Thursday, July 18, 2013
Have you ever used Facebook to check out your spouse’s ex-girlfriend or maybe an ex-girlfriend’s new significant other? Motivation for doing so could come from a variety of reasons, from mere curiosity, to jealousy, or maybe just to make sure you are better looking. These same impulses may also be fueling a desire to get more information about your brand’s competitors. How are they attracting customers? Who is working for them? How is their business doing?
Keeping tabs on your competitors can be a little more complicated than finding out about an old significant other, but the information also holds significantly more value. Not only will your curiosity be satisfied, it can also ensure your company remains on the edge of a constantly evolving competitive landscape, is aware of major moves by your competitors, and is able to respond to these events in a timely and proactive manner. Here are a few tips for keeping track of your competitors:
1. Don’t underestimate the power of Google. Google has many different search tools to narrow your pursuit into areas such as: news, images, blogs, and discussions. Google can direct you to your competitor’s website, allow you to see what the media is saying, and examine what consumers have to say about them. You should also consider the type of content they have on their corporate website, what their design looks like, and the site’s interactive capabilities.
2. Check out their social media. Your competitor’s social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn) can give you a detailed view of how they are engaging their customers. Look at who is following them on Twitter and which individuals and businesses they are following in return. These affiliations signal how your competitor is trying to position their brand and the relationships they are building to facilitate that positioning.
3. Keep tabs on their job openings. Watch for signs of high turnover, which is often a sign of problems within a corporate culture. A hiring blitz might be a sign of rapid growth or recent acquisition of a large client. A hiring freeze can give you insights into the company’s growth as well. Information about the type of salary offered is also useful. Websites like glassdoor.com give information on compensation plans and how competitive a business is compared to the industry average. This comparison may give you information about the type of talent and experience your competitor is trying to attract.
4. Sign up for their newsletter mailing list, RSS feeds, Google Alerts and PR clipping services. The company newsletter will keep you abreast of big corporate developments in your competitor’s business. In addition, media feeds are an efficient and timely way to keep up-to-date on news about your competitor.
5. Use a traffic analysis tool. There are various tools available to help you get an idea of the amount of traffic your competitor’s website is getting, the overall size of their market, and how high they rank on various keyword searches. Tools like Alexa and Compete allow you to compare several competitors’ traffic to your own. Google Ad Planner and Google Insights are tools that allow you to get an idea of what keywords and phrases are driving traffic to your competitor’s site and give you other information about various key phrases and the trends surrounding them. Not only is this valuable information about your competitor’s web presence, it can also be useful in shoring up your own SEM.
6. Become a customer. If you are in a B2C business, visit your competitor’s location if possible. If not, have a phone conversation with them. Note how they pitch their product or service to you and determine where the weaknesses and strengths of their sales processes are. For B2B competitors, pick up some of their trade show collateral and engage in that sales pitch. If you are really committed, you can even buy from your competitor and have the chance to evaluate their product or service for yourself.
7. Interview your current customers that were formerly your competitor’s customers. Find out what they thought about your competitor’s service, why they became a customer, why they are no longer a customer, and the overall positives and negatives of their experience with your competitor. This will help you understand your competitor’s weaknesses, ensure that your own processes don’t have the same flaws, and reinforce your competitive strengths.
These discoveries should allow you to extrapolate your competitor’s marketing and brand strategy and determine their long-term plan. The last step would be to compare the outline of your competitor’s plan to your own, and use it to modify and strengthen your own brand strategy. So, instead of giving in to the temptation to eye your competitor warily and label them as “the enemy,” use knowledge gained from their processes as a stepping-stone for reinvigorating your own brand strategy and inspiring a commitment to break out of your rut.