How well do you know your competitors? Probably not well enough, according to experts. There’s a wealth of information that business owners can (and should) learn from competitors, and researching and tracking them doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it can be as easy (at least initially) as reviewing the different aspects of their online presence.
Time.com says you can start by researching competitors' websites and search rankings. See who ranks higher than you for your top search terms on search engines. Look at content and web pages and what’s ranking highest. Review competitor websites for qualitative factors, too, including products and services offered and effectiveness of messaging. Check out paid search results—you might even want to consider going this route if pricing and keywords are attractive. And don’t overlook your competitors’ presence on social media. Be sure to read online reviews on sites like Yelp and Google+ Local.
Once you’ve gotten used to making competitor research a regular part of your to-do list, consider expanding your market research to include more detail of your competitors’ actions and strategies. Blog.epages.com offers some great tips to check out here. In the meantime, here are the quick takes:
- Identify your top four or five main competitors. Do a search of businesses in your sector or search specific products or services.
- Look at competitors’ offers. How do they differ from yours, both pro and con?
- Do a hands-on review of their online experiences. Try out the navigation and checkout processes.
- Review competitors’ marketing strategies—tools, offers, messaging.
- Use the information to improve your own (online) presence.
Obviously, over time, you can continue to go deeper into your competitive analysis, as you’re adding new competitors to your list. Keep in mind that in today’s world, “competitor” is a broad category that can encompass businesses in other sectors—sometimes related, other times, only marginally so!
So, conducting regular competitive analyses is the key to defining and maintaining your competitive edge, according to About.com/Retail. Understanding how to gather competitive intelligence, interpret your findings and apply the knowledge is a must for moving your business forward. And it can be useful in marketing, pricing, various aspects of managing and strategic planning. The site suggests some core questions your analysis needs to address for each competitor:
- Where is the business located?
- What are its strengths?
- What are its weaknesses?
- What are the annual sales?
- What is the company's product line?
- How do the products compare to yours, in terms of quality, appearance and any other criteria?
- What is the competitor’s price structure?
- Does the competitor have a well-defined brand?
- What are its brand pillars and attributes?
- What are the company's marketing strategies and tactics?
- What are the company's supply sources for products?
- Is the company expanding or cutting back?
- What does this business do better than you?
You can build on your earlier methods for gathering intel and still keep things uncomplicated:
- Do online searches. You can get great information but it’s only that which is public.
- Do onsite observations. Turn a keen eye to all the details, from the condition of the parking lot to the quality of the service.
- Try a survey or (focus group) interviews—terrific and productive ways to get information about your competitors and their products/services.
- Look into competitive benchmarking. You’ll need to look to industry resources for this kind of in-depth comparison of competitor characteristics and practices.
All told, your competitive analyses will guide you in finding your own distinct competitive edge. Take as many of your competitors’ weaknesses as you can and convert those into potential strengths for your business.
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