Competitor Research or Competitor Analysis is the process of assessing the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors in the market.
Why do we do Competitor Research and Analysis? Because in order to succeed, we must understand the “lay of the land.” It’s critical to know who is in your market and who you’ll be competing against. Secondly, we do it so we can prepare for the future. When we understand our competition, when we learn their tendencies, we are ready for what they may do to compete with us going forward. Lastly, we do Competitor Analysis to understand our company and our goals better. The more knowledge we have, the better we’ll do in the competitive chase for consumers and market share.
STEP #1: Define Your Target Market
Your target market is a group of consumers you wish to reach with your marketing efforts. These are your ideal customers, people who will purchase your products or services. These people will share a set of traits and behaviors.
- Write a short paragraph that describes your target customer. Briefly explain the problem they have that your product/service will solve.
- List the characteristics of your target customer, such as geography, income, education.
- Describe the segment of the consumer market you’re going after, if applicable. For example: if you’re a furniture manufacturer and you’re focusing on classrooms rather than residential consumers.
PRO TIP: include your entire leadership staff and your sales team in this exercise. In fact, you may wish to pull in your entire staff to do this part of the work.
STEP #2: Identify Your Top Competitors
Are you aware of who your top competitors are? If you’re Coca-Cola, it’s Pepsi. If you’re Hertz Rent-A-Car, it’s Enterprise, and so on.
But this can be tricky, and more sophisticated than you might think at first glance. For example, a movie theater is not only competing with other theaters, but you’re also competing with streaming movie services, rental stores, and other forms of entertainment, like sporting events or live music.
- Brainstorm your top competitors. If you’re a national company, be sure to list all competitors in every market.
- Ask yourself if your product or service competes tangielly with others.
- Use search engines or SEO tools (like SEMrush) to identify top search results or keyword phrases for your products and services. List all of the competitors in your market.
- Err on the side of making a large list of your competitors and whittle them down later as needed.
- Categorize your competitors based on whether they are direct or indirect. Example: if I sell hamburgers, another hamburger joint is my direct competitor. But a taco stand down the block is an indirect competitor.
STEP #3: Understand Your Competition
Ideally, you should get to understand your competitor’s goals and general business strategy as much as your own. Do your homework, get inside their heads.
- List your competitor’s intentions with their digital strategy? What defines their brand? What is their voice? What imagery are they relying on?
- Analyze the digital marketing tactics used by your chief competitors. Do they use email marketing? Subscribe to their list. Do they spend money on PPC? Where do they run their ads online? Are they utilizing video, audio, and streaming advertising?
- Thoroughly navigate the websites of your top competitors, to learn how they are attempting to appeal to the market.
- Find out which page on your competitor’s website earns them their most traffic. Ask why.
- Dive into your competitors’ SEO: how do they craft their message and content to appeal to search engines and obtain prime spots in SERPs?
- Find the content your competitor is creating: how are they making it? Who is making it? How often do they publish? What is the goal of each piece of content?
- List the ten best pieces of content from each of your competitors.
- Analyze how your competition is using social media. Pay close attention to the type of engagement they have on each social media platform. Follow all of their SM accounts.
- Make a list of what your competitor is doing correct with their digital marketing strategy. Also list their shortcomings.
A Note About SEO and Competitor Research
According to Hubspot: “Keyword research is the process of finding and analyzing actual search terms that people enter into search engines.”
Because there’s so much content online, people rely on Google and Bing and other search engines to find content. To stand out, you need to do one of two things: educate or entertain. That means you either solve a problem or solve boredom. But it all starts with the search engine:
SEO is vital to proper competitor research. Make sure to devote time and resources to this step. Contact the experts at Koeppel Direct if you need assistance.
PRO TIP: Find out who is creating the best content that relates to your products and services.
Do you know which pieces of content are getting the most traffic for searches that relate to your product? For example: folks search “best gym membership in Oklahoma City” and are confronted with a slew of results on Google. But one piece of content, maybe it’s a detailed guide, ranks first and gets the most organic traffic. You realize your top competitor created the guide. How do you compete with that?
First: how do you find out what content is ranking best for various key phrases and keywords? The answer is Buzzsumo. With this tool, you can enter a keyword or search phrase and see popular content for that topic. Or enter your URL and that of a competitor and see what content you both have that overlaps. With Buzzsumo, you’ll also be able to see which content has been most shared and best received on various social media platforms. Very valuable.
So, how do you respond when you find your competitor has a great piece of content on their website?
You create better content. And if you have a solid marketing strategy and content marketing plan, you’ll be able to do that.
STEP #4: Develop Your Market Strategy in Response to Your Competition
Now it’s time to organize your market strategy. For some businesses (old or new) this may be the first time you’ve done this. Shame on you. But we’ll forgive you, as long as you follow these steps. Don’t skip any.
- List the target markets you are focused on. What is your goal? To dominate the market? To carve out a space for your business? Is it to create a new niche market?
- Identify the one area of the consumer market that you want to steal from your competition. Be specific.
- List the tactics that your competition has used to outperform you.
- Develop strategies to topple your competition from their perch. For example: your competitor has a solid customer base who are loyal to them based on price. Develop a marketing plan to communicate your superior quality and customer service.
- List ways that your competitors are (or may) threaten your business. Brainstorm tactics to prevent them from taking market share from you.
- Host group chats with your staff, and ask: What is the culture of our business? How competitive are we? Do we foster competition? If our business was a friend, what type of friend would we be? Would we be loyal? Would we encourage others around us? Would we want to dominate others?
- Cultivate a one paragraph answer to this question: What role does our company play in our community?
STEP #5: Compare and Contrast Yourself with Your Competition
If you don’t understand the difference between you and your competition, your customers will never know either. You want your customers to choose you. Why should they? This step in the process is designed to answer that question.
- Create a spreadsheet to list