April 14, 2020
One of the questions that clients are asked on my Creative Brief is: “Who are your competitors?” All too often, clients fill in the blank with something like “I don’t really have any,” or “I try to stay away from competition.”
Don’t get me wrong: I believe in the idea of “community over competition.” I believe we as an industry are stronger together than alone; I believe there is room for everyone here. An open and welcoming community fosters growth for all of us. A rising tide lifts all boats.
When it comes to your brand, competition is not a bad word.
As a designer and brand strategist, I’m not asking about competitors to spark ugly feelings of comparison or to pit you against another business.
Differentiated brands help potential clients understand which business is a better fit for them. Branding is about creating a meaningful connection with clients who are a dream fit for you; by nature, that means letting go of clients who are not a dream fit. You are better off with a handful of carefully targeted quality leads than an influx of ill-fitted leads that come from casting a net too wide.
Plus… I don’t want to create anything too similar to your competitors! It’s important to identify competitors so that we can avoid aligning your brand too closely with theirs.
A smart brand identifies the unique value you have to offer. In order to do that, it’s important to understand how your brand personality, client experience, and offerings differ from your competitors’.
It’s not wrong or condemnatory toward other businesses to acknowledge that fact. It’s not mean-spirited to recognize another business as a competitor.
Sometimes clients answer that question on the Creative Brief with a few business names, followed by “But no hard feelings toward them!” or “But they’re also my friends!”
A competitor isn’t an arch-nemesis.
What it comes down to is this: your potential clients ARE exploring possibilities. Those other possibilities are your competitors, whether or not you choose to acknowledge it.
Strategic branding can help them navigate to the right place (which may be in your inbox… or your competitor’s!)
If you’re still thinking “I don’t really have any competitors,” it’s time to re-evaluate. Potential clients do NOT have a one-track mind toward booking your business (that would be impossible). So then…
Sometimes we need to think creatively about competition. Competition isn’t always a similar business. Instead, we need to examine the preoccupations that are competing for your client’s attention.
For example, if you’re a podcaster: your competition is NOT necessarily another podcast with a similar topic. Think about it: your audience probably listens to multiple podcasts on this genre—they enjoy immersing themselves in the topic. Listening to your podcast is not mutually exclusive from listening to other podcasts. That’s an opportunity for community / collaboration.
So what IS preventing them from accessing your podcast brand? Where are your clients investing their emotional energy? Maybe your competition is a music app or audiobooks. You have to get inside your clients’ minds to uncover the preoccupations that prevent them from immersing themselves in your brand.
The SWOT Analysis is the foundation to any advertising research… and I think it is immensely helpful when applied to small businesses:
So today I’m challenging you to take a REAL look at your competition. Let go of the idea that competition is a dirty word. Instead, embrace it as an opportunity to direct your audience to the right place—whether that’s with you, or with someone else.
Who or what is preventing your clients from booking with you? How can you communicate YOUR unique value and attract your dream clients?
Strategy like this is one of my favorite parts of the design process. I love the research and the opportunity to uncover those little gems that make your business unique. If it’s something you’d like to explore together, I hope you’ll reach out!
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