How to stay true to your brand while taking on competitors

It’s natural to compare your brand to others when you’re competing in business. Competition can be fierce and sometimes, when the competition heats up brands can become well-known for their rivalries – take Pepsi and Coca Cola or Fender and Gibson for example.

rivals threaten each other in cartoon

The competition can be a huge source of motivation for marketers.  Interviews with over 300 high-tech marketing leaders revealed that competition is a huge driving force behind their investments and strategies. 

While the will to be better than competitors is definitely a motivating factor for many digital marketers, we can’t be blinded by the desire to beat them. It’s important to keep an eye on the competition, but even more important to stay true to your brand, your company and your customers.

Here’s some advice on when to take the lead from your competition and how to stay true to your brand when you do. But first we’ll cover the basics:

 

Why is staying true to your brand important?

There’s one thing every brand should know well – and that’s itself.

Authenticity is an important concept within branding and it’s fact that authentic brands perform better than their competitors time and again. In one of its reports PR agency, Cohn & Wolfe, found that 87% of the 12,000 consumers canvassed said it’s important for brands to “act with integrity at all times”, making it significantly more essential to them than innovation.

But what exactly does it mean for a brand to be authentic?

The people behind authentic brands understand what they represent and what they want to achieve – and their actions and marketing are in line with that understanding.

This means your brand can build meaningful relationships with customers. Because your image matches your actions, you can be trusted.

Staying true to your brand is particularly important during periods of expansion. You don’t want to forget about how you got your start and overlook that something special that made you successful in the first place. It’s fine to expand and up your marketing efforts. In fact, it’s good to constantly change and offer customers something new. But at the same time – as contradictory as it sounds – you have to stay the same.

You need to provide customers with new products, new services, new communications, new content, while keeping the look, feel, voice and values of past ones. It can be as simple as keeping a consistent voice across all platforms, but it really makes a difference to your business.

Notable Slip-Ups

In recent times, there’s been a few high profile cases where a company’s actions didn’t match up with their marketing.

In the case of Volkswagen, when it was revealed that the company had deceived customers and government agencies regarding the emissions coming from its vehicles, the brand was irreparably damaged. The fuel emissions scandal was completely at odds with the environmentally-conscious and trustworthy image it was trying to build.

You don’t have to blatantly lie to betray your brand either. Just this year, beauty brand Dove was embroiled in controversy when it released an ad showing a black model turning into a white model. Many viewed the soap ad as racist and the company was forced to apologize. Perhaps the marketing team behind the ad acted innocently, but it proved extremely damaging for Dove as its own marketing didn’t appear to match up with its vision of inclusivity.

Little girl facepalms reaction disbelief

These two instances demonstrate precisely why it’s important to remain true to your brand, through actions in each company department as well as in marketing tactics.

Balancing authenticity and beating the competition

We’ve looked at the benefits of staying true to your brand, but there are huge benefits to monitoring the competition too.

In digital marketing, there are some very practical reasons to look at the competition. It’s possible to definitively see what has worked for competitors – rather than just guess or go by word of mouth. Whether it’s the keywords that get visitors to land on their website, content that received a lot of reaction or a social media post that went viral.

These types of marketing successes are proven and it’s likely you can update the keywords in your online advertisements without hugely influencing your overall brand image.

You can’t be stubborn or oblivious to the competition.

If something works and it’s something what your customers want, copy it but make it your own.

Take Nokia for example. It failed to respond to the iPhone and the shifting consumer demand that came with the smartphone revolution. Now they are suffering from their slow response, while Samsung, who quickly moved into the smartphone market, has benefited greatly.

In the realms of digital marketing, Ford was one of the first companies to take social media seriously and follow its audience to the new platforms. It wanted to reach a younger audience with the relaunch of its Ford Fiesta and its campaign built an authentic and engaging brand image by getting people to try out the car and share their experiences on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Competitors were quick to follow once they saw Ford’s success.

photo of woman's reflection in car side mirror
Photo credit: Fiesta agent OlgaKay via Flickr

 

Positioning a brand in a highly competitive landscape can be difficult, so taking time to size up the competition is a critical. It will let you spot opportunities, learn from competitors’ mistakes, as well as their successes. It can also inspire your own marketing strategy and let you spot your brand’s USPs and potential marketing platforms where your competition hasn’t made a mark yet.

Knowing your competition will allow you to differentiate yourself from them too. Copying can be a comfortable and safe option, but making a drastic differentiation will make your brand stand out and bring customers flocking.

How to approach it?

Once you’ve conducted a competitor analysis of digital marketing strategies – ideally this will happen before your own marketing strategy is in place – you can carefully pick and choose the methods that will work for your brand and message.

But be careful, you need to think about why your competitor is doing what they’re doing before diving in headfirst. Their actions may be driven by a certain audience segment which isn’t very relevant to you. Do they have different goals and objectives to you?

Look at what they have, but also what they are missing, and capitalize on it. If you find something that you think fits and works for your brand, test it out and track it closely. That’s what digital marketing is all about!

Usually you’re best sticking to your own digital marketing strategy and tactics as there was logic and data behind its planning. But it’s no harm to learn from your competitors’ data, their mistakes and test out things that have worked for them – once they are in keeping with your brand.

The importance of knowing your brand

So how do I know whether a competitor’s action will work for my brand?

As a brand grows, there will be more people working on it, so it’s important everyone is on the same page when it comes to branding. A brand playbook or style guide will help with coherence and can be the go-to guide when it comes to deciding whether or not to copy a competitor’s marketing tactics.

A brand playbook is a document with guidelines on how your brand should be publicly presented. It provides consistency across all communications, including content and visual design. Basically, it helps you get the tone of your marketing right every time.

Take a look at this brand playbook from the football strand of Nike. It details information about logo branding and color, but first and foremost its first page of content outlines: “What does NikeFootball stand for?” Inspiration, innovation and enablement.

And guess what the first of its 11 design commandments is? Authenticity. “Be creative but always from within the game,” it states.

Nike swoosh logo

Make a brand playbook so your brand has guidelines in black and white for everyone to see. Include things likes:

  • Your brand’s tone
  • Adjectives to describe what you’re about
  • Requirements for sharing images and branded links
  • Sample social media posts
  • Examples of things your brand would and wouldn’t say
  • Use real life examples of what worked and didn’t work for the brand
  • Dos and don’ts for your logos and other branding collateral

You will find that this will become your point of reference when looking at the competition and keep things in perspective so you know exactly what fits with your brand.

Having guidelines for your brand’s marketing team will also provide clarity and allow you to act fast, and without risk, when it comes to taking advantage of opportunistic marketing. Whether that means responding to a tweet in a way that may go viral or going along with the latest trend. It will help you know exactly when to jump on board or to take a step back.

Some opportunities can be hard to turn down for the sake of your brand. But while it’s important to keep up with the competition, you can’t sacrifice your authenticity to do it. If you stay true to your brand’s message, in the long run, you will build a loyal and trusting following that will keep you in business.

 

***

Louisa McGrath is a content manager at Rebrandly, which is a tool all about helping marketers to share branded links and build trust with audiences. With a background in journalism, Louisa has a passion for creating educational and informative content that engages customers. Though she spends a lot of her time reading and writing online, she still loves to buy the Sunday papers.