Is it, “A new year, new challenges” or, “A new year, new opportunities?” 

Realistically, it’s both. But behind every challenge of this new year is an opportunity to overcome an obstacle and, perhaps, create a new revenue stream.

At a recent industry conference I listened to Julian Aldridge, vice president of brand evangelism and activation at Charles Schwab, speak to a crowded floor. His message? It pays for companies to be a “challenger.”

According to Aldridge, businesses are either incumbents or challengers. Examples of incumbents are Microsoft, Visa and United Airlines. They are behemoths of business and you likely use these brands often. But you probably don’t step back and say, “Wow, these companies are really doing things different and shaking up the competition.” 

Aldridge claims that’s not why they’re successful. “They rule because they have market size and were the first ones there,” he says.

Challengers, on the other hand, must make waves to make a name for themselves. United, for example, uses a blue, soothing color to represent their brand (incumbent). Virgin America (challenger) uses a striking red color, has had wireless on all flights for years and mood lighting within their cabins. 

“It’s like a nightclub in the sky,” Aldridge says. “You have interactive entertainment, you have a sense of humor, you have people who really feel like they want to serve you and you have a singular flying experience. Whether or not you’ve flown Virgin America, you probably have a clear image of what that brand is.”

So how exactly does a company become a successful challenger? According to Aldridge, there are seven credos to follow. 1) Leaders should have “intelligent naivety,” meaning they question everything (similar to children) and come back to the table with fresh ideas; 2) Build a lighthouse identity, or, like lighthouses, project consistently and insistently; 3) Assume thought leadership. “You have to challenge everyone else to notice you in a different way,” Aldridge says; 4) Create symbols of re-evaluation. For example, make strategic little bets and see what happens. 5) Sacrifice and overcommit; 6) Enter the cultural conversation. For example, Dove created the #ChooseBeautiful campaign to teach young women to think differently about what beautiful means. They entered the conversation and stayed there; 7) Becomes ideas centered, or, in other words, cultivate a team centered around generating ideas on a constant basis. 

There are so many things we can learn from challengers, whether it’s standing up against something or for something. “Focus groups are not the real world,” Aldridge says. “A lot of us think we’re unique. If you take this approach of standing for something, you can really change things.”

Let us change things in 2016. Happy New Year to all of you.