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Differentiate Your Personal Brand

At some point in the personal branding process, you want to do a thorough analysis of your competitors to see what they do well and what you can learn from their best practices. You want to look for opportunities that your competition may be missing and determine what needs are going unmet that you can serve.

You can’t ignore your competitors when you need to understand who their target markets are, what their strengths are, and where they are weak.

You may be a hip hairstylist and have developed a look to show that you’re modern, trendy, and cool. You will want to see who your competitors are in your target of chic salons in an urban area. Knowing your competition helps you know where you fit.

Find your potential competitors

You need to define who your competitors are, where they are located, and what they do, so you need to ask yourself a few questions. Whether you’re an independent business person or you work inside a company, ask yourself

  • What businesses or people are like your business in terms of what they do and how they do it?

  • What businesses or people are competing in your target market in terms of who they sell to? These can be people doing something different, but you have the same target market.

  • Are your competitors located locally, nationally, or internationally? Or are your competitors borderless and compete in the online space?

Finding this information can be easier than you think now that you have access to research at your fingertips. Depending on the markets you are targeting, you can find your answers in some of these places:

  • Yellow Pages: Yes, they still exist! Look up your profession or line of work to see who else is listed.

  • LinkedIn: Do an advanced search on LinkedIn and list your professional title, keywords, and geography for the work that you do. Remember to think of all the titles someone could be called for the work that you do.

  • Professional meetings: Attend professional association meetings and see who is there. Are these the people whom you compete against?

  • Google: Search for keywords and geographies, putting quotes around searchable items to narrow your results.

  • Yelp: For local businesses, Yelp has become a resource to see what people say about you and your competition.

If you’re trying to compete against people within your own workplace, identify the people who are the prized employees. What do they offer your employer that you don’t? How can you find your niche within the workplace?

Gather as much information as you can about anyone who might fall into the category of competitor. What is your impression about their brand? Note what they seem to do well and notice what is missing. What can you learn from the information that you’ve assembled?

Determine how you and your competitors differ

Think about your competitors or peers, both actual and potential. What do you all have in common? You must have certain qualifications to play in your target audience’s arena, so being similar is a good thing to begin with.

For example, if you’re an attorney, you had to pass law school, and if you want to practice law, you need to have passed the bar exam in your state. All attorneys practicing law in your state need those things. That makes you similar. But as you build on what you know, your similarities become fewer, and your differentiation will become more apparent.

When you do the same thing as your competitors and there is no real differentiation, you become a commodity. Commodities are items based on price, not differentiation, and give you no leverage other than asking if you are the least expensive. Your job in personal branding is to distinguish yourself as a sought-after brand because when you are differentiated, people will pay a premium to work with you.

Think of it this way: If you were a coffee, you would want to be Starbucks because people would be willing to pay more for you and would be loyal to your brand. To become your own version of Starbucks, highlight your differences as you build your brand.

Being able to highlight what makes you different is a key to a dazzling personal brand. After all, personal branding is all about your unique promise of value. No one will remember you if everything you stand for is no different than everyone else.

What makes your brand different than your competitors? What makes you stand out? Do their weaknesses provide an opportunity for you to highlight your value to that market and more fully live your brand?

In a journal, list the qualities that make you special or that you uniquely possess. Think of this list as a statement of fact and not a bragging exercise. This list may include certifications that you hold that others don’t or a language that you speak. A quality may even be something like, “I get more done in a shorter period of time than my peers.”

If you find that you don’t have many differences from your competition (which you may not have early in your career), think about how you might tell your story in a different way.

When you’re lining up all the tangible, rational attributes that you have to offer, don’t forget the emotional attributes. These can be your key differentiators that you have to offer and that your competition is missing.

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