5 Ways to Identify Your Brand’s Competitors

close-up view of chess pieces

The following is a guest piece by Lindsay Pedersen.

When developing your brand strategy, you need to make the critical choice of what you are going to position your brand against. What is the customer’s alternative to your brand against which you will push for your own brand? In order to isolate your differentiated brand promise, you need to know what you need to be different from.

And here is the thing. Most people gloss over this step. They name their direct competitor – the company that seems most clearly in your space. Sometimes that is the right frame of reference, but oftentimes the true frame of reference is less obvious. Your target customers are likely comparing you to a myriad of competitors and substitutes and workarounds, including doing nothing. Determine which comparison is most relevant.

Here are five ways to discern the folder into which they put your business:

1. Think about your target customer’s budget

Where in her budget will she get the money to pay for your offering? How will she justify this purchase, either literally or figuratively? If your offering costs $100, what is she not going to spend money on so that she can afford that $100 for your offering? When I bought skis for my kids, I did so with money I might have spent on other recreational gear. I delayed new tennis rackets and lacrosse sticks to make room for skis. So, my frame of reference for skis was “recreational gear.”

2. Think about how your customers spend their time

What will they not spend time on because they’ll be spending time on your offering? When I started taking barre classes, I reduced the number of yoga classes I was taking. For me, barre was competing more with yoga than with other barre classes. If I represent barre’s target customer, then barre’s primary frame of reference is “yoga.”

3. Think about your customers’ consumption habits

When it comes time to using your offering, what will they not be using as a result of using your offering? After my team launched the Clorox Bleach Pen, we learned that of our customers using the Bleach Pen, 20 percent were using it instead of regular bleach, 20 percent were using it instead of other topical stain removers, and 60 percent were using it instead of living with stains on their clothes. The Clorox Bleach Pen’s primary frame of reference was “tolerating stained clothing.”

4. Think about the workarounds available to your target customers

What are the workarounds your customers currently employ because they don’t have the benefit of your offering? Before Skype, a combination of phone calls and emails substituted for in-person communication. Skype competed less with other “video calling services” and more with “phone and email.”

5. Think about the Google search term or the word-of-mouth phrase customers use when talking about your business

What do people type into the Google search bar that leads them to you? If a friend referred them, what did the friend say you were? There is a museum in Seattle that my family loves called the Museum of Pop Culture. When people visit us from out of town and are looking for things to do in the city, we always suggest that. The MoPOP is competing with “things visitors should do in Seattle,” not museums in general.

The fundamental principle when choosing the frame of reference is to be customer-centric, rather than you-centric. When identifying what you compete with, ensure that you are answering this from the point of view of your customer. Only then can you offering something that is relevant and compelling to that customer, and unique to your business. And when you own something that your customer wants and needs, and that only you bring, you’ve isolated the advantage that will nurture both the customer and your business.

Lindsay Pedersen is the author of “Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide”. She is a brand strategist and leadership coach who views brand as a blend of science, intuition, behavioral economics, and ancient storytelling. To learn more about Lindsay’s work, visit her website at www.ironcladbrandstrategy.com.

Excerpted from Forging An Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. Copyright © 2019 by Lindsay Pedersen. Published by Lioncrest Publishing.


Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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