In terms of brand positioning, distance is an intriguing idea. Your technique and the benefits of getting close will decide how tightly you cluster with others and how determined you are to keep your distance.
According to the principle, every brand ought to try to create as much space as possible between itself and all of its competitors. That’s frequently false as well as unworkable. To begin with, every brand within a category must adhere to a set of uniform guidelines and norms that group them together somewhat. Second, features and advantages are becoming less about real, significant differences and more about semantics as goods become more similar.
So the opportunities to create distance on the basis of product excellence are less plentiful than they once were.
Under Armour recently revealed that they were relocating their design and footwear division from Baltimore to Portland, across the nation. That would put them firmly in the territory of Nike, which has developed into a center for innovative footwear. Furthermore, Under Armour has declared intentions to virtually out-communicate the multinational sports conglomerate by proposing to refurbish the running track that Nike installed two decades prior.
Distance: The Strategy
At one level, this looks like a risky move. On the other, Under Armour has much to gain from such a step. It can take it to its biggest competitor in a way that is hard to counter without Nike looking domineering and defensive. It could also gain access to talent it might otherwise have to work much harder to attract, and it gains the credentials of being in a part of the world that is becoming famous for Under Armour’s core business.
The clear signal, and it’s a classic challenger signal, is that Under Armour is a player, an innovator and a global force in the making. The move to Portland is a step up into the limelight. Under Armour are looking to position themselves as the champions-in-waiting.
While challengers look for ways to engage their rivals and draw them into competing more on terms that suit the underdog, or at the very least throw the main player off-balance, the proximity argument often works in reverse for a market leader. They want space all around them. The more space they can gain, the wider and deeper they can project a brand image of a podium holder. So they are looking to find and defend. Typically, market leaders use size, price, innovation, and of course, marketing to position themselves as the pace setters and the reliable authority. Their preferred position in the market is out in front and beyond compare.
Equally, a number 2 will look to put distance between itself and its market-leading rival, particularly if it wants to position itself as the alternative. Adidas of course wants nothing to do with Nike in any sense. Nor does Reebok. Or Puma. Others will take positions ranging from value imitator (in which case they want to look like a budget version of the main players), to niche player (where they position themselves specifically and intensely in terms of capturing a particular segment) to national champion (where they position themselves as the company that best understands the local market).
Finally, a cult brand often looks to position itself away from others in the market. Whether the brand strategists are willing to admit it or not, all these positions, with the exception of a cult brand, are relative to the position taken and/or owned by the market leader. In essence, they set out the coordinates for the sector.
Rise Of The Global Brand Ecosystems
The various positions in themselves are interesting but the stakes have been raised in recent years by the decision by global brands to build out their market presence through integrated ecosystems. In essence, the behemoths are looking to change the competitive landscape from one based on products to one based on a broader consideration set where the products themselves work best with other products from the same brand.
This approach works very well for market leaders. They can position what they offer as separate, distinct and integrated. They can challenge customers to commit and then offer broader rewards for doing so that tie the consumer in more tightly. Such initiatives strengthen the distance that the market leader is looking to put between itself and its rivals. It also invites consumers to do the same. I call this “collect the set”. If you buy Nike for example, there’s plenty more Nike where that came from, with all the reassurance that comes with buying Nike and the tribal recognition of having Nike on your person.
In response, other big players will look to match perceptions of being market-leading but may well position themselves differently in terms of other aspects. Patagonia for example looks to take the moral high ground, while The North Face positions itself as grittier and more battle-tested.
Both are unmistakably outdoors companies, but using their different personalities to attract consumers who align with their philosophies. Equally, if you’re a national competitor up against a global dominant, the position that is most likely to be effective comes from being seen as the one who is ‘most local’.
If you’re a smaller player, the emergence of ecosystems presents something of a challenge. On the one hand, the smaller players want to present themselves as legitimate choices in their own right. On the other, they often need to show that what they offer integrates and co-exists with what else is in the market so that they are not isolated.
The more radical they make the decision to commit to them, the more they stand to gain if things go right, but equally the more they stand to lose if the market judges them as ‘incompatible’. Under Armour clearly has no intention of playing nicely. It’s not just stepping into the lion’s den, it’s rattling the cage as it does so.
Therefore, positioning is comparative as well as competitive. The questions you should be asking yourself when considering where you are in life and what that implies aren’t difficult; rather, they are searching:
- “Where do we sit in relation to the market leader?” How closely do you need to mirror the best in the business? What must you be seen to emulate in order to have credibility and where are you looking to shine?
- “What right do we have to be where we are?” What underpins the position you have and the position you take? Where’s the proof points for consumers that you are what you say you are, and why will they be interested?
