This article is part one of a two part series. In part two, you’ll learn about 8 steps you need to take to position your brand.
As the 2010s spiral into the 2020s, you’re probably doing a lot of reflecting and a lot of planning. Looking back, you might be feeling a variety of ways about where you’ve taken your business and your trajectory of growth. Take a pause to be proud and grateful for how far you’ve come. Looking forward, you’re probably a mix of excited and anxious about the future of your brand. Those feelings are pretty normal, too.
You may be thinking about different elements of your brand that need some work or which bring you trepidation: the pressure to bring in customers, retooling products and pricing, and the team you need to manage and lead. These are all valid concerns. But there’s one concern in business that I’d like to invite you to let go of in 2020: Your Competition. This business-planning season, I’d like to invite you to follow me on a journey to understand, identify, analyze, and forget your competition. Let’s get started:
How do you define your competition, anyway?
Let’s say you sell clothing. In a way, you compete with every clothing company that exists. You’d probably like to focus on the ones that most closely suit your ideal consumers. Of those, you might consider those that are closest to your price range or carry the most similar inventory. Then, you’ll prioritize those which have a similar audience size, reach, and reputation. No matter how granular you get, you will still be competing with stores you’ve never heard of and ones you’d be surprised your customers would purchase from.
As you can see, defining your competitors is already a grey area. Before you can know for sure which competitors you should track, It’s important to understand the competition spectrum you’re up against. Are you in a “broad” or “narrow” competition spectrum? Let’s explore that:
I used to live in Austin, Texas where the breakfast tacos are really something to behold. They had chain staples like Torchy’s alongside local powerhouses, cult faves, and food trucks. Each of these is competing with each other when a customer is in the mood for breakfast tacos. However, they’re also competing with every other restaurant in the city as an option for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks. This is a broad competition spectrum. If your product or service is also in a broad competition spectrum, you’ll have a difficult time identifying your truest competitors.
Inversely, there are higher-dollar, higher-loyalty, or long-term purchases which exist in a narrow competitive spectrum. Consider the type of car someone chooses to buy for their family or the project management software you invest in for your firm. These are purchases that are made once, or less frequently, and which have a much more narrow scope of choice. These businesses need to really get it right. While a Lincoln is competing more with a Cadillac than a Kia, there are clear features, price points, and expectations that govern these types of purchases.
Which one of these does your business type fall into?
With this in mind, make a list of who you perceive to be your top five-ish competitors. We’ll come back to this list.
Competition is a misnomer
Competition implies that you want to have more market share than other brands in your space, and that’s fair. But you’re never going to get all of the people who buy your type of product to buy from you and you wouldn’t want to. I’d like to reiterate: you wouldn’t want to. Not every customer who buys products like yours is a good customer for your brand.
If I own a taco shop in Austin, my job is to make people aware of my food, prove that it’s good, offer awesome service, and keep my prices right. However, the subjectivity of “good” and “awesome” and “right” makes that difficult. How can you compete with the really fancy, expensive taco place on quality and the cheapie dive-bar on price? You can’t. You can’t be everything. You can’t please everyone. You want to please the right people for your food and atmosphere, and that’s not competing — that’s positioning.
If I own a luxury vehicle brand, my job is to make people aware of my cars, prove that they’re good, offer the features and add-ons people like, and keep my prices right. Again, subjectivity comes into play. The choices you make quickly file your vehicles into categories like luxury/economy, or sport/eco. You buy into those categories (like it or not) when you begin manufacturing your vehicles. Some brands offer cars in every category at scale and others stick to what they do best. Once you determine the categories you fit into, though, you’ll be competing against brands that made those same decisions, and your customers will only be choosing one of you. You can try to outwit your opponent here, but it often comes down to a specific dealership promotion or perceptions about each automotive manufacturer. To stay top of mind for the people best suited to your cars, you’ll need to position, not compete.
Maybe now you see where I’m headed with this. No matter what industry you’re in, what you sell, how you price it, and who else is trying to do something similar, your success will come down to your brand’s position and how that aligns to who you want to reach.
What is brand positioning?
Your brand position is where you fit in the atmosphere of your industry, among your perceived competitors. Your brand position depends upon what makes you unique instead of “better,” because better is arbitrary.
Picture your brand on a shelf. To that shelf, let’s add boxes for your list of perceived competitors from before. Seeing you all lined up together, which “one” is which? One of you is probably the expensive or most luxury one. Another might be the old, established one. There might be the humorous or silly one and another might be the one that always seems to have a scandal. Which “one” is your brand?
None of these brands is better or worse than the others; they each have their place. There’s no clear leader and, unless they all shared revenue and profit data, we wouldn’t know if there was. We can take vanity metrics like social followers or SERP position as evidence of success or hierarchy, but those are just for show.
Stop competing, start positioning
Of the brands you put on your proverbial shelf, which one has the highest social following? Let’s say you imitate 100% of what they do on social – the types of graphics they use, the frequency of posts, the types of engagement. Do you think you’d have the same success? You wouldn’t. Your best-case customers are different than theirs. Your history is different. Your reputation and perception are different. And while you’re off copy-catting the one with all the reach, you’re losing the loyalty from your own fanbase. They didn’t want a copycat of the other guy, they wanted you.
Once you let go of the idea that you need to please every potential customer or that you need to “outdo” your competitors, you can begin to position around them and please the customers who were made for you.
This is where sustainable, repeatable, reliable brand magic happens.
Stay tuned for part two of this series when I offer insight into 8 steps you need to take to position your brand.
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- Atomization and Amplification: The Double-A Batteries of Your Content Strategy - February 25, 2020
- The 8 Steps to Positioning Your Brand - January 2, 2020
- Stop Competing with Your Competitors and Do This Instead - December 19, 2019