You have competitors, and while they may not be lurking in dark shadows waiting to take down your business (or maybe they are …), being aware of and keeping tabs on your competition is a crucial strategy for any organization. We’re sure you’re already on top of this, but your might not be considering all the best sources of intel or how to use that information most effectively.
Step 1: Gather Your Intel
We’ll assume you’ve done some Googling already, but you can also use the “Related:” search operator in Google to find websites similar to your own. Aside from Google, there is a wealth of free online tools (like SimilarWeb, Hoovers and ReferenceUSA) and platforms you can use to find and do some recon on your competitors.
If you feel you need a little more guidance, there are likely plenty of folks out there for whom researching your industry is their full time job. Analysts from firms like Gartner, as well as trade associations and advocacy groups, have been talking to your competitors and have probably already done the research for you.
The other experts who likely know your space inside and out are, of course, your customers. Whenever you win a new customer, find out who they used before you, why they switched, and who else they considered when making the change. Similarly, when you lose a customer, find out who they are replacing you with and why they prefer that particular competitor.
Additionally, it’s worth looking into indirect competitors as well. There could easily be companies that don’t offer a similar product or service, but who are nevertheless taking up a significant portion of market share. It will be important to know who they are and what they can offer to your prospects and existing customers.
Step 2: Leverage Your Initial Research
Once you have pinpointed your direct and indirect competitors, it’s important to see how your company fares in comparison. In so doing, you can gauge how best to alter your strategy to compete.
First, particularly in the digital era, knowing your competitors is essential to the health of your web page – and therefore your business. Tools like SEMRush and SpyFu can be utilized to determine the top paid and organic keywords both for you and your competitors. Armed with this knowledge, your website/content/marketing team can be much more strategic in how they approach search engine optimization to ensure your site is popping up first.
Further, the social media channels you diligently maintain can be helped immensely by borrowing from you competitors. How are competitors with robust social media programs talking about themselves? What industry trends are they commenting on? Who is following and actively engaging with these brands? As you continue to track social share of voice, this type of information will help you expand your presence.
Step 3: Put Your Intel to Use
The next step is arguably the most valuable: figuring out how to use the research you’ve undertaken to drive your marketing strategies. This information can be utilized for a wide variety of critical tasks.
It can help your company or marketing department develop strategic, impactful messaging to set yourself apart from the competition and really stand out to prospects. This messaging can then be leveraged to help your content team build out thoughtful blog posts, white papers, social posts, webinars and more. As you can see, a solid foundation of in-depth competitive intel creates a trickle-down effect, better shaping how your company talks about itself across a range of platforms.
Having this knowledge can also help you measure share of voice on a consistent basis. There are a number of reputation monitoring tools that range in price and complexity from free Google Alerts to subscription-based platforms like Meltwater. You can use these to track number of mentions in the news, blogs and social media to determine which of your competitors is being talked about most.
Many of the more sophisticated tools can also monitor for brand sentiment to help determine the quality of these mentions. It’s important to verify whether a competitor’s share of voice is high because of a recent data breach or ubiquitous customer complaints on social media, or rather because they have significant traction in the industry.
Remember: this exercise is not about copying competitors, but rather finding your brand’s unique value proposition in the competitive ecosystem. When it comes to understanding that ecosystem, knowing is more than half the battle. Until you have a solid grasp on who your competitors are and how you measure up, you can’t expect to determine an accurate picture of what success looks like and drive the similar caliber of results.
By honing in on your top competitors and tracking your progress against them, you can not only clearly demonstrate how your marketing efforts are moving the needle over time, but also leverage that data to provide your entire organization with a more comprehensive view of the industry in which you want to thrive.