A Strong Company Positioning Starts with Reading Your Competitors’ Tea Leaves


Guest post by Jeanne Tiscareno, Chase Marketing Company

What sets your company apart? This question bedevils many businesses because precious little difference may stand between you and your top competitors. This vagueness of distinction is compounded by the fact that many companies create marketing materials with little consideration for what their competition is saying.

The result for your customers is a stream of marketing content so generic and vapid that it barely moves the needle in their perception or attention.

To differentiate yourself in customers’ minds, you need to know where you stand among your competitors so you can stake a claim for your own space.

A good starting point is to develop a strong positioning statement that isn’t overly broad, but lands in the sweet spot where you can defend your position. According to renowned marketers Al Reis and Jack Trout, positioning is “an organizing system for finding a window in the customer’s mind.” It helps you talk about your company in a way that can be defended and forms the foundation for building your market over time.

As you begin defining your company position, take the time to “read the tea leaves” of your competition. Study their websites, marketing collateral, and analyst reports in which they appear. You’re looking to determine precisely what you offer that others may not. Here are some areas to consider:

Are you aiming for the same customers?

Learn who they are going after—which demographics or industry segments, which specific geographies or company sizes. You can find this information most easily from case studies on their website or from web pages dedicated to talking to their audiences. You may need to read a dozen case studies and look at their materials closely to unearth their core markets. Keep in mind that current target customers often spring from prior businesses success. For example, a company that has a large service business for utility companies may target utilities first in building a market for new products or services.

How your do competitors position themselves?

A company’s copy headlines, “about us” web page, and press release boilerplate text can give you a keen sense of how they define themselves and what they want to be known for in the market. Look for how they position their expertise, the business category they believe they are in, and what value they say they bring to the customer. Do they focus on a particular industry, or do they position themselves across all of them?

For instance, below is a sample mark-up of “about us” text that underlines the main value they are conveying to customers:

Company A is a global provider of technology that transforms how companies design, manufacture, operate, and service the “things” in the Internet of Things (IoT). With more than $1 billion in revenue and 6,000 employees worldwide, Company A is one of the largest software companies based in Illinois. In 1990 Company A revolutionized digital 3D design, and in 1998 were first to market with Internet-based product lifecycle management. Today, Company A enables global manufacturers and an ecosystem of partners and developers to drive innovation related to such promising technologies as the IoT and Augmented Reality.

What are your competitors’ points of differentiation?

Delve into their websites and marketing materials to learn what makes them sound different from (or the same as) everyone else. Tease out how they believe they stand out in the marketplace. Examine how they communicate their value to the customer and what substantiating evidence they offer.

For example, many companies believe their vision, leadership, and ability to execute make them different. This may indeed be valid if their founder is well known and had previously successfully grown a public company. However, what about this differentiation makes it a reason for customers to choose this company over yours?

Many companies may claim that they will save dollars, improve operations, or improve customer engagement. Even if you help do the same, what makes your competitors’ approach different from what you do?

How do competitors describe their products?

Understanding the basics about the products they sell enables you to compare your offerings and isolate key features and benefits that might be unique to you. Analyst reports from Gartner, Forester, and the like can be very useful here. They will help you determine if you compete head-to-head, and if there are additional companies to study that are not yet on your radar.

How do your competitors tell their story?

“Story” encapsulates what you and your competitors want to be known for. What big idea do your competitors use to market their solution? Gather all the headlines from their website and see how (and whether) they hang together. Examine the words they use to build trust in their brand. Do they tie everything to a larger, broader, visionary message? Is that larger message compelling?

For example, if your company does one thing well for all kinds of customers, but is playing against a larger, “we do everything” competitor for the same customers, you could carve out a particular segment and present yourself to them as more plucky and responsive than the big boys. Tying this to a high-level, cross-audience promise of how you help change their world sets you up for more precise differentiation to every audience you ultimately attempt to reach.

It will take more than three cups of tea

Is all this background research a lot of work? Yes, it is. But as you dig into what competitors actually say and how they say it, you will inevitably expose—and be able to articulate—what makes you unique and of value to your customers among a host of “me too” rivals.

Have additional questions? Send me a message on LinkedIn and I’d be happy to follow up.