- “Where are others heading?” What are the positioning dynamics of the sector? Is everyone heading for the same place? If they are, why are you going there too? If you’re not, how are you going to avoid going there and why is that a competitive thing to do?
How to Differentiate Your Brand and Beat The Competition.
Brand executives of today have to be prepared to admit when their existing approach isn’t working to beat their rivals. You need to find a way to set yourself apart from the competition if a bigger rival is undercutting you on price, even if it means making a drastic shift in your approach.
Read Also: How to Stay True to Your Brand Positioning
So, what is the process for doing that? These are five easy, yet powerful, strategies to set your brand apart and outperform the competition.
- Identify and solve your customers’ pain points
One obvious way to beat the competition is to address your target audience’s needs better than your competitors can. Ask open-ended questions to determine precisely what your customers want while using your products or services, including:
- What is your company’s primary obstacle to growth?
- What is your biggest personal obstacle?
- What matters the most to company executives?
- Which tasks dominate most of your time?
- What are your complaints?
- What could account for any recent business or customer losses?
Once you clearly understand the issue, the next step is to determine who can solve those pain points and who has the authorization to purchase your products and services.
- Use storytelling and specialization to find a niche in the market
Competing in a crowded market requires a unique value proposition. The more unique it is, the less room you leave for competition. Brand storytelling is an excellent way to build your niche by crafting stories around your products and services. Using stories, you can become entrenched in your prospect’s lifestyle and not remain a detached entity.
Specialization fosters a scalable and successful business:
- A niche market is more loyal
- The prospects are easier to target
- The customer retention rate is better
- Specialization can also involve gradually scaling back products and services that no longer fit into your niche
- Establish competitive pricing
One of the simplest ways to beat your competition is to offer more affordable pricing — research which competitors offer the best value. Once you’ve established that, you’re in a better place to set your prices.
Keep in mind, however, that the best pricing strategy isn’t always lowering prices. Because the market is segmented by lower, middle, and upper-tiered customers, you need to determine your audience’s segment and decide if what you are offering brings more value to the table and should be priced higher.
- Change your business model to stay ahead
When running a business, the only constant is change. Improve on an existing model, whether it’s your current business model or a more prevalent one in your industry. Former marketplace giants like Nokia and BlackBerry were eliminated from the smartphone industry because of a lack of innovation.
Remember, your competitors are always innovating, and new entrants are disrupting the marketplace. Your business should continually innovate and in a way that the competition finds difficult to imitate.
- Provide an outstanding customer experience
Providing exceptional and memorable customer experiences is an ideal way to build loyalty among your customers and differentiate yourself from the competition. Prioritize hiring employees who fully understand not just your products and services, but your brand as a whole.
Your customer care team should always remain courteous and respectful. They must always be responsive to customer queries. They should have a problem-solving approach and always ask for customer feedback. Customer-centric brands are powered by dependable staff who raise the level of customer delight.
When assessing which of these ways to beat your competition is best, define your brand, set a unique value proposition, and stay ahead of your competition in terms of quality, price, and customer service.
Furthermore, talk with your customers so that you can retain them for life – you can’t figure out how to beat your competition if your customers are abandoning you. Yes, you need new customers, but beating your competition begins with those who already know – and trust – your brand.
Examples of Businesses That Have Successfully Differentiated
Sock manufacturer Bombas differentiated itself through innovative product features and a compelling brand mission. They recognized that socks, often overlooked as a mundane product, had room for improvement.
Bombas introduced innovative design elements such as extra cushioning, seamless toe closures, and arch support, which enhanced comfort and performance. Bombas created a unique value proposition in the sock market by addressing common pain points and emphasizing quality. Moreover, their brand mission of donating a pair of socks for every pair purchased resonated with socially conscious consumers, further differentiating them from competitors.
Online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos decided to be different by placing customer satisfaction at the core of their business model. Zappos has become synonymous with customer service, prioritizing creating memorable experiences and going above and beyond to exceed customer expectations.
Their customer-centric culture is reflected in policies like free and fast shipping, hassle-free returns, and 24/7 customer support. By delivering outstanding service consistently, Zappos has built a loyal customer base and set itself apart from competitors in the crowded e-commerce industry.
Electric adventure vehicle manufacturer Rivian set itself apart with its innovative approach to sustainable transportation. They recognized the growing demand for electric vehicles (EVs) and sought to stand out in this emerging market by designing all-electric vehicles that combine advanced technology, performance, and adventure.
Their models feature long-range capabilities, off-road capabilities, and practical storage solutions. Rivian’s focus on blending sustainability with versatility and adventure has garnered significant attention and positioned them as an exciting player in the EV industry.