The Competitive Audit
You’re probably familiar with the idea of a competitive audit, conducted to better understand how your company fits into the greater market landscape. Identifying who you’re competing against and what they’re doing helps to avoid repetition and position your brand within the greater context. You can’t know your position without having some kind of orientation.
Does Your Competitive Landscape Have Blind Spots?
It’s quite common to hear people assert that their company is basically the only one out there doing what they’re doing. They may cite a few companies with similar offerings but are quick to say that it’s just not the same as what they’re providing. From a pure features and benefits perspective, this may be true. As long as you’re not operating in a pure commodities market, where everyone is selling virtually the same good, there is going to be a range of differentiated offerings, with some very similar and others distinguished from the rest of the pack.
What Makes It Into the Consumer Decision Set?
Is it really features and benefits that you’re competing over? Consumers may not even fully understand the differences between the features and benefits between two, three, seven or 70 more products. The products and services that are popular among consumers that sell well aren’t necessarily the very best. The “best” is an entirely subjective term, and thus the “best” is determined almost entirely by perception. The best may be some elusive mix of features, benefits, price, and availability. In today’s globalized market, where people can get a hold of almost anything online your competitors include any product that the consumer thinks is an alternative.
The Broader Competitive Landscape
The broader competitive landscape to take into account includes the many alternatives consumers can pick from and even indecision or avoidance.
For example, let’s say you’re selling a protein bar. The range of competitors could include:
· Other protein bars
· Cereal bars
· Energy bars
· Energy drinks
· Protein drinks
· Egg McMuffin
· Meal replacement drinks
· A steak
· Hard-boiled eggs
· Peanut butter and apples
· Greek yogurt
· Drinkable yogurt
· Burger and fries
· Not eating anything
· Etc., etc.
Another example would be an orthopedic brace. The range of competitors could include:
· Other, similar orthopedic braces
· Athletic tape
· Physical therapy
· A sports trainer
· Cortisone shots
· Etc., etc.
It’s not about whether you have the cutting edge feature no one else has or the fastest, biggest, or best, feature of any kind. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter at all if you do anything in particular that’s special or unique. None of it matters unless consumers perceive your product to be the best for their needs.
If you want your brand to succeed, you need to shape consumer perception and build affinity. This is a two-part job: getting consumers to understand the benefits your brand provides and fitting those benefits into the context of their needs.
Competitive Challenges That Can Be Remedied with Stronger Branding
Brands are drivers of perception. A brand symbolizes the consummate brand experience – everything consumers think, feel, and remember about your brand. Strong brands take a definitive place in consumers’ minds and resonate with a clear value proposition.
If your brand isn’t solidified in consumers’ minds, you may experience some of these problems:
1. People don’t know why they need your product.
You’re competing against indifference.
2. The way your product works is complicated and people don’t understand what makes your product unique because they don’t understand the technology.
You’re competing against misunderstanding.
3. You’ve funneled tons of money into a technology people don’t think they need.
You’re competing against well-established habits and thinking.
4. You’re competing in a crowded market that is starting to feel commoditized because of product similarity and people need a reason to buy beyond features and benefits.
You’re competing against price.
To learn more about the critical role brands play in the healthcare space, download the Branding in Healthcare Ebook: 14 Reasons Strong Brands Win.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in September 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.