First Mover

When it comes building a strong brand that matters to consumers, differentiation is a key in separating your offerings from competitors. But what if you don’t have any competitors? Does brand differentiation matter then?

Last Friday, I received a phone call from a guy who had been referred to us by a client. He was an entrepreneur who had recently started a new business and was looking for someone that could consult him on building a solid brand right out of the gate. He told me a little bit about his company and then asked me to explain our process for working with clients.

I started by taking him through the steps we lead clients through, helping them discover, define and execute a brand strategy. Everything was great until I started explaining differentiation and how we would help him reveal what makes his brand unique and sets it apart from competitor brands. This is where things got interesting. He quickly told me that he doesn’t have any competitors and that we can just skip that part.

I wasn’t expecting this at all. He did have a point. Without any competition his brand is unique by default.

Unique Value

But this logic misses the point completely. Even if without direct competition, searching for the unique value that your brand offers is a healthy exercise. If you know what unique value you provide consumers, you can form a foundation to build your brand on. For example, CEO Tony Hsieh realized Zappos unique value for extraordinary customer service and made it a core component of what the company believes and how they make business decisions.

Stake Your Claim

In today’s crowded marketplace, a company without a single competitor is rare. How many brands can you think of right now that don’t have any competition? Probably not more than one. If you can even think of one. That leads me to another point: A brand with no competitors won’t stay that way for long if there is any money at all to be made in the industry. That’s why it is crucial for brands that are paving the way for a new industry or category to start carving out what differentiates their brand from the start. Stake your claim and become the leader in the category before competitors arrive and crash the party.

Marty Neumeier, in his book Zag calls this the “power law that governs brand leadership,” which he reduces to a simple formula:

Law that governs Brand Leadership 

In this equation being a first mover matters a lot, but popularity is equally important. And a brand has to find it’s unique value to consumers in order to be popular.


So you tell me, does brand differentiation matter when you have no competitors?