I’ve always loved a good competition. When I was younger, it was all about who could run the fastest, draw the best picture, score the most points in Pac-Man on PlayStation (sometimes me, well pretty much always me, OK, definitely me). As I grew up, the competitions changed, but the desire to win never did.
Nowadays, I get competitive when it comes to social media, strategy, and digital presence. But determining a winner in these types of contests isn’t as easy as seeing who makes it to the finish line first — and that’s where a competitive analysis comes into play.
A competitive analysis is an easy way to keep score when it comes to measuring the efficacy of your marketing strategy. By identifying your competitors and evaluating their current marketing tactics relative to your own, you can determine where you’re coming in first and where you may need to step up your game.
Figure Out Whom You Have to Beat
In order to perform a competitive analysis, you have to have a picture of who your competitors are. Once identified, place them into strategic groups based on how directly they’re competing for your target audience.
While you usually don’t want to rule out any of your competition, when it comes to a competitive analysis, it’s best to focus on the group of organizations whom you’re competing with most directly — your direct competitors (obviously).
Come Up with a Game Plan
Now that you know whom to beat, you need a plan. As with anything in marketing, it’s important to come up with a well-thought-out strategy and stick to it. In order to get the most out of your research (more on that below), you need to know what you’re trying to find.
Start by answering these questions about each of your competitors:
- What are their basic objectives?
- What marketing strategies are they currently using?
- What are their strengths?
- What are their weaknesses?
While it may seem like a lot of work to answer these questions about all of your direct competitors, the process should actually be fairly simple. If you know your market and your industry (fingers crossed you do), you should already have a feel for what you’ll find.
Be a Hunter and a Gatherer
Now that you’ve figured out who and what, it’s time to gather the goods. Much of the information you’ll need to complete your analysis should be available to you, as long as you know where to look.
- Websites and marketing materials. Most of the information on their company objectives, products and services offered, and prices should be readily available. However, if it’s not, you may have just identified a first weakness.
- Social media. If you’re also interested in learning more about your competitors’ social media presence (hint: you should be), you should start here, too. Social media plays a big role in today’s marketing environment, and most companies provide links to their social media profiles on their website’s homepage. This little trick will not only save you time searching through roughly 2.2 billion monthly active Facebook users or more than 800 million active Instagram users, but it can also help to ensure you’re looking at the right profiles.
- Marketing and advertising campaigns. The different ways in which a company advertises can provide further insight into their objectives and strategies. Their advertising techniques should help you quickly determine how they position themselves, whom they’re marketing to, and the ways they’re attempting to reach potential customers.
- Secondary sources. Last but not least, browse. That big, beautiful beast called the internet is free, and it can be one of your most valuable resources. Search for news; public relations information; posts, reviews, or comments on social media; and other mentions of your competition. While some of the information will only represent a few people’s opinions, you’ll hopefully get a sense of how some consumers view your competition. And, if you’re really lucky, you may even find information about ways they plan to expand their offerings, new markets they plan to enter, or changes in the company.
- SEO rankings. Get Googling to see who among your competition ranks best for key industry terms. Improving your SEO rankings is a beast of a journey in itself — for which we’re here to offer plenty of guidance — but evaluating the SEO standings of your competitors is a fundamental step in improving your own.
But It’s Not Just About the Competition
What about your business? Although you should already be pretty familiar with your own brand’s objectives, strengths, and weaknesses, you’ve got to dot your Is and cross your Ts. Be sure to apply the same analysis you used to gather information on your competition — you might be surprised by what you can learn about your own business.
After You’ve Reached the Finish Line
So now that you’ve gathered all of this information, what should you do with it? Use it, of course. A good competitive analysis should do more than help you understand your competition — it should help you identify changes you can and ought to make to your own business strategies. By learning from your competitors’ strengths and taking advantage of their weaknesses, you can improve your own business’ success.