Know thy Enemy : Competitor Benchmarking

It’s a no-brainer that companies should be on top of what their competitors are up to online. However, for many senior executives or small business owners, this is an area that can easily fall by the way when dealing with the daily fires and other crucial areas of business operations.

It’s one thing to acknowledge that any strategic digital marketing plan must involve a competitor review, but another thing to actually get down to the nitty-gritty of analysing their social media approach, key website messages and overall digital footprint.

Benchmarking against your competitors can provide purpose and direction on how to invest your marketing time and budget, as well as identifying how and what you can improve to outperform the competition and differentiate your brand.

Other benefits of competitor benchmarking include:

  • understanding what your competitors’ audience is discussing
  • learning the winning strategies that your competitors are using
  • identifying niches in relevant markets.

Go For Different

As part of my digital marketing analysis, competitor benchmarking is a crucial step. You may recall in an earlier blog (see Reviewing the Digital Accuracy of your Brand, Customer and Competitors) that I covered off the importance of understanding how you see your competitors and who you identify as the biggest threats. Now at Step 5 in the audit, we can really drill down into who the top competitors are, what they are actually doing, if their approach is successful and how accurate your initial interpretation was compared to their actual digital footprint.

Gaining these insights gives you a major competitive advantage. Perhaps they are doing something successfully that you would like to adapt for use in your own company. For example, they may be more aggressive on a particular social media channel and receiving significant customer engagement. That may encourage you to increase your own activity on that platform.

Most importantly, it is about differentiating yourselves – doing it in a bigger and better way. This could be as simple as committing to sending out a blog every week on the same day, as opposed to your major competitor who only blogs once in a blue moon.

Often it can be the obvious things that can provide insights into how your competitor is marketing their business. For example, when did you last open your main competitor’s e-newsletter? Are you even on their subscription list?

Looking at competitors’ websites and social engagement can also provide you with a clear idea of their key messages, and marketing focus. Are they always pushing their cheaper prices? Do they go on and on about how their service and products are better than other competitors, i.e. you! This competitive intelligence is also incredibly useful in differentiating yourself when it comes to planning your own digital marketing messages.

Identifying Your Competitors

Getting a grip on your competitive landscape is important but it can be difficult to know where to start and who to review.

A digital competitor analysis is the only way to be sure that you are actually concerning yourself with the two to three competitors that truly deserve your attention.

Interestingly enough, identifying those top competitors is often not as straightforward as you believe – that High Street competitor list may be very different to your list of online competitors. The retailer a couple of blocks away that you think is your biggest competitor may not in reality be as big a threat as the online store that offers free interstate delivery.

Alternatively, you may actually lead the race on website traffic and online sales when compared to a particular bricks and mortar business that beats you when it comes to physical store traffic and sales.

I have worked with businesses that have been quite surprised to discover that they’ve been focussing on the wrong competitor, and had completely overlooked a business that has been working proactively to dramatically increase their online presence and sales.

Narrow the Focus

At one time, businesses were obsessed with being number one on the Google search. Thankfully most have now come to the realisation that this is not practical or even all that useful. It may also be the case that companies are spending too much energy worrying about a rival company across town, rather than focussing on their own immediate neighbourhood. Now that more and more customers are searching for products via their mobile phones and utilising the magic of Google maps, we have seen a return to people favouring local businesses.

Smaller to mid-sized businesses, especially service-based companies and retailers, are now pulling back from trying to compete with competitors outside of a 10km radius.

While this is less a concern for large B2B companies many companies, particularly retailers can benefit from identifying and learning from the competitors in their own backyard.

Same Same but Different

It can often be useful to consider not only your direct competitors but those indirect competitors who are in a similar space. An example of this would be a gourmet burger joint not only taking into account those offering burgers near to them but a similar experience for a shared clientele, e.g. a nearby Ramen bar.

Stay on Top of It

As with any aspect of a digital marketing analysis, it is important to stay on top of your competitors. It’s an ongoing process, not something you do once or twice a year.

In addition, you need to make sure that your team has a consistent and ongoing plan for the information derived from the process. Definite action needs to be taken otherwise it is a colossal waste of time and precious data.

Your competitors shouldn’t dictate your digital marketing, so you need to balance keeping an eye on them with being too invested in them. Knowledge is power, and learning about your competitors is a valuable way to give you a clearer and more effective marketing direction.