How to differentiate your brand in a crowded market

Some companies bring something new to the table, such as an innovative product or a personal touch that no one has experienced before.

Most companies, though, don’t stand out. A great product? Sure, they might have that. But so do their competitors – who also have the same great product. It can be extremely difficult to cut through the competitive noise to convince potential customers that they should pick you.

To figure out how to take your brand from pedestrian to persuasive, you’ll need to take a close look at what your competitors are doing so that you can develop a smart positioning strategy.

Competitive Analysis: Find the Gaps in Your Market

Let’s say you own a nail salon. Nail salons are a dime a dozen – most offer generally the same services at a similar price point. If your nail salon is in a large city, there is likely an incredible amount of competition from other salons that are just like yours. How can you stand out when your salon is just like all the others?

You’ll need to partake in an exercise called competitive analysis. After figuring out who your biggest competitors are, you’ll need to spend some time learning how your marketing compares to that of your competitors. (If you need help figuring out where to find your competitors, start by looking at other nail salons in your neighborhood.)

The following five-step exercise will help you get a better sense of what you can do to put a unique twist on your brand. All five steps are vital if you want to strategically brand your company.

1. What Contributes to Success?

Start by thinking about what you and your competitors must do to be successful. For a nail salon, that might mean offering services that are up-to-date with what’s trendy, having prices that are considered reasonable, or offering incentives for new or recurring patrons. Write down the five most important things that any business in your industry must do to stay competitive.

2. Rate How Well You and Your Competitors are Achieving These Factors for Success

After figuring out what the most important keys to success are, rate how well you think your company is achieving these items. Then do the same for your competitors. Depending on what factors you listed in step 1, you could do this on a 1-10 scale (1 = doing a poor job, 10= knocking it out of the park) or simply checking off a box when a factor to success is being met or marketed.

When you’ve completed this exercise, you’ll have a good overview of what you and your competitors are doing well, not doing well, or not doing at all.

3. Analyze your competitors’ marketing strategies

Now it’s time to dive deeper into the marketing tactics of your competitors. Take note of as much as you can about their marketing tactics.

The results of your analysis could have included confirmation that many competing nail salons offer trendy services and frequent buyer deals and market a relaxing or “girls night out” atmosphere. Surprisingly, all require that you call ahead to make an appointment. Many are also using Groupon to get people into their salons. Few are using social media to promote their brand.

Competitive Analysis

4. Find the gaps

Armed with a well-rounded knowledge of how your competitors are marketing themselves, you can start to identify the gaps, compare those with your strengths and figure out where you fit in.

To best determine which opportunities you have to brand yourself in a way that sets you apart, use your newly collected data to answer the following questions:

  • Are there any needs or desires of my target market that aren’t currently being marketed by any of my competitors that I could market?
  • Are there any subgroups within this target market that could be focused on?
  • What marketing or branding opportunities are none of my competitors taking advantage of?
  • What marketing tactics or branding efforts are overdone?
  • Are there any promotional, branding, or experiential tactics used in other industries that aren’t being used in mine?

5. Fill in the gaps

Using everything you’ve learned in the competitive analysis process so far, you can finally start to figure out how to brand your company as different from your competitors. For some, that will involve taking advantage of opportunities your competitors have missed.

What might this look like?

Based on what you learned about nail salon competitors, you might decide to market your salon to an ignored segment of our target market: businesswomen who want a professional-looking manicure prior to a client meeting.

You decide to host and market “nails and networking” events to reach these types of women. By adding an online appointment booking option to your website, potential clients can quickly and easily set an appointment without ever needing to pick up the phone – a great tool for busy professionals. And you can choose to eschew Groupon in favor of advertising on Yelp. You may also take to Facebook to frequently update your fans with information and photos that your newly defined target (business women who enjoy getting manicures) will enjoy.

At the end of the day, the service you offer (manicures) hasn’t changed. Instead, you’ve simply rebranded to define and reach a market that none of your competitors were. By marketing to a specific subgroup of your greater target audience, you can focus on building clientele that identify with your branding.


Other companies performing this competitive analysis may find that there isn’t an opportunity to differentiate themselves in a meaningful way from their competition.

If you can’t find a way to stand out through means of differentiation, consider what your company’s biggest selling point is to potential customers. Are you able to offer the best price, the most reliable customer service, or do you have overwhelmingly positive customer reviews? Determine what your company is excelling at, and make it the focus of your branding. Your marketing tactics and channels can then be chosen based on how they support these claims.

If you are going to emphasize low prices, it makes sense to advertise your discounts (be they in the form of coupons or other special promotions) heavily, and use loyalty rewards programs to retain those customers that choose your business based on your advertised promotions.

If you wish to leverage your glowing customer reviews, paid promotion on Yelp can help more people learn about the positive experiences others have had with your business. You’ll want to make it easy for customers to leave reviews, so providing an easy way for customers to provide a testimonial (such as providing an option to leave a review after a transaction) will help you maintain your position as a highly regarded company.

You can also boost your social proof by generating more positive reviews on Google — a tactic that will not only help you stand out but also improve your SEO efforts.

Whether you choose to take advantage of an untapped opportunity or just play up your strengths, the opportunities to help your business stand out in a saturated market are there. All it takes to find them is competitive research, a thorough understanding of your market and honest consideration about where your business excels.