Knowing what your competitors are doing online is one of the most important things you can use to influence your own digital marketing strategy. After all, your competitors form part of the group of external stakeholders that can effect your business’ success, so if you don’t know what they are up to, you’ll be less likely to maintain and improve your market share.
Otherwise known as Competitor Intelligence, this is defined by the SCIP as:
The legal and ethical collection and analysis of information regarding the capabilities, vulnerabilities, and intentions of a business competitor.
If you are planning your marketing for the next year or more, researching your competitors will help you identify where your business sits in the industry, and help you to make educated marketing decisions. You could identify opportunities to utilise new channels, target different market segments, or even define your Unique Selling Points (USP’s).
You may already monitor a few local competitors, but it’s worth looking out for growing or emerging businesses that could take up more of your market share in the future.
Conduct a Google Search
Be sure to use an Incognito browser to find out who is ranking on pages 1 and 2 of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page). The reason we suggest you don’t always just focus on page 1 is that if you are in a saturated industry (For example, Fashion, or Insurance) it could be that the results on page 2 that could present the closer match to your smaller business size and intentions.
- Consider how their website is different to yours.
- Are their categories arranged differently in the navigation?
- What information do they include on product pages?
- What other brands or services do they supply?
- Do they integrate social media and customer reviews to the website?
If they run an email campaign, sign up to their newsletters using a generic email address such as @gmail.com You will be privy to the style and format of their emails to customers, and gain a flavour for what lines or services they are pushing.
If they don’t have a newsletter, browse their blog to see what they are publishing – if nothing at all, this could be something that you could provide better, and claim as a brand feature. Ultimately if your competitors don’t have a blog, and don’t seem to do email marketing this could present an opportunity for your business, if you know that your customers would be receptive to these channels.
Check out their Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages. What are they posting about? Are they running competitions or promotions via social only? How many followers and likes do they have, and are they posting regularly? This could be linked to their email campaign, so you’ll be able to see here if their marketing is integrated or if it’s ad-hoc and less planned.
It’s also interesting to see what posts gain customer comments, and how you could learn from their positive campaigns.
Surveys and Reviews
Do they have reviews on their website? What are people saying about them? You can also find online reviews on Google+ and Facebook if your competitors use these channels. This can give you a really good insight into what their customers think and the level of service your competitors provide.
If you have more time to invest, it would be worth putting together a survey for your customers, and asking them what other providers they use, and how they rate their services. Show that you want to improve the service/products you provide, and offer an incentive like a 10% off voucher. You could receive some valuable feedback on your competitors from your own customer base.
All of this of course should be used alongside internal research such as looking at who your customers are, their buying habits and patterns, and external influences like political and financial developments.
Ultimately, when conducting competitor research do try to look at businesses that are around a similar size and focus to yours, as well as those that are slightly bigger that you might aspire to compete with later on. This will give you the situational perspective that can help shape your future marketing decisions.