Brand Positioning: How to Differentiate Your Brand from Your Competitors’

There’s a big economy out there with plenty of brands fighting it out for a place in the market. Finding your own particular place in a sea of sexy startups and heavyweight corporations can be a daunting task, especially when it comes to creating a brand for your business. While your initial thoughts might be about building your product or securing your first sale your brand and your competitors’ brands should not be far from your thinking. Brand positioning is key to securing the success of your business and carving out a niche in the marketplace. This is important for businesses of all sizes but especially for startups because positioning your brand right early on can give your business a fighting chance, especially in a competitive marketplace.

Of course, differentiating your brand from your competitors’ is relatively simple if you have a unique idea behind your business in the first place. Ideally, you have a company that brings something wholly original to the marketplace. Yet for the majority of businesses, it’s nearly impossible to avoid overlap altogether. To help your business standout from the competition, you need to present your audience with something that they’ve never seen before, all the while being better than the other guy. When thinking about how to differentiate your brand from your competitors’ there are a number of aspects to consider but there are some clear approaches and points of focus to be had that ensure that your brand stands out.

Taking Stock of Your Industry

In order to spice up the market, you need to have a solid understanding of the current state of your industry including what’s working and what’s missing. It’s not enough to simply say “I will be the trendsetter of my industry” and think that this is enough. At Anarium, all too often we hear the phrase “I want to be the Apple of (insert industry here)” and groan. Brand positioning is a little more nuanced than striving or claiming to be ‘the Apple’ of a particular sector or space. In fact, by saying this, companies kind of miss the point of defining exactly who they are and how they are perceived within their particular sector.

“Don’t strive to be the “Apple” of any particular industry. Apple is Apple and that’s all there is to it. Strive to be the best, unique you you can be. Your brand and all its assets whether physical, intangible or as-yet-unrealized are, or should be, uniquely yours. There is a fine line between good competitor analysis and understanding of an industry and living in someone else’s shadow (or worse — copycatting. Erm…please don’t!)

That is not to say that we don’t appreciate ambition or striving to become a market leader and influencer but defining your brand in the context of someone else’s shows a lack of understanding of your own brand and its position and values. Know the competition, know the strengths and weaknesses, their brand position, their customers and how they operate but just don’t live in their shadow. Competitor analysis and knowing your wider marketplace and industry is essential for understanding your own brand and should be seen in this way.

Customers will respond to a brand that knows itself and will appreciate you more for it. Positioning yourself in the context of another brand is a little like wanting ice cream but settling for a cone. Nobody ever wants just a cone, however good that cone might be. Work out your brand’s positioning and own that space.

“Position your brand with its own personality, story and strategy and you will reap the benefits”

Own That Space

Brand Positioning Shake Shack
Source Shake Shack

Knowing the industry well and seeing how your business and your product is relevant within it, how it disrupts it, adds benefit, challenges perceived norms, makes it better etc. will help you define the kind of brand you want to be.

As marketing and communications expert Arielle Jackson puts it:

“There are so many products out there, and people are busy. You have to know who you are.”

This is when differentiating your brand from your competitors really comes into play because the chances are that some of your competitors have already successfully tapped into a portion of your target audience. Don’t ignore them. Ignoring your competitors, even if you don’t consider them as directly competing with your brand is just plain naïve.

This is just business. Knowing the market and its trends and what your competitors are doing is just sound strategy. Look at their branding and marketing efforts too and take a long look at what their message is and whether or not it’s working.

Put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Do your competitors understand these needs or are they just skimming the surface? One company’s lack of understanding can be another company’s window of opportunity. This is because knowing your brand, your competitors and the wider market can enable you to position your brand in the best way possible to invoke an emotion for your audience.

It all comes back then to knowing your own brand and then owning that space. A good recent example of this within an incredibly competitive space would be Shake Shack. The brand, founded in New York in 2004 is clearly positioned to ‘stand for something good’ in everything it does whether that is its branding, consumer engagement or the high quality sourcing of its ingredients. Sure, the brand is operating in a space with McDonalds, Burger King et al. but Shake Shack is positioned differently and it is committed to its positioning and so it is able to be successful in this space because of it. This is a great example of a company that knows its industry and its competition but positions itself differently and uniquely within it and is therefore able to own its space within it. There are plenty of other brands who have successfully differentiated themselves to claim a chunk of their relative market spaces too to learn from.

Telling your brand’s story

If you’re panicking about how to differentiate your company’s brand from your competitors’, don’t. Here’s a bit of good news: your company is already inherently different from every other company in the world.

You can take that statement for better or worse but either way the fact remains true. Your business is your business because a number of factors come together, beginning with you and the founding team, make this business unique.

