every year, Kevin Durant would have never even considered them as a destination in free agency.

As the old saying goes, it takes money to make money. By slowly building a contender over time, the Warriors transformed themselves into a top destination for free agent talent, putting themselves in a position to sustain greatness.

The same can be said about startups and challenger brands. No one deal or announcement is going to catapult a company from being an unknown entity to the top of the pack. To take on the current giants companies need to consistently build awareness and expand market presence over time. It will not happen overnight, but increased awareness and third-party validation help to accelerate growth significantly. A strong and consistent PR and marketing program will help get you up that mountain as quickly as possible.

2. Change the game.

It is not enough to just be faster, better, or stronger to make it to the top and stay there. Challenger brands need to change the game completely. The Warriors are now credited with changing the style of play. They’ve changed what teams need to be successful in today’s NBA and forced others to try and beat them at their own game.

The same can be said about the Bulls of the 90’s or the Lakers of 2000’s both considered all-time NBA great dynasties. The Warriors style of play and roster construction has put a premium on the wing versatility and three-point shooting throughout the league. This has almost rendered big men useless at times. For those who grew up watching all-time great players like Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuawon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or Wilt Chamberlain, this is new. It’s now about a fast-paced, shoot a ton of three’s, switch everything on defense, and run the big men off the court style of basketball. It has changed the game significantly.

For startups and challenger brands the big takeaway is that in order dethrone the current Goliaths companies need to change how things are done. It’s not enough to just improve them. It is important to understand how market leaders changed the industry, but do not just try to emulate them. If you do, you will be stuck playing catch-up again as soon as someone else comes in and changes the environment. Don’t just be better, be different.

3. Don’t be afraid to change course.

In the 2013-2014 season, the Warriors were in the middle of their rise to the top of the NBA. They won 51 games and lost a hard fought first round series to the Los Angeles Clippers. What did the Warriors do? They fired Marc Jackson, a coach loved by the players and that took the team to the playoffs for the past two seasons. Why? Because the Warriors determined the team had reached its ceiling under coach Jackson’s system. The Warriors then hired now coach Steve Kerr, winning the championship the next year and breaking the all-time season wins record the following year. Coach Kerr is now taking the team to their fourth consecutive finals appearance and has built a dynasty.

Startups that blossom into market leaders, rarely stay the same path from which they started. Part of the journey to the top is making difficult business decisions in benefit of the long-term. This could be shifting the primary target customer market, hiring a new CEO, or changing the narrative around the company within the industry and media perception. Those who are not afraid to take risks and change course when necessary to grow often end up with the most successful companies in the long run.

UPRAISE has successfully worked with hundreds of startups and challenger brands over the years. A steady diet of PR and marketing activities can be the difference between a market leader and everyone else. It’s no coincidence that the Warriors’ PR team is considered the best in the business. If you are interested in building a strong market presence and challenging the top dogs, let’s talk.

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