10/2/2017 | Justin deMontigny

In the fight to stay competitive in the tightly contested middle market, identifying the “whitespace” in the market is an essential component to building a successful brand and stimulating business growth. Exploring the competitive landscape and identifying whitespace that your brand can “own” provides an opportunity to recalibrate your business focus, determine what makes your offering unique and valuable to customers, and strengthen your brand. 

Too often, we see companies floundering in a sea of sameness, failing to stand out from the pack. Many companies lose their way after layers of management have been installed and ossification of processes has taken hold, resulting in a business plateau. What often happens in these cases is the company winds up following a “me-too strategy” of following more successful competitors in the industry in the pursuit of new growth.

A me-too strategy is detrimental to building a brand and stimulating revenue growth, as it’s inherently limited. It is a fairly common practice that lures many middle market companies into doing what they see their more successful competition doing. Following your competition, however, will only leave you in their wake, trailing behind to capture their leftovers. Instead, to break through all the noise in the market, you should uncover what your competition is not doing. Find whitespace in your market where you are exceptionally strong while others are ignoring the opportunity.

Start with a Competitive Analysis
The first step to finding whitespace in your market is to conduct a competitive analysis. Begin by identifying your top 5-10 competitors and then do a deep dive assessment of each. Build a matrix and look for not only what brand identity and associations each competitor owns in the market, but also look for trends and commonalities across the competitive landscape.

There are many factors that can be evaluated, including:
•Positioning
•Differentiation
•Visual branding
•Audience targeting and segmentation
•Messaging
•Products/services mix
•Price
•Technology
•Brand personality
•Brand values
•Customer satisfaction
•Customer loyalty

Fortunately, evaluating these factors today is easier than ever and can usually be achieved for the most part by auditing each company’s digital presence.

Finding Whitespace in the Furniture Industry
Take a client of ours within the furniture industry, for example. We audited their brand strategy and messaging against the competition and quickly realized that each competitor was focused on one of three things: solutions, innovation, or leadership. Based on these findings, we looked at what makes our client better than the competition, and one thing that stood out above all else was exceptional customer service.

We therefore changed all of the messaging to focus on customer service, something that others in the industry were ignoring, or worse, were commonly known as being poor at delivering. Within eight months of making the change, the client experienced rapid growth, expanding from one location to three, each within the top markets in the country. This is one example of how claiming the whitespace in the market that is rightfully yours translates into a different conversation with prospective customers, and ultimately into fast growth.

Finding Whitespace in the Translation Industry
Another example of claiming whitespace as one’s own was a client in the translation/localization industry. Whereas company after company in the industry was focused on technology as its identifying differentiation, our client had a deep team of pros with decades of impressive experience. We therefore directed them towards a brand strategy focused on experience, expertise, and human intelligence. Our client offers information on their technology should a prospect be interested, and the information negates any differentiation by the competition. But trying to compete with the same “technology-as-differentiator” message as most competitors would have been a zero-sum game and would have prevented the brand from breaking out. By focusing on major pain points among their target audience and then delivering solutions through intelligent customization, they are able to have an entirely different conversation with prospective clients. After the change, the client experienced a large increase in inbound leads through its website.

Finding Whitespace in the Fast Food Industry
McDonald’s is another example of a company that seized whitespace in the market. Today it is a $25 billion company and one of the largest holders of real estate on the planet, but they didn’t start out that way. McDonald’s began as a small drive-in restaurant, serving BBQ and burgers to customers in parked cars, but was just another restaurant on the block. They shared the same drive-in service model and served the same food as their competitors.

Determined to create a better experience than their competitors, though, the founders decided to re-evaluate their model. They found the vast majority of their sales came from only two items, burgers and potato chips, and therefore scrapped everything else on the menu. They also recognized the complications that came with the drive-in model including long wait times, incorrect orders, and high operating costs and thus eliminated the drive-in service and changed to a walk-up window. These changes eliminated costs, and with fewer menu items, cooks could get the food to their customers immediately and for less money than the competition could offer. The new McDonald’s was an overnight sensation, unleashing a revolution in the food industry. 

This highlights the opportunity to differentiate through your model. Although you may offer the same exact products and/or services as your competitors, changing your model may be a path to breakthrough growth.

Finding Whitespace in the Gym and Fitness Industry
Targeting a different audience segment is yet one more path towards capitalizing on whitespace in the market, as evidenced by Planet Fitness in the gym and fitness industry. What began as a failing gym soared to become one of the most successful gyms in the United States, due to listening to and learning from the needs of their audience. 

Surrounded by a plethora of low price gym options and struggling to make a profit, Planet Fitness had to differentiate the brand. By listening to their audience, they quickly realized there was a need for a “judgment free gym” where people without perfect bodies wouldn’t feel embarrassed to work out. The new model appealed to a much broader audience who didn’t look like muscle-filled jocks and catapulted the Planet Fitness brand to success. The gym went as far as implementing a “lunk alarm” to deter body-builders from joining the gym and showing off their weight-lifting skills. Today, Planet Fitness has over 1,400 locations and over 10 million members.

Summary
As evidenced in these examples, there are various paths to take in finding the whitespace in your market. What’s important is that you avert a me-too strategy and instead identify and capitalize on whitespace in your market to fuel growth. Take the time to carefully analyze your competition to uncover what they are ignoring. Study your audience to better serve your customers with a unique offering. The result can be new, significant, accelerated revenue growth.