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Finding Your Competitive Frame of Reference

Where Does your Brand Compete?

It seems like a simple question, and it can be. If you run a furniture store, you probably compete with other furniture stores. If you run a tattoo parlor, you are up against other tattoo parlors vying to attract the same customers as you.  

Great Brands Can’t be Positioned in a Vacuum

They must be positioned in context. The competitive frame of reference is a fancy way of describing the market or context in which you choose to position your brand.

The furniture store and tattoo parlor are pretty cut-and-dried cases. But have you ever stopped and wondered to yourself, “exactly which market am I in?” and realized that you are really competing in a market or context that is not initially obvious? While most brands will have one primary competitive frame of reference, you might also find yourself competing in multiple frames of reference.

For an example of a less-than-obvious competitive frame of reference, plus more on the basics of brand positioning, download our Adventure Guide.

Brand Positioning Week_Gear

Some of our favorite gear we take on brand positioning journeys!

Here’s one of our favorite exercises you can use with your team to define where your brand competes.

Step 1: Share knowledge

Begin by reviewing the definition of the competitive frame of reference. The competitive frame of reference is a fancy way of describing the market or context in which you choose to position your brand. Share any background materials, or the results of research you’ve done about your brand.  If you don’t have any formal research to share (e.g. customer surveys, a brand audit, etc.), you can rely on the shared knowledge and experiences with the brand of the people in the room as a substitute.

Step 2: Ideate

Divide your group into teams of two. Using this competitive frame of reference worksheet, let each team generate as many ideas as possible around the following sample questions. Don’t self-edit. During the ideation phase, you are not trying to generate the best ideas; you are trying to generate the most ideas.

  1. What are the competitive frames of reference our brand could be competing in?
  2. If we asked our external brand community, including customers, partners, and other important members, in which frame of reference would they say our brand competes?
  3. Do you see the brand competing in frames of reference in the future where it may not be competing today? What are they?

Once each team has come up with as many ideas as possible, discuss as a group. Encourage everyone to share their answers. Write all the ideas on a whiteboard or another place where everyone can see.

Are there any surprises? Look for the gaps. Are there differences between where your brand is competing today and where your team would like to see it compete in the future? Based on the research, are there gaps between where your external community would position the brand, and where your team sees the brand competing?

Step 3: Vote

It’s time to see what the group thinks is the right competitive frame of reference for the brand. This vote isn’t binding—it’s informational, intended to help the group see where it stands, and to give a voice to the quieter folks in the room.

Give each person 1 green and 3 red sticky dots or sticky notes.

Have each individual place a green dot on the idea they personally believe should be the primary frame of reference your brand competes in.

Once all the green dots are placed, have each individual place 3 red dots on the ideas they believe are also important frames of reference for your brand.

Step 4: Discuss

With all the votes up, it might be clear what the consensus of the group is. You’ll probably see one or two frames of reference stand out.

Thank everyone for their input! Now you can use what you found to make the final decision about positioning your brand. You don’t have to live with the results of the vote, as long as you clearly articulate the final decision-making process with your team ahead of time.

Hopefully now you have a better view of your competitive landscape. Does it look like you expected? If you have questions about this exercise, or want to share a different approach or other insights, tweet using #newkind, or share it on Facebook. You can also email us:


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