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Competition, Context, Heroes, and Villains

When we draft a creative brief, there’s (obviously) quite a lot that needs to be considered!

The table stakes of client info, project context, core message or emphasis, supporting points, tactics, dates, formats, etc are all fairly standard elements — but we’ve recently started experimenting with a new framework for the competitive context portion.

This new approach is intended to go deeper than just mentioning the direct competition, and we’re finding it’s particularly effective at rapidly bringing our team up to speed with the client’s industry context in a much more fulsome way.

While this approach can technically work for any project, we find that it’s best suited to rebrands or projects that encapsulate a shift in messaging (such as a website redesign), as opposed to a one-off campaign or more tactical project. We’re calling this augmented “competition” section of the brief the Competitive Context, and it’s made up of four key areas:


Competition is the bucket for those who the client most directly competes with on a day-to-day basis. If you’re, say, a boutique management consultancy, this would be other, similarly-sized consultancies who are going after similar customers as you are, with a similar offering.


Context is the bucket for those who practice a similar type of work, but with enough of a difference in their size or customer focus that they’re not a direct threat. In our boutique consultancy example, this could be made up of the slightly larger consultancies who are still local, or perhaps something like a service design firm who deals with similar issues in different ways.


Heroes is a tongue-in-cheek term we use to refer to those working in your space (or in a different one that carries some similarities) who represent the “Best In Class” at either their product or service, their positioning, or some other factor. For our little boutique management consultancy that could, this may be a consultancy that bundles related services in a unique and inspiring way, or another type of firm entirely who have nailed their positioning or value proposition in a way that stands out as something worth aspiring to in some fashion.


Villains is also a tongue-in-cheek term that covers those who may do the exact same thing you do, but who you expressly do not want to look or sound or feel like. For our boutique consultancy, this may be where the global consultancies fall, where the problems, challenges, and solutions may be quite similar, but they simply operate at a wildly different scale.

We decided to experiment with this for a recent project, because while it’s important to know what the immediate competition is, but if that’s all you focus on your strategy will run the risk of being too “inside baseball” to meaningfully create an opportunity to differentiate your firm.

This format is still in its infancy, but it’s already led to deeper or more nuanced insights on what “best in class” looks like, what other options customers have for purchasing, as well as what to avoid — all of which sets up the best feasible opportunity to better position and market a brand, product, or service.

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