My competition (not community!) research process

April 06 2023

Branding is only as effective as the research behind it. And this is one of the key difference between my branding packages. The more time spent on competition research and strategy, the better the results you’ll see in your business. 

A lot of my clients are proud of not worrying about the competition. Or thinking of them as community rather than competition. And I LOVE this approach to business, and mostly operate this way myself.

However, you are still running a business. And for the purpose of brand strategy and design, you DO need to consider – not worry – what your competitors are doing, what you do better or different, and how you can make sure no one will get you confused with another business. 

It does happen. I saw it in a customer survey a past client sent their 20k stong email list. We learnt a lot from that single exercise! 

Here’s a list of competition research steps in the Secret Recipe Brand + Strategy package:

Customer survey

Before we overhaul the branding, it’s important not to break anything that is already working! It can be tempting for both business owners and designers to start from scratch. But if a business already has some loyal customers, and they are in your target market going forward, we can ask them directly what they relate to, like, think and feel about the existing branding.

Once we have these results, we might learn that actually most of the branding is working, but there’s a colour that is too similar to a competitor. Or we could learn that the audience has never thought about the branding and feels it’s serious when you’re aiming for calming. 

This is all valuable first hand data to inform the next creative steps.

Direct/local competitors

We need a list of about 5-8 of your most direct competitors. Other businesses with similar offerings (product or services), similar price point, location, and audience. 

Why? Brand positioning. Where does your business currently sit in relation to these competitors, and is there a gap you can fill? When you own your own little pocket of the market, it’s a lot easier to see your competitors as community!

Some innovative businesses will say, I have no competitors! Go wider, then. What is your audience currently doing, instead of using your product/service? If you want to change their behaviour, this will be an integral part of positioning your business. Perhaps you want to feel familiar, and therefore align with some conventions from the wider competitors, and then once engaged they can learn about the new way to do XYZ.

Large competitors

Who are the biggest competitors in your industry? These are the household brands, easily recognisable businesses that you’re audience is also checking out before making a decision. While many small businesses don’t actively compete against the big brands, it’s still incredibly helpful to understand what else your audience is likely to come across in their journey to finding you.

Record and analyse visuals, messaging and design

With these 2 lists, I work out the closest and most important 6-8 competitors to analyse more deeply.

The involves looking at their branding, use of colour and text, illustration style, messaging, website usability, social media activity…hours and hours of feeling like a detective, going down the rabbit holes to squeeze as much juicy data as possible. All this juice is compiled in a comparison table so we can easily see similarities and differences with your business.

Photo of woman holding a bottle with bold pink label

Competitor map

This is a visual representation of the competitor analyses. Yep, my clients love it! It puts the positioning and competitor research into wonderfully clarifying perspective. 

We choose 2 metrics for the 2 axis, usually price is one, and other metric that is important for your brand. How welcoming, funny, creative, wacky, luxurious, approachable…whatever is most important for you.

Spot the realistic opportunities

Now for the creative part! With all of this research, we can tweak the positioning a little to fill a gap, and look for other branding opportunities.

In the past, opportunities have looked like:

  • Using toned down versions of colours rather than bright like all the competitors
  • A logo that combines imagery and text rather than one or the other as per the competitors
  • Designing the website to feel exactly like the service – calm, inspiring, earthy and organised.
  • Designing the website to feel the opposite to the competitors – lots of open space, fewer images that are larger rather than lots of small overwhelming elements that overwhelm the busy mum’s doing the shopping!
  • Using custom photography, styled with a spacious and clean feel rather than the supplier’s product photos (like most competitors were).
  • Adding a sense of fun to the copy tone of voice
  • Creating a unique illustration style
  • Using custom brand patterns to support the visuals
  • Cleaning up all the customer touch-points so even the checkout page has personality!

As you can see, this is a lengthy but valuable part of the process. And it’s valuable for both the designer in terms of choosing what to create, and the client to see their business’ differences and strengths. It’s a brilliant way to work out what to focus on, and understand your audience and what they are exposed to in far more detail. 

The best part? You can do all this and still be friends with your competitors, because now you are an extra step away from each other’s lanes!

Photo of Candice leaning against a textured white wall in the sunshine and smiling. She has long curly hair and a colourful jacket on.

Candice is the founder of Design Salad, a strategy loving design studio helping climate-consious women business owners shine brighter than ever before.

Design Salad specialises in thoughtful brand strategy and unique brand identities infused with artistry. 

Would competitor research and brand strategy be helpful for you?

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