So, you’re not the biggest dog on the block? Here’s a little relief—99% of your competitors aren’t either. After all, there’s only one leader in any market in any given category. So what do you do if you’re number two, or number three, or number eleven? You become an efficient, effective challenger.

Take Visit Saint Paul, one of Hailey Sault’s most proficient challenger brands. Saint Paul is Minnesota’s second-biggest city, by population. It competes against its more upscale twin, Minneapolis, and Bloomington’s Mall of America for Twin Cities visitors. It is also up against strong regional destinations Duluth, Brainerd and Detroit Lakes for outstate visitors. Mostly known as the state capital, it is a late entrant into Minnesota’s leisure travel market.

Despite being late to the party, Visit Saint Paul isn’t wasting any time making a splash. In only the second year under new CEO Terry Mattson, Saint Paul is enjoying a resurgence not seen since Duluth exploded on the scene some twenty-five years ago. While there’s still a long way to go, here’s what you can learn from Visit Saint Paul.


1. Create a sense of urgency.
Status quo favors the market leader. After all, consumers are generally lazy, so once their purchasing behavior has placed one brand atop the pyramid, it is easier to stay there. Challengers need to move to break that status quo behavior.

Within the first year of new leadership, Visit Saint Paul regained control of its owned media and native advertising. It published its first visitor guide in years, redeveloped its website, and launched its first integrated marketing strategy in more than five years.


2. Play big.
Challengers can’t afford to play small. Creating urgency calls for big ideas. Successful challenger brands don’t roll out small or marginalized efforts. And they don’t put consensus decisions ahead of accountability. Instead, they run with ideas that will get them noticed and take responsibility for the outcomes.

Visit Saint Paul first got noticed with a revamped visitors guide. Previous visitor guides had been produced in conjunction with other destinations, making Visit Saint Paul merely part of the marketing platform. Last year, Visit Saint Paul reclaimed its own platform, its own voice, and told myriad stories about Saint Paul, embracing its stakeholders and holding them high for all to see.


The result: a greatly renewed sense of Saint Paul’s destination viability from border to border and heightened interest in investing in Saint Paul (new hotels, new attractions, new restaurants).


3. Get off the fence.
How many times have you reviewed a marketing strategy or execution and been concerned it would offend someone? Often, the conversation focuses on the risk of losing potential consumers. The result is usually a “compromise by consensus” that leaves everyone feeling safe at the expense of a “spot on” marketing campaign.

Successful challengers don’t see a risk. Challengers know that if you sacrifice the people who are the least likely to engage your brand, it isn’t a real risk. In fact, challengers force people to like or dislike their brand, in effect weeding out those with weak preference—who probably would never engage—and wholeheartedly embracing those with strong preference. Challengers create stronger brand champions by growing the kind of engagement and use that are catalysts for the bottom line.

This summer, Visit Saint Paul is boldly embracing the characteristics that make it remarkable. Some of this boldness flies in the face of other destinations throughout the state, including my hometown of Duluth—which became the self-proclaimed craft beer capital of Minnesota several years ago. Saint Paul challenges that claim with more craft brewers and more brewing capacity. This point of view playfully polarized the metro and northeast regions and immediately rocketed Saint Paul to the top of Minnesota’s public conversation. 

The result: a huge escalation of earned media, as well as digital and social conversations, opening up the biggest platform yet for discussing Saint Paul as a premier Minnesota destination.

Are you a challenger? Are you ready to get off the fence and embrace a big idea? Are you ready to stand up and differentiate yourself from everyone else in the market trying to be number one?