What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: The benefits of a competitive audit

How do you learn from those around you?

We all love some retro Kelly Clarkson, but probe a bit deeper and there’s much more to learn from the pop ballad classic when it comes to your brand. Read on to find out more…

Like it or not, competition is all around us. Whether it’s landing that dream job or getting the last seat on the tube, we all have to deal with it at some point. And when it comes to businesses, with constant advancements in technology and changing buying behaviours, the reality is we’re going to have to live with the fact there will always be someone competing for a piece of the pie. So, besides ensuring you have the best product or service out there, how can your brand help you stay ahead of the game?

Channel your inner Nadal

Well for starters you’ll need to make sure it’s unique and own-able. Having a clear brand purpose is key to achieving this (don’t worry, we’ve written more about this here). But besides that, there’s actually a lot to learn from your competition. Think about it in the same way professional athletes study their opponents – they do this to understand their strengths and weaknesses in order to beat them. And while we aren’t suggesting you need to start training like a pro tennis player anytime soon, you still should be reading this and wondering what else is out there.

Source: Alberto Carrasco Casado via Wikimedia Commons

So, where else are your customers going?

This question should be asked not only at the start of your company’s journey, but on a continual basis. If you aren’t aware of the latest businesses operating in a similar space as you, this will need to change. To put it bluntly, inward looking companies will never move as far forwards as those who look beyond just themselves. And when it comes to branding, there is a lot we can learn from those who we tend to come up against the most…

What message are they communicating? Are they focusing on a particular audience? How does their brand translate onto their website? Are they consistent?

Any of these questions ring a bell? Congrats if they do. By asking any of the above, you’ll start to look at yourselves differently. But it doesn’t stop here, the real way to learn from the competition is to dive deeper, and get to the core of what they’re about. Remember what we said about Kelly Clarkson? Time to get a little more scientific about how you start assessing who you’re up against…

Do your homework

As much as you might’ve hated this at school, without putting in the time to plot out where your key competition operates, you simply won’t be able to position yourself. And the way to do this is by carrying out the proper research. Your brand strategy needs to be stress tested against what your competition is saying in order to confirm it is completely yours to own. Without doing this, you’ll be making decisions with no real way to judge whether it is unique or not. Launching a brand without checking what’s already out there is kind of like telling the same joke your friend said ten minutes earlier – and nobody wants to be caught doing that. You need to establish what’s in the market, what’s working and what isn’t and understand how your audience is responding in order to set yourself apart (and make sure to tell better jokes).

Sound simple enough? Let’s make it even simpler for you with a few areas to focus on…

 

How to conduct a competitor brand audit

 1. Clean out your closet
Every research project should start close to home. If you don’t carefully analyse what you store in your own brand you won’t have the full scope of what others are doing differently. Spending time unpicking the resources you have to hand will allow you to paint a good picture of where you’re starting from. So, now is the time to look at the core elements of your brand – your website, sales collateral, presentations – and work out what should stay and what can go. That way you’ll know what you’ve got to work with.

 2. Create your ‘hitlist’
Everyone will know a handful of competitors who continue to crop up and generally get in the way of you ruling the world – if you don’t, well lucky you (we don’t believe you though). The world is getting smaller and smaller and with so many different companies out there ‘changing the game’ it would be fairly naive to think you were the only ones. (Sorry.) But creating a robust list of competitors often requires a bit more thinking. There will be the usual suspects of course, but in order to have a truly representative landscape, you’ll need to consider where your company is heading in the next few years.

Are you planning to launch new services? Developing any new products? How about opening an office abroad?  Has there been a big shift in the way you deal with customers? Have you upgraded the technology you use?

All of these questions should help you realise that the competitors you face today will most likely change tomorrow. Keeping these questions top of mind as you map everything out is important to ensure you capture everyone in your net. At the same time, you can’t possibly deal with everyone. So, once you’ve covered all the bases, you’ll need to do some prioritising. We’d recommend 5-10 key competitors as a good range to stick to with a mix of locations and sizes. That way you can get a broad understanding of who you’re really up against.

