How to Review Your Competition to Build a Better Brand
An essential part of creating your brand is reviewing your competition. You cannot develop your logo, tagline, or visual identity in a vacuum. Even if it looks great and sounds great, what if you discovered that your brand looked or sounded just like another business’?
Your brand needs to be relevant, memorable, and unique.
Where to do competitive research
Depending on the type of business, it may be very easy or quite challenging to know what your competitors are doing.
Check out their website
Nowadays, nearly every business has a website, and you can learn a lot about a company from spending time reviewing its website.
- What are their key services or products?
- Who do they seem to be catering to?
- What does their logo look like and what colors and fonts do they use?
- Overall, does the website feel up-to-date or outdated?
- What is the tone of their writing? Formal, casual, funny?
- Can you figure out their core values, or big why?
Visit their location
If you have a retail store or hospitality business, you can visit your competitors. Just walk into their store, restaurant, coffee shop, or studio and purchase something. Be a customer and experience everything.
- What is the decor like? What colors and materials do they use? What is the overall atmosphere they’ve created?
- How do their employees interact and talk to you? Are they formal, casual, quiet or up-beat?
- Is there consistency with the brand experience? Does each employee dress and talk in their own way or do they wear a uniform and use scripts?
Buy their product
If you have a product that you’re selling, go ahead and buy similar products from your competitors.
- What are the main features of their product?
- What does the packaging look like?
- What was the experience like buying from them, either online or in person?
Follow them on social media
Check out their social media platforms to see what they’re up to.
- What types of content are they creating and sharing? What’s created by them and what do they share that’s been created by others?
- What is the overall tone of their postings? Are there common topics or themes they post about?
- What type of engagement do they have with their followers? Do they have a large supportive audience, a disengaged audience and do they have any vocal critics?
Talk to their customers or read reviews
For some businesses, it can be hard to get a lot of information unless you are a client. And in some situations, that isn’t easy to do. For example, you won’t know what it’s like to work with a wellness coach until you hire them. Or maybe you can’t thoroughly test out a product without buying it, and it’s too expensive for you. If you can’t become a customer yourself, ask around and find customers to talk to or read online reviews.
- Who is buying from your competitor?
- What do they like best about the product or service?
- What do they complain about the most?
What makes you different?
The most important part of all this research is to figure out your differentiators. These are the details that make your brand unique and different from what’s already on the market.
These are the things to look at in your competitors.
Start with the basics and list every one of your competitors. Make sure any name you’re are considering wouldn’t get easily mixed up with a key competitor.
Be different: Generally, your name should not be easily confused with competitors.
You can almost always see your competitors’ visual identity. You can see their logo and see the colors they frequently use. Look at their overall style created by the images they use, the typography, and the layout.
Put together a collage of your competitors’ visual styles. In Branding Compass, we show you screenshots of your competitors’ websites.
Be different: If you see specific colors used repeatedly, you can stand out by choosing different colors for your visual identity.
Read their website, packaging, and social media posts to determine what they say and how they say it. Many brands have a generic, professional writing style, but some can develop a more distinct tone to sound more fun, energetic, or casual.
If possible, try to describe and categorize their style. Write down a tagline or headline for every competitor.
Be different: Make sure your taglines, slogans, or headlines are different from what your competitors use. Your writing and speaking style should connect with the unique brand traits you are developing.
The key features of their product or service
For service businesses, what services do they offer, and which services are they best known for? What are the critical features of the product or service that they promote? What are the key benefits of using their product or service?
Create a list of the key services or product features for each competitor.
Be different: For small business owners, many of the details of what you offer are likely similar to your competitors. For example, if you sell bookkeeping, lawn care, coffee, or pillows, there are probably some clear expectations on what you are selling. So think hard about why someone will choose you over your competitors. Once you understand what your unique differentiator is—focus on it! Mention it frequently, describe it thoroughly and make sure everyone knows it.
Can you tell who they are trying to sell to? One factor will be location-based for stores and restaurants, and then they might have a typical buyer like teens, families, sports fans, or retirees. For B2B companies, it might be the type of business they work with or the industry they are in.
Try to figure out who each of your competitors sees as their ideal customer.
Be different: One of the best ways to stand out in a field crowded with competitors is to focus on a different group of customers. For example, if you’re a bookkeeper, you could focus on restaurants, Airbnb hosts, or independent lawyers. Each of these groups has unique needs, and if you can demonstrate that you understand their industry, prospects will appreciate your specialized knowledge and be attracted to your brand.
Sometimes the way you do business can be different. For example, are competitors selling their products in stores or online direct-to-consumer? The pricing may be flat-fee, subscriptions, or based on customized estimates.
Write down the pricing and fundamental business model of each competitor.
Be different: Many businesses are changing their models these days. For example, traditionally, lawyers worked on retainer or by billing you hourly; now, many are using fixed-fees packages to make their services more attractive. Look at how your competitors are pricing, billing, or delivering their service and see if you can create a different working method.
Your experience, worldview or mission
Every business owner comes to their business with a unique viewpoint. It could be built on your previous career experience or education or a more personal mission. Promoting this unique point of view is often critical to making it clear how you are different than your competitors. This can often be the most important way to differentiate your small business.
Write down a brief brand story of each competitor. This can be hard to find but may be found on an ‘about us’ page or by reading the founder’s bio. Sometimes can be discovered from their website or social media postings.
Be different: This is your chance to shine! Make it very clear what’s unique and special about your background or worldview that will allow you to serve your clients better or create a fantastic product. Branding Compass can help you with this as you walk through the discovery workbook and build your Unique Value Proposition.
Put it all together
When you look at all these pieces, you do not need to be distinct and different in every category.
For example, you may find that three of your four top competitors use blue and gray and their brand, so you can easily choose different dominant colors.
But, it turns out that you’re faster than some competitors and slower than others. Or, you have more products than some competitors and fewer than others.
Keep looking at all the variables until you can see the specific ways your brand can find a unique spot in the marketplace to stand out.
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