As a Chief Marketing Officer in a large organization, one thing I had responsibility for was the web site structure and content. At one point, my team was building the web pages for a new business line. We asked for input to write the sales and informational content. To our surprise, we promptly received several lengthy articles describing in technical detail all aspects of the service. I say surprising, because typically we would interview the subject matter experts, conduct independent research, and then write the content in our brand voice being careful to highlight key differentiators.

Well, when we examined the content more closely, we discovered why our colleagues had been able to produce it so easily: It had been “lifted” off a competitor’s web site. As you might imagine, this lead to an awkward discussion. A few issues I’d thought were self-evident needed to be clarified. Aside from the most obvious problems of copyright and trademark infringement, simply re-purposing content from another source wouldn’t have allowed the business line to differentiate itself from the competition.

This doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to study your competition. In fact, when you’re developing your communications materials, one of the first things you should do is identify and research key competitors. You’ll be able to learn a lot about how they position themselves. That is, what key messages they use to highlight their brand promise. With this in mind, you can identify your own unique voice and brand promise.

It’s tempting to look at a successful company in your same line of business and want to emulate them. But if customers can’t see anything unique in what you have to offer, they’ll most likely choose the more established or well-known competitor. That leaves you wondering why no one is knocking at your door.

Telling your story with clarity and authenticity will attract customers and build relationships. The way to do this is to identify what makes your business unique, define your key messages, make a solid brand promise, and communicate your message with personality and consistency.