One thing that I’m certain businesses do a lot of time doing is watching the competition. It’s a type of “keeping up with the Joneses” for business to maintain their competitive edge. All too often though, it’s more about pricing and less about creating a meaningful edge.
Knowing the competition is good but if what it does to the company branding is just to get you on top of the pricing war, then competitive intelligence becomes a waste of time.
To get the most out of competitive intelligence, it should define what differentiates you from the pack...what makes you more valuable to the customers than the other companies in the market.
Competition and Your Company Branding
How will a customer choose which widget to buy from a thousand other widgets? There are such typical considerations as color, size, material used, and convenience and more esoteric aspects as whether the manufacturers went green and organic in their materials sourcing and production process. Each widget maker is sure to define what makes their widget different from the widget of the shop next door in the hopes of getting the customer’s business.
In much the same way, define what sets you apart from the competitors by knowing what the competitors are up to because ultimately, thecompetitive edge is not just about offering a better or lower price.
Ask a lot of questions:
- Where are the competitors located—are they closerto the customers than you are or are they off the beaten path? Why so?
- What are the range of products and services they’re offering? Are they continuously innovating or are they regularly coming up with new offerings? What’s their research and development like...or do they even have one?
- What are the competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, the threats they’re facing and the opportunities they’re taking advantage of?
- What are they doing better or worse than you? How do their products and services compare to yours?
- How are they marketing their offerings and where?
- Are they on a cost-cutting program or are they expanding their reach and offerings?
These are just some of the many questions you will need to ask of the competitors, and the kind of answers that emerge will help you define what makes you different—the heart of the branding strategy.
Spying on Your Competitors
We are not talking about covert activities like planting bugs in the competitor’s boardrooms or paying disgruntled employees to snitch on their company’s activities. We are talking about simple but effective competitive intelligence that doesn’t cost you money or morals.
There are many ways to see what the competitor is up to:
- Publicly available information like filings, hearings and documents submitted to government regulatory bodies
- Newspapers, company websites and press releases
- Social media and Google alerts
- Focused group discussions, surveys and product/service reviews
Best bet to stay current on the industry and on the competitors is to create a Google alert using relevant keywords used in the industry; product name or services; competitor’s brands and company names; and your own brands and company name, of course.
If you want real-time information on market chatter about you and the competitors, you can also create a Twitter feed.
Brand Identity and Positioning
In a way, brand identity and positioning are two peas in a pod when it comes to the competition. Both will define how you will place the company brand in the mind of consumers. Imagine the customer’s mind as a row of shelves where different brands for different products or services are stored.
Some brands are fairly new in their positions—recently fixed in their shelf because an old brand is perceived to be of lesser value, it’s the better alternative to an old brand, a newly invented product or service, or it’s the “in” thing right now. Whatever the reason they’re in particular shelves, they have a real value to the customer over other similar products or services in the market.
That value which separates you from and makes you a better choice over the other brand in your niche is what you want to nail down and communicate to the consumer. That is the brand identity or product/service positioning message.
You invented a widget that’s alone in its class? Then you brand it as the “first ever” gadget, like no other. You are a far second to the brand leader? Change the consumer’s mind about the competitor’s offering. Relate your brand to the leading brand, not to compare but to create a shelf that the competitor has not explored yet.
However you are branding the company, products or services, the most important thing about competitive intelligence is that you avoid being blindsided by the competitors’ moves. You can tweak the company branding into a more focused, more meaningful differentiation that gives real value to your customers if you’re aware of what your competition is up to.