3. Break it all down
Once you’ve got your list of competitors, it’s then time to start analysing how their brands actually work. This isn’t as straightforward as saying you like the shade of purple they’ve used on their website – it needs to be a structured process. Think about approaching it in the same way you’d approach tackling a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Only a maniac would start trying to fit together the first pieces they pick up – you need to sort through the whole box, find those trusted corners, get all the blue pieces for the sky and only then do you tear your hair out trying to find the right piece to finish off that pesky tree. When it comes to breaking down a brand, it’s all about separating out all of the assets and putting them into buckets to analyse more closely.

A few questions to help you compartmentalise:

  • Which touchpoint demonstrates their brand best? Is it their website? Or maybe they have an excellent customer service process?
  • Which asset best illustrates their visual identity?
  • Where do they best demonstrate their verbal language?

There are countless places a brand can show up. Here’s a list of some of the assets we’d recommend including in your list:

  • Logos
  • Products and services
  • Taglines/slogans
  • Brand guidelines
  • Sales and product literature
  • Brochures
  • Advertising campaigns
  • Websites
  • Apps
  • Blogs
  • Videos
  • Events and awards
  • Packaging (if applicable)
  • Retail store visits (if applicable)

4. Diving deep into enemy territory
Now is the time to pore over websites, scroll through social media pages, read the latest articles on Google – we don’t have to tell you that the more thorough you are, the better results you’ll get. This will all build towards getting an accurate picture of what the landscape looks like. It’s a good idea to consider the brand from both verbal and visual angles. This is because quite often a brand may appear on the surface to lack good visual design, but their tone of voice can be quite powerful and hit the mark with audiences.

Analysing verbal language

When you look at the verbal language a brand adopts, it’s all about tone. Not just what is said but how it comes across.

You’ll need to consider both the top line messaging across a brand including headline copy and taglines (if they have them), as well as the overall style – is it consistent? Is it relatable to audiences? Is it ownable?

When you analyse the materials you gathered in Step 3, you’re looking for how they convey their overarching strategy. And because we do like a good question, here’s some to start you off when you look at brand language:

  • What position is it taking? Is it passive or proactive?
  • Who is the primary audience they’re targeting?
  • If their brand was a person, what sort of personality do they have?
  • What words would you use to sum up their style and tone of voice?

Analysing visual identity

Ok so the title gives it away, but when it comes to the visual identity, we’re thinking about anything eh…visual. Logos, colours, typography, iconography, imagery…that sort of thing.

Again, it’s worth asking a few questions for each of your competitors…

  • What grabs your attention?
  • What feeling does it give off?
  • Is it consistent?
  • Does it embody an overarching idea?
  • Is it unique?

5. ‘X’ marks the spot
Ah hoy there matey! Time to put everything you’ve learned down on paper and map everything out. Once you’ve collected all of the assets you possibly can and interrogated them to work out how their brands work, you’ll need to match them up against each other and add yourself into the mix. This process is technically called brand segmentation. But we prefer our pirate metaphor.

This step is about bringing everything together so you can see quite clearly where you sit and where the white space (opportunity) is. And while some competitors might be bolder and more confident, others might be slightly more reserved and cautious. Some might be positioned as high end; others may take a mass-appeal approach. Although these are general buckets, you can tailor them to your sector with different signals on the axis and see how things pan out.

A few things to think about as you do this final step…

  • What area is each competitor trying to own? Price? Capabilities? Process?
  • How much does their brand tie into this? Do they try to own multiple areas?
  • Does their messaging convey their positioning consistently?
  • How does the overall experience of their brand support this? 

Summary

Once you’ve got this down on paper, you’ll have a clear and objective understanding of not just the competition, but also your own strengths and weaknesses. You can then use this to create a unique brand positioning. Because the truth is, regardless of whether you work in retail or finance (or even hot yoga…we’ve dabbled in that sector before), if you don’t know what your competition is doing today, how are you supposed to know what to do tomorrow?

(Cue Kelly dropping the mic)