Before you embark on a branding or marketing initiative, you should invest some time into a valuable process: discovery. The discovery process will give you the information you need to distinguish yourself from your competitors and help you understand the market in which you are launching your product, service, or company. Knowing your position, where you can seize opportunities and possible setbacks that might occur will give you the tools you need to be successful. Understanding all the positives as well as the negatives will help you develop a sustainable plan that will distinguish you from competitors.

An important process to use during discovery is SWOT. This method identifies your Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT), forcing you to gain a deeper understanding of your company and where you stand in the market.

The first step is to identify your strengths. These are internal aspects, both tangible and intangible, that are in your control. Strengths include knowledge, supplies, resources, credentials, reputation, skills, and technology. Some questions you want to consider are: What can you do better than anyone else? What unique resource do you have? Do you have a low-cost resource to offer? What do your customers see as a strength? Some examples include quick service, great customer relations, flexibility, and low prices.

The next step is to identify your weaknesses. These are internal, negative factors that detract from the value of your company. Here you want to think critically and acknowledge the areas where you don’t excel, where you can improve and ask yourself questions like: What puts you at a disadvantage? What can you improve? What will people in your market possibly see as a weakness? Think about weaknesses not only from your point of view but also from the customer’s point of view. Possible weaknesses could revolve around having a low market presence or not being strong in a particular area of service.

Next, it’s time to think about your opportunities. These are external, positive factors – reasons and areas where your business can prosper, grow, and get better. Think about where you can do something that no one else in your industry has done. What unique service can you provide to your community? Find a gap that needs to be filled and develop a plan to meet that need. Opportunities can involve company expansion, adapting quickly to new industry trends or hiring experts in their field. All these things will give you an advantage against your competitor and lead to ownership over a market sector.

The final step in the process is to identify your threats. These are external, negative factors that you have no control over but it is a good idea to be aware of them so you can put contingency plans in place. Being informed of the possible threatening scenarios that could occur will make you much more prepared for when one of them does suddenly present itself. Some questions to try and answer are: Do any of your weaknesses threaten your business? Do your competitors do anything significantly better that could hurt your business? What obstacles does your company face? Could changing industry trends pose any threats? It is sometimes impossible to know when a threat will occur, but being proactive and anticipating any possible threats will alleviate a lot of stress when that time does arrive. Some examples of dangers to prepare for could include; losing an employee, losing a supplier, falling behind industry changes or failing to keep up with competitors.

This method will give you plenty of material to think about during the discovery process. Once you have these steps flushed out you can move on to other aspects of the discovery process. Outside of thinking about your company’s strengths and weaknesses, it is important to learn about consumer needs. You need to find a niche in the market that fulfills a specific gap to gain customers.