Critical Branding Conversation: Your Competition

In Building a Brand by Distility2965 Comments

Competition and Branding
By Pete Kloppenburg

We’ve already had a look at one of the most important brand conversations you can have in your company, which is who is our audience? Now let’s look at another key conversation – your competition.

As with audience, this conversation can uncover some pretty important differences of opinion within your company. And the conversation can  generate some very important insight and ideas. Let’s take a look at how this discussion can unfold.

Tough competition or no competition?
There is a central tension at work when we talk about the competition. On the one hand, you might point at the biggest player in your category and say “Those guys – we gotta beat those guys!” If you’re the second biggest player in your category, fair enough, good answer. At the other extreme, you might answer “Nobody! Nobody can do what we do!” Since the best-selling book Blue Ocean Strategy was published, we hear that quite a lot in B2B circles. And there’s a lot of value in that way of thinking and positioning your company, too.

But let’s take a look at some alternate ways of talking about your competition and how they might be more productive and be more useful when it comes to branding.

Shooting the moon
First, let’s look at the consequences of aiming high. Trying to knock off the market leader is an aspirational target, and makes for a great B.H.A.G (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), but it must be balanced with a realistic assessment of what work you need your brand to do. Your brand must make a positive and memorable impression on your customers so that your product is taken into consideration at purchase time. If you can’t realistically compete with the biggest, baddest companies in your category, a great brand won’t change that. And if you are really in match-ups versus smaller competitors, a brand tuned to slay giants might not work for you. So think about the companies you will compete against in the near to medium term, and don’t shoot the moon unless your rocket is fueled and ready.

Boating without a compass
Now, if you are a Blue Ocean sailor with no competition, rest assured, you have competition. If your messaging says “We’re like Company X, but with this difference”, then Company X will still be the thing your customers compare you to. So your brand must work in that context. Even if you really and truly have created a new category (and as branders, we like new categories) then your customers must have somehow managed before you came along. Your competition is the status quo.

Avoid extremes
This competitor conversation is very much a business strategy conversation, but it has deep implications for your brand. So use the conversation to steer a middle course between the extremes of giant slaying and Blue Ocean yachting.

Because when it does come time to brand, a realistic idea of the competition is the key to differentiating your brand in terms of personality, promise, and position. And an advantageous differentiation makes all the difference in the world.

In the branding process, you must focus in on exactly how your brand should compete. So have a good conversation first to be sure you know exactly who you should compete against.