Who’s Your Brand’s Rival?

Andrea Belk Olson
3 min readJan 8, 2024

Everyone likes a good rivalry story. They inspire, build emotional connections, and create a deep level of authenticity with the characters involved. Your brand has rivals too, and capitalizing on those rivals can help you position your identity in a way that differentiates you from the herd.

Rivals also play an essential role in storytelling and messaging. A rival is the main enemy of the protagonist. Their actions and motivations are typically opposed, creating conflict and driving the proverbial plot forward. Consider your brand’s story — do you have a rival that you can position your organization against?

The trick with rival positioning is that your rival isn’t your typical competitor — it’s the single thing that your customers struggle to overcome that you and only you can help address, allowing you to connect on a deeper, more emotional level. Consider a few well-known brands that have identified non-traditional rivals that allow them to stand out uniquely from the competition:

  • Nike Fighting Self-Doubt: The renowned “Just Do It” campaign connects with people’s struggle against self-doubt and procrastination. This positions Nike as a companion and motivator, helping emotionally connect by encouraging people to overcome their fears and pursue their goals.
  • Dove Fighting Unhealthy Beauty Standards: Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign pushes against the unrealistic and unattainable beauty standards perpetuated by the media. This positions Dove as an advocate for authentic beauty, emotionally connecting by celebrating diversity and self-acceptance.
  • Patagonia Fighting Environmental Abuse: Patagonia is deeply rooted and highly focused on “environmental activism and sustainability”. This positions Patagonia as a steward of the environment and emotionally connects through the battle against pollution and the overuse of natural resources.

How you position your organization doesn’t end with marketing, branding, and messaging. That distinct position should permeate all areas of your organization, guiding decision-making, and aligning those decisions with the core positioning. For instance, Patagonia uses its rival position to drive decisions on material purchasing, factory design, charitable contributions, and even organizational hires.

As you consider your brand, examine the opportunity a rival positioning can bring. By broadening your horizons beyond a traditional competitor, and focusing on people’s emotional drivers, you can not only connect with customers on a deeper level but also create a market position that will be incredibly unique and even harder to contest.

Andrea’s 25-year, field-tested background provides practical, behavioral science approaches to creating differentiated, human-focused organizations. A 4x ADDY award-winner, TEDx presenter, and 3x book author, she began her career at a tech start-up. She led the strategic sales, marketing, and customer engagement efforts at two global industrial manufacturers. She now leads a change agency dedicated to helping organizations differentiate their brands using behavioral science.

In addition to writing and consulting, Andrea speaks to leaders and industry organizations worldwide. Please contact Andrea to access information on her book, keynoting, research, or consulting. More information is also available at www.pragmadik.com or . www.andreabelkolson.com

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.



Andrea Belk Olson

Behavioral Scientist. Customer-Centricity Expert. Prolific Author. Compelling Speaker. More at www.andreabelkolson.com