As sports coaches would assert, success comes from analysing your opponents and implementing the right tactics. You can only implement your own style when you understand your competition’s strengths and weaknesses. As a business owner, once you’re done registering a business, you should adopt a similar mindset and evaluate your competition to learn from their successes and failures.
To help you do that, here are nine things about your competition you should keep a keen eye on:
1) Read their copy
Web copy is the information on a website, the wording businesses use in their promotional materials and the way they talk to their customers over social media. When we say “read their copy”, we’re not saying you should be copying their web copy. It’s about learning how the competition is “talking” to your shared audience. Are they saying things that your brand should be saying? Are they using language in a way that is more appropriate for your market?
You’ll also want to monitor where your competitors share their content. If they have a large readership on a specific platform, you should consider uploading content to the same. This also gives you a chance to say things differently to help you stand out and earn attention, but remember, you can only say things differently if you know what your competition is saying first.
2) What’s their online ranking?
Once you’ve analysed your competition’s website and content, make a list of the keywords they are ranking well for. You’ll then want to start implementing SEO best practices to outrank them — create engaging and well-written content and sprinkle in your chosen keywords organically, including in the copy itself, your headings and your images.
There are plenty of analytics tools available that let you dig deep into where your competitors are ranking and the tactics they’re implementing online. Use the insights you gain here to inform your overarching SEO strategy.
3) Check their social media presence
Social media is the definitive method of interacting with customers. Having a strong and engaging social media presence is a great way to retain — and gain — prospects.
Analyse how your competition uses social media. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may be your first port of call, but if you’re a B2B business, you may find LinkedIn more appropriate. Brands in highly visual industries, such as retail, home and interior design may also want to scope out Pinterest. You can save yourself a lot of time by analysing the most suitable type of content to upload, the best times to upload, and how frequently to share content — in most cases, a lot of your more established competitors will have done the trial and error for you! If your competition follows a certain pattern that works (in terms of interacting with customers on a set schedule) trial the same frequency with your updates.
4) What do their audiences communicate?
Aside from monitoring your competition’s social media profiles, you should check their blog pages and popular forums to see what your target audience is saying. You’ll pick up invaluable “intelligence” about your shared audience — including their most burning questions and pain points — which will allow you to alter your communication to maximise engagement.
You might even ask around for opinions to determine where the gaps are in your competition’s offerings and where you might be able to fill in. People tend to be pretty ruthless with their online opinions, so you’ll get a fairly honest, real opinion from your target audience. However, it’s important to never cross the line with this strategy and ensure you’re acting professionally at all times.
5) Buy directly from your competition
Whatever industry you’re in, you can buy or use a service that your competition sells to get a real idea of what you’re up against — if it’s a service-based or software offering, you might even be able to sign up for a free trial. You may find that your product development becomes more productive if you discover a flaw in your competition’s products.
Conversely, if you’re wowed by their product or service, put a unique mark on your product to make it different. You’ll then be in a position to convince customers to buy from you, rather than the competition. Don’t be afraid to be inspired by your competition.
6) What platform have they missed?
So your competitors are Facebook hits and Twitter wizards. So what? There’s bound to be some platform that they’ve failed to master. Startup companies tend to go all out and begin “socialising” with audiences as soon as they set up, but they often forget that online platforms other than “the big three” — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — can be just as effective.
As we stated above, LinkedIn is a great way to network with industry professionals and even gain future employees. See how your competition uses this space and simply “out-network” them — if they aren’t on this platform, or they aren’t active, you’ll already have a head start.
7) How do they manage their brand?
Researching your competition’s social media presence will give you a glimpse into how brand management works. If this is your first business, any little insight you can gather will help when it comes to managing your brand.
Read between the lines and see what type of company your competitors are trying to be and how they express their “reputations” to your shared target audience.
Since you’re sharing a market, you don’t want to manage your brand too differently from a successful prototype (the competition), but you must take advantage of any distinct shortcomings to make your brand stand out.
8) Use their research
Google Alerts gives you a steady stream of up-to-date information, allowing you to monitor your competition’s performance and strategies. Set up alerts for each of your main competitors and you’ll receive a notification every time they’re mentioned online or they publish a new piece of content, be it a mission statement, a sales alert or a blog post. Use this to see just how visible they are online and determine what they’re doing online and whether it’s effective.
This allows you to tap into the correct market without undertaking extra research. You’ll instantly learn where your competitors are gaining favourable results, allowing you to capitalise on their hard work.
9) How effective is their company culture?
You may never experience the day-to-day life within the confines of your competition’s office walls, but you can definitely pick up on what’s important to them and what defines their company cultures.
For example, if one competitor is known for having a high employee turnover, you could exploit this negative reputation by maintaining the lifespan of your employees and being vocal about it. By no means should you compromise your company culture or values — or criticise a rival business — but you can certainly shout out about how proud you are to have a team of loyal, hardworking employees. You’ll come across as a better option for potential new candidates — you never know how crucial your next hire may be to your company’s overall success.
Learning about your competition is not cheating. It’s about being smart and, ultimately, successful. It’s an open platform. When your brand begins to grow, new startups will emerge in the market and may use your model as inspiration. After all, you’re all competing in the same market.
Exploit the opportunities that your competitors may have missed and adapt strategies that have succeeded.
Compare, compete and conquer. Then repeat.