You started your company for a reason. There’s a story behind why you went into business in the first place. One of your best assets as a business owner is your individuality so use it. Telling your brand’s story is a fantastic way to bridge a gap between company and customer and really engage your audience with your brand and all it has to offer. Story driven branding is effective because it is real and comes from a point of truth therefore making your audience able to relate to it.

Use the story of how the business was started as the basis for creating a brand that is wholly your own. What was the original dream you had for your business? Was it the notion of helping people, creating a better world, saving the environment, fixing a problem or something else? Do some soul searching and harness the power of your own story. Show your customers the emotion, and the history behind the business and put this into your brand.

Articulating your brand’s story and developing its meaning, message and brand values is, of course, another matter entirely. Brands that are able to do this well are able to go beyond the name and logo trap that befalls many businesses and become something more.

Building your brand — Visuals and Culture

Obviously the building of a brand will run alongside the building of a business and should never be seen as separate entities. Aspects such as company culture, customer service, Social communication and sales protocol should be included within an overall brand’s positioning too because the human element of a brand cannot be ignored. This will, well, humanize your brand beyond business and benefit employees, consumers and the brand alike.

As your business grows and your product takes shape whether that is a service, an app, a ‘bricks and mortar’ type of business or anything in-between this brand building will be essential in keeping a level head and steering the ship in the right direction when inevitable obstacles and challenges come your way. Setting every aspect of story, positioning, messaging and design can be of crucial benefit to internal and external stakeholders alike and should be really considered, even at an early stage in a business because it will benefit your brand in the long run.

Brand Guidelines not only help to define your brand but can be an ongoing reminder of why your brand is different from your competitors.

“If you have enjoyed your flight today, thank you for choosing easyJet. If you haven’t, thank you for flying Ryanair!”

(Tongue in cheek example of easyJet’s brand tone of voice and how it differentiates from its most direct competitor. Source Smashing Magazine)

Having a document in place is a great way to give your brand a sense of tangibility that it might not otherwise have. While a brand may well be an intangible asset it is nevertheless real and affects all aspects of your business. This should never be forgotten whether you are a small business owner, a startup founder or a Fortune 500 director. The level and depth you go into within the document will differ from business to business and sometimes just a few words may well be sufficient to help guide you to always stay ‘on brand’. Google’s infamously ambiguous “Don’t be Evil” motto is one such example.

However this is just one way to put in practice your company ideals. Visuals are, undoubtedly another and while we won’t go as far as to say they are the most important aspect of a brand (we believe great branding is the sum of many parts, not just one component piece) they are nevertheless vital in conveying your brand message and differentiating your brand.

The visual aspects of a brand can help it succeed in owning a segment of the market, appeal to a particular target audience and, as we say, differentiate itself from the existing industry status-quo. Visuals contribute directly to the look (obviously) and feel of a brand because they are a direct connection between brand positioning and consumer. As such visuals are an effective piece of a brand’s marketing puzzle because the brand visuals should act as a continuous advertisement for your business, increasing brand recognition and therefore value.

Your brand visuals must match your brand’s personality and positioning and vice versa. Because your brand’s logo, colour scheme and other design aspects must make sense to who you are as a brand, its values and its overriding message in addition to being right for the business itself.

Reddit is a one such example of a brand that merges its visual identity and its message pretty seamlessly.

Reddit Alien Brand Positioning
Source Next Shark

Of course, it is great to look at a brand like Reddit with the benefit of highlight but Reddit is also a great example of a brand owning its space. This is especially true for new brands or brands that are first to market because getting out of the traps first does not mean you will win the race. Differentiating yourself before any competitors come along, that is ensuring you have a unique position, tone of voice, personality and visuals, is certainly no mean feat.

As a piece of design, Snoo seems like an afterthought, a space filler. But as a piece of brand identity, he’s perfect.”

Source: Redditor Matt Bull

Veni, Vidi, Vici

While we are not advocating your brand as some erstwhile 21st Century version of Risk there is nevertheless something to take from the words of Julius Caesar when it comes to your brand. Between your logo and the images on your website, the copy on your Twitter account and how you approach sales calls your brand is on the line. Getting it right and keeping it isn’t easy but by being different, by owning that niche and growing it you can own your piece of the big brand game board.

Give your brand an edge that your competitors lack. Be bold and give both you and your employees and your customers something to get excited about. Everyone wants to be unique when it comes to marketing. Setting yourself apart from the pack means trusting your instincts and taking a risk on the ideas that no one else has the gall to put forward.

Own every aspect of your brand from front to back and be brand forward in everything you do and your brand will not only stand out from the crowd but be a better business for it.