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By Brenda Bence (Instructor, Udemy)

Business owners often say to me, “Brenda, there’s no way our competitors are brand-building assets. They’re more like liabilities!” Well, I’m here to tell you: Nothing could be further from the truth.

Your competition can help you build your brand more than you ever imagined. You can – in fact, you must – leverage your competition if you want to create and grow a strong brand presence. If that seems counter-intuitive, let me show you why and how.

First, you need to know which other brands really are your main competitors. What other brands could your customers choose to replace the services or products you provide? If you don’t already know, it’s critical to find out. That may require some online or in-person research with existing and potential customers, but if you don’t take the time to understand your true competitive set, you could be completely missing the mark.

Once you know which competitors you need to pay attention to, follow my “Brand-Builder’s Golden Rule:” Find out what your competition is doing right, then do it better. Too many times I witness brand owners not willing to admit what their competition is doing well. It’s much too easy to fall into the trap of “dissing” competitors – telling others (or assuming) that those competitors do everything worse than you do. To build a powerful brand, resist that impulse! The best brand builders take their competition seriously, assessing them objectively to discover both their strengths as well as their weaknesses.

Think about it: Your competitors have customers, maybe even loyal ones. Why are these people buying? You need to find out.

So, how well do you understand your competition? Luckily, there are dozens of ways to find out about them at little or no cost. You just have to know where to look.

Here are just a few ideas:

Use your competitors’ products or services.

To some business owners, this may feel like “sleeping with the enemy,” but how can you offer a better outcome for your clients if you haven’t made a direct comparison? A few years back, I was training a marketing team at a yogurt company. I asked them how their brand compared with their competitors’ brands, and they told me that it was against company policy for them to eat a competitive yogurt! I decided then and there it was time to nip that rule in the bud.

We went straight out and bought other brands for the group to try. The outcome? They discovered that their yogurt tasted better than others, but their packaging was worse. That initiated an important packaging change which drove improved consumer satisfaction and an increase in sales. If they had stuck with their company’s “don’t-eat-the-competition’s-products” policy, they would have never known that their packaging needed improving.

Create an in-house “clipping” service.

Pick one staff member to keep track of website info, newspaper ads, and other materials about those important competitor companies on a daily or weekly basis. Set up a Google alert for each competitor, and get notified every time something appears on the net about that particular brand.

Follow them on social media. Follow key competitors on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. to find out what they’re planning and how they’re marketing their products or services.

Become a subscriber.

Opt in to your competitors’ mailings such as newsletters, white papers, and marketing emails.

Those are a just a few of dozens of low-cost or no-cost ways you can strengthen your brand and set the right course for yourself, simply by paying attention to what your competition is doing.
Women 2.0 readers save $150 on Smarter Branding For Startups – an online class for creating a powerful brand for your startup – without breaking the bank.
About the guest blogger: Brenda Bence is the award-winning author of four branding books including Smarter Branding Without Breaking the Bank, the definitive guide to building a brand that is big on results but low on cost. After years as a mega-brander building household name brands for consumers giants across four continents, Brenda started her own company, Brand Development Associates International (BDA). Now with offices in the U.S. and Asia, BDA serves clients across six continents and 30 countries.