When branding, it is imperative that you check out the competition. It can help you understand the landscape for your particular market, or judge where you stand among the competition. It can highlight differences in your marketing. However where does “checking out the competition” turn into something sinister like…copying?

Understanding the landscape for your market

Identifying trends and patterns in your particular field is infinitely useful. It proposes an immediate question for your own marketing and business: stick to the trends or rebel? Sticking to the trend can offer associative benefits, however rebelling against market trends can help you to stand out from the competition. For example is it common in your industry to use a certain color palette? The fast food industry famously uses yellow and red, colors closely associated with stimulation aka hunger (think McDonalds, KFC, Del Taco, Wendy’s, Carls Jr. even In-n-Out)

Understanding the landscape of your market can help you get a broad idea of how your competition stacks up and what they invest their time and money into. Do they have a killer website? Do they offer customer service via twitter? Broadly looking into your competition can help you see where you stand and help hone your brand strategy.

Create a value proposition based on competition research

Broadly looking over your competition will immediately bring up similarities and differences. These differences can be absolutely critical for your business. Does your product or service meet a more niche market than the competition? You can highlight this difference to improve your brand. Finding the key differences between you and your competition can help you to better assess your value to customers.

Drawing Inspiration

Let’s make a clear distinction upfront – inspiration is NOT imitation. Inspiration is the original thoughts and motivation behind design that come from your own brain when looking at material. Your competitors’ material however can be an amazing catalyst for your own imagination.

When it comes to researching the competition, inspiration can come in many shapes and forms. Maybe you admire the design of one firm and the social media outreach of another. The best way to approach utilizing inspiration from other companies is to consider the thinking behind each choice. Once you understand the train of thought that lead to those decisions, you can then decide if applying that principle will be beneficial to your own work.

The Slippery Slope

This last point can be a bit tricky. It is the reason there are so many laws associated with copyright infringement and intellectual property to protect original ideas. Drawing inspiration from the work of another can easily be interpreted as a side step from copying unless done very mindfully.

Overall, looking at the competition is a crucial part of any business’ market research. It can be really critical when you are just starting out or are considering a rebrand. Generally researching the competition will result in a “no harm, no foul” situation that benefits your understanding of the market landscape. Or you could completely ditch our advice and always listen to Picasso Banksy.

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