This one is short and sweet. The road to glory and riches in branding is paved with differentiation.
So, here is a rapid-fire checklist to see whether you're driving your brand successfully into the horizon or into branding hell:
1. Are you using the same "promises" as your competition?
2. Are you using the same design elements as your competition?
3. Is your basic approach to look, feel and overall design similar to your competition?
4. Do you use the same or similar channels of media to get the word out?
5. Do your customers or clients have a tough time telling you apart from competitors?
6. Do your elements you use to tell your brand's story resemble your competitors (in subject matter or style of execution)?
7. Are you using the same adjectives to show "how different you are" from your competitors? (Actual examples: state-of-the-art, most advanced, new and improved, better, version 2.0, groundbreaking, etc.)
The list above can be extended, but it's good enough for starters. If you have more than 4 of the above, your brand is working overtime with little or no gas. It will cost a bundle to maintain and not survive in the long run. And if it does, it will be on the battlefield of price.
The me-too approach to branding is not the way to go. Not in this economy or any economy.
David Brier, Chief Gravity Defyer at DBD International, is a brand identity specialist  who is the recipient of over 300 industry awards creating brands for such company's as Estee Lauder, Revlon, New York City
Ballet, Legacy Chocolates, Sunbelt Software and many more.
Award-winning and result-driven examples can be seen at http://www.risingabovethenoise.com  and a side-by-side comparison of before-and after-client identites can be seen at http://www.famousnapkins.com 
Want one the country's leading designers of identites and more? His talent can be yours. Contact email@example.com