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Competitive edge, key differentiator, the je ne sais quoi that makes your brand stand out from the competition—it can be both indescribably difficult to name and, at the same time, requires you to identify it and measure it in order to be successful.

It’s common for brand leaders to look for a competitive edge in the following places—being the first to market, price point, and quality.

First to Market

Creating a brand new market is difficult, and being first to market has both advantages and disadvantages. Sure, there’s the advantage of being first—but for how long? Brand leaders often fall into the trap of believing that if they are quick to market, outpacing their competitors, they will be able to capitalize on cornering the market. In today’s connected market, it won’t take long for a new competitor to emerge. If that competitor is delivering the same product as you, only with a better experience—then you’ve just lost your competitive edge. The reality is, if being first to market is your only brand differentiation—you’ll need always be first to market—which is damn near impossible.

'Does it better' will always beat 'did it first.'

Price Point

Being the cheapest solution can certainly help with brand differentiation, especially when your brand exists in a price-conscious market. However, in all cases, the price must be reflective of the value delivered. When brands fail to align price point with value—brands run the risk of no longer being relevant.

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.


Out of all the typical go-to strategies for a competitive edge, quality seems to be the most subjective—and the one that has evolved the most over time. Quality in 2023 no longer only means product quality but experience quality across every touchpoint. From where they discover your brand, to the interactions they have with customer service, or the user experience through your website to order your product, to the delivery and the product experience itself. When quality is your competitive edge—every touchpoint is quality, not just the product.

Quality is better than quantity. One home run is better than two doubles.
A team working together on brand differentiation.

How do you define your competitive edge?

Trying to identify what sets your company apart from the rest can feel like you’re throwing things on the wall just to see what sticks. But it doesn’t have to be a hit-and-miss strategy. There are things you can do to understand your brand’s differentiation in the market and, at the very same time, help you know where you can build on it.

Understand your competitive landscape.

Knowing your competitors in your space is crucial. However, when you look at your competitors, be sure to evaluate how they are positioning themselves, what does their brand look or sound like? What target segments are they serving and why? And, what strategic moves are they making? Understanding not just who your competitors are but how they are positioning can help you identify the white space in otherwise saturated markets.

Define your target audience.

Before you can identify a competitive edge, you must know the target audience you’re serving. Who is your target customer? Where do you find them? What other products are they using? Segmentation studies, when done well, can be the anchor of innovation—helping you understand the audience you are serving.

You are almost always wrong about your users.

Understand (deeply) the needs of your audience.

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand—full stop. So often, I run into brand leaders who believe they can ask a few questions about value propositions and get a direction on creating a competitive advantage. This simply isn’t true. You can get part of the way there—but without understanding the challenges your audience faces and why they use your product, you can’t solve their problem. And by default, you can’t deliver on your expectations. How might you understand the needs of your audience? By asking them. Research methods such as workshops, interviews, ethnographies, diary studies, and shopping studies can help you understand the points of friction in your audience's natural process and fuel ideas on how to solve them.

Your app may be a technological marvel. But don’t forget, it’s people who need to interact with it.

Name the value you deliver.

It’s one thing for leadership to know what the expected value is. It’s entirely different for everyone to understand the value and the why behind the value. Take the time to communicate the perceived value to the entire team. More often than not, great strategy falls apart at the operations level. Either the team can’t get on board because they don’t know or understand the value or how to get there or operations is lacking the processes required to architect the value proposition. Either way, if you’re not communicating your value proposition‚ you’re business is dead.

Culture eats strategy.
A middle-aged person laughing outside.

Creating a competitive edge doesn’t have to be a guessing game.

Understanding your customers, what they need, and how your competitors are positioning can help you identify and define the audience you serve and the value you deliver. Once you understand the value you deliver and to who, you can identify which levers you pull—and when—to create a competitive edge.