Story Competition – How do you stack up?

kids playing with cubes – The Fundamental Group

You need to understand how your competitors are making life difficult for you. The last thing you want is to take the time, energy and political capital required to develop a new positioning only to discover that one of your competitors has firmly established itself with something very similar. 

Good positioning, the foundation of your story, takes into account the classic three C’s of marketing-customer, company, and competitor. 

  • The message has to ring true. If your promise falls flat or if it’s out of sync with what customers want and believe, it will not get the response you need.
  • The message has to be in alignment. If your message goes against your company’s culture and its business practices, no one will accept or adopt it.  It will not endure.
  • The message has to be differentiated. A message that’s too similar to a competitor’s or that is derivative of theirs will hurt your brand. Your message might reinforce your competitor because prospects think it’s coming from them, not you! 

A reasonable competitive review is fairly easy to do.  It should take no more than a couple of days for you or a member of your marketing team to conduct.  It’s even possible that someone has already done something similar. 

Here are the steps to take:

  • Start with your competitors’ websites.  What’s the headline on their home page?  What images, if any, do they use to help express the idea? 
  • Do they have a video on the home page that talks about their brand, products and purpose?
  • Look at their social presence – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube channel. What is the focus of their content?
  • Examine boilerplate language used at the end of their press releases.  This handful of sentences is often an articulation of what the company stands for.
  • Review the “About Us” section of their web site.  Do they have a mission statement?
  • Look for outbound marketing campaigns. Request a sample, demo, whitepaper, webinar or case study they offer.  What are the themes and messages you see repeated?

Distill what you’ve learned into two or 3 sentences that express what each competitor is about.  What are they in trying to say and how clearly and consistently are they saying it?  What is their promise? 

What emotions are they trying to engender in visitors?  Empowerment?  Fear?  Jealousy?  Inspiration?  How do they achieve this emotional message?

Read reviews of their products.  What do existing, or previous customers say about the product or service?  Does it align with the promise the company makes?  How good is their reputation? 

The Sea of Sameness

Our work in B2B software has shown that many times companies don’t have much of a story. A majority of your competitors will opt for category positioning. They lead with a statement that describes a product’s function. Things like “Modern Integration” or “Better CRM” or “Smarter Security”. These types of statements do little to drive engagement. They essentially position a company as EXACTLY THE SAME as everyone else, by focusing on product and category instead of benefits and promises. A great exercise is to simultaneously review the home page for all of your key competitors. Chances are you will discover a sea of sameness. Colors, site layout, and most importantly message. Imagine what it must be like for a prospect – how does any one of these companies stand out? They will all be a jumble – easily confused and conflated – completely forgettable. This should give you resolve to make sure you are differentiated.

Going Deeper to Differentiate

In an ideal situation, you will have conversations with people in your target market.  We conduct in-depth interviews or focus groups with people who might be prospects of yours – and your competitors.  Having their undivided attention gets you the opportunity to drill into their perception of both you and your competitors, and the products and messaging offered by each. 

Some of the topics you should address include: 

  • Have they heard of the company?
  • What do they unpack from the competitors’ messages and home pages? 
  • What does it say, and what does it mean? 
  • Is it compelling? 
  • Is it believable? 
  • What would they change?
  • What is their ideal message for this category?

There is a goldmine of information in the answers of your prospects. The goal is to get better at thinking like they do.  When you can think like they do, you have a better chance of crafting a message that will appeal to them. 

Put together a summary of what you learned during the competitive messaging review.  Provide visuals of the key elements you examined, like home pages, white papers and other outbound materials.  If you have prospect interviews, summarize their responses to the competition, and provide quotes of particularly insightful comments.  Their language will become your language.

Refer back to this as you develop your brand principle statement and later creative executions. Capitalize on their successes and avoid their mistakes. 

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