Anyone who has ever gone through the critical exercise of creating a marketing strategy knows what other businesses they’re up against. Some businesses do the research to get a handle of pricing in the industry. Others to competitive research to find out their competitors’ strengths or weaknesses. Still other small business owners look to their more successful competitors to see if there are best practices that they can incorporate into their own business. Competitive research can help your small business marketing tremendously. Here’s how.

What is competitive research?

Also known as competitive intelligence, competitive research is the collection and review of information about rival companies. It’s an essential tactic for finding out what your competitors are doing and what kind of threat they present to your businesses well-being. It may include information on pricing models, sales processes, service and product offerings, personnel, marketing tactics and more. The deeper a small business can dive into finding out who their competitors are, the more they will benefit.

How do you conduct competitive research?

competitive searchWhile the process depends on what exactly you’re trying to find out about your competitors, there are a few ways you can obtain competitive information. First, identify your top competitors. Research more than just one or two; three to ten is a good sampling depending on your industry. These competitors may be local or national, or even international, depending on your industry. If you’re not sure who your competitors are, tools like SEMrush are great to get a look into what other companies are ranking for your keyword and how you stack up against them. That’s a good first step to finding out who you’re competing against. Next, determine what kind of information you’re looking for. If you want to know what they’re doing with their marketing, find out what social channels they’re on, what other marketing tactics they’re using such as email marketing, content marketing or print ads. Take a look at their website:  is it robust?  Dated?  Full of helpful information or confusing?  This will give you insight on what their marketing approach is like. You may find after reviewing these that you need to up your game to compete, especially if they’re leveraging several different marketing tactics to reach their (and your) target audience. Do a deeper dive for any marketing channel you find for them. For social media, list the channels, note how often they post, what they post, how many followers they have and the level of engagement for that content. Sprout Social offers a great template for performing a social media competitive analysis. Even doing a basic Google search of your competitors’ names will give you some insights on where they are online. Now take that information and do a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis can be a useful way to assess where you stand in your market in relation to your competitors. It is a common and easily used business analysis tool. A SWOT analysis can help you to:

  • build on your strengths (S)
  • minimize your weaknesses (W)
  • seize opportunities (O)
  • counteract threats (T)

Tools for competitive research

Depending on what you’re looking to research, here’s a list of tools you can use:

  • SEMrush
  • Google Alerts
  • SpyFu
  • AdEspresso
  • Social Mention
  • BuzzSumo
  • Ahrefs

How can competitive research be used to improve marketing?

improve marketingWhether you did an in-depth dive into the different marketing tactics of your competitors, or did a more basic overview of each, you should now have a feel overall about who they are, what they offer, what their pricing is, and how they market themselves.  You also know how you stack up to your competitors through your SWOT analysis. How do you take that information to enhance your own marketing efforts? First, you now know who your real competitors are. Without doing research, many small businesses assume they know their competitors but are often surprised once they do the research that there are other companies they actually compete against for business. This insight is invaluable. Second, now that you know where your competitors market, you can market there as well. Didn’t think Alignable was a valid tactic but your competitor is on there?  Maybe you should be too, especially if you see they’re getting engagements on their profile. You can also glean information to help your own presence online. What keyword phrases seem to appear consistently in their content?  Perhaps you should leverage those phrases as well. Perhaps you found a competitor whose service or product is inferior to yours. You want to tout that competitive edge to illustrate your business over your competitors. You may have also found a competitor whose service or product is far superior to yours. You can do two things with this competitive intelligence:  endeavor to improve your product or service to better compete with theirs, or prepare your marketing message to be able to address your shortcomings and how you can focus on the characteristics that make your product or service better.

If you want to plan an effective marketing strategy, knowing who your competitors are is important. And it is even more important to know exactly what your competitors are doing. If you analyze their marketing strategies and see what they are doing right and where they are failing, you can use those insights to your advantage. Something to note:  your competitive research should be ongoing; it’s not a one-and-done.  Ongoing competitive research helps your business in several ways:

  • It helps you learn new ways to service your customers
  • It helps you understand why other websites are ranking higher than yours
  • It allows you to use your research to spot new opportunities
  • It helps you seize opportunities to gain customers
  • It helps you find mentions of your brand for relationship building
  • It shows you the content you need to be producing to get results
  • It unlocks new tools and practices for serving your clients

Competitive research can help your small business by giving you a thorough, complete understanding of your industry’s landscape and how your small business is positioned in that landscape compared to your competitors. Engage the services of a marketing professional if you’re unsure how to conduct research. The return on investment will prove invaluable!

Patty Hughes
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