This fun article about the resurgence of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, over on Fortune's website, provides a vivid example of how a small brand can be successful by positioning itself as anti-mainstream, directly in opposition to the values of the market leaders.
Pabst sales have risen by approximately 30% this year. Fortune writer Beth Kowitt writes that, "But the lagging economy isn't the only thing energizing PBR. The brand has also cultivated a reputation as a hipster, offbeat beer -- or what the president of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, Craig Purser, likes to call "retro chic" -- positioning itself as an alternative to big, mainstream brands."
Interestingly, the new brand positioning did not emerge from the Pabst marketing team's minds. Instead, they noticed a surge in sales in Portland, Oregon. Upon visiting the city, they learned that Pabst had found a loyal following among the members of the hipster, music crowd. A new brand positioning was born! Customers drink Pabst specifically because it is not Budweiser, and because it does not market itself the way that those mainstream brands do. It seems to me that many other smaller brands in other markets have an opportunity to position themselves as anti-mainstream, or anti-market leader in their image and values. One way to start understanding how to cultivate that image might be to look closely at a particular area where a small brand seems to be having local success, as Pabst marketers did.