Branding with Peer Analysis & Competitor Analysis

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Nearly every design project involves branding in some way. Peer analysis and competitor analysis results in crucial context for the client’s brand. A designer might formulate a brand during a logo or visual identity creation or update. Similarly, a designer might also need to maintain and promote an existing brand. However, one designer practice stays the same: research. Both peer analysis and competitor analysis requires research of industries and marketing trends to create relevant, unique designs.

Most importantly, creative decisions must be informed ones. Earlier, “How to Research a Client During the Branding Process” described how to research the clients themselves. Yet, researching the client’s peers and competitors is also crucial to the branding process.

Analyze the client’s peers.

Observe the client’s peers in their industry and perhaps some related ones. Firstly, many industries have commonly used icons. Peer analysis identifies what these icons are and what they symbolize. Peer analysis also helps designers evaluate whether customers find icons easy to remember or not.

I encountered such a scenario during my peer analysis and research for Innovative Mechanical Systems (IMS), a commercial HVAC and custom sheet metal fabrication business. I found a multitude of HVAC companies integrated suns or snowflakes into their logo design. Basically, these icons are helpful because viewers are quick to recognize what they symbolize: hot air and cold air. Nevertheless, if I relied on these icons alone in my logo design for IMS, customers might struggle to distinguish IMS from other HVAC companies. (Additionally, IMS’s biggest USP is that they are the only custom sheet metal fabrication site on the US East Coast—that rare service had to be represented in the logo design somehow!)

Likewise, look for common patterns. For example, businesses in some industries rely on portfolios to model previous work experience. If several of the client’s peers provide online portfolios, then include a portfolio in client’s creative strategy as well. As another example, businesses in some industries might commonly promote themselves with branded merchandise. Therefore, creative strategies should consider cross-media marketing then and design materials that scale well.

Note any norms observed during this stage. Some practices might distinguish a client from its peers because they’re not commonly done. Nonetheless, a practice might be uncommon because customers think it out of place. (Imagine a law office with a flashy, trendy, colorful web presence.)

Analyze the client’s competitors.

Where peer analysis helps establish common knowledge, patterns, and norms, competitor analysis can be used to strengthen client USPs and brand positioning. Use competitor analysis to identify ways to distinguish clients from competitors.

Competitor Analysis Produces Original Work

The first item to confirm while analyzing competitors is that the client is not repeating an event name, slogan, logo, or other identifying mark of a competitor. Not only could a repeat venture into copyright infringement territory, but it also fails to distinguish the client and forces them to compete against someone else’s incumbent market.

While copyrights don’t extend to logos and tag lines, they can be trademarked and/or strongly associated with competitors or other meanings.

Competitor Analysis Prevents Visual Plagiarism

Also avoid visual plagiarism. Just like the written word, designs can also copy visual language inappropriately. Derivative works “inspired” by the work of another can not only lack in creativity and uniqueness, but also result in copyright infringement. To see if a logo or icon design bears too much similarity to another, try testing it against Brandmark’s icon database. Basically, use competitor analysis to find symbols and trends to avoid in order to help your client stand out in positive ways.

Hijacked symbols may encounter similar issues as copied elements and result in unintended meanings. For example, emojis in email subject lines boost conversions considerably. Yet some emojis are connected to stories and meanings that might not be professional. Other times, viewers may strongly associate emojis with trends and political movements, such as rainbow colors representing LGBT+. In the case of hijacked symbols, the client competes against a brand but not a business.

Most importantly, always use unique and creative combinations of imagery, typography, marketing copy, and other visual language tools to create strong, memorable designs for clients.

Avoid the Bandwagon of Trendy, Decorative Design

Another consideration during competitor analysis is what may be popular, may not be effective. For instance, carousel sliders are hot items in many homepage web designs. Yet, studies indicate only about 1% of users click a carousel slider and 89% of those users choose the first slider to click. Instead, a better creative solution might be a well-crafted hero image that displays one primary message all the time. Further, while competitors can be a good source of inspiration, always tailor the creative strategy to the client’s specific business needs.

Applying Client Research to Creative Solutions

The following chart show what elements to research from client peers and competitors. All the research facilities to building a strong, memorable, unique designs for crafting the perfect creative solution.

What To Research for a Client Comparison

From Peers From Competitors
  • Commonly used icons and their meanings
  • Layout and content patterns
  • Accepted industry norms
  • Repetitive logos, names, or tag lines
  • Additional social and political meanings
  • Bandwagon design trends

For a better idea of how client research fits into the creative process, check out my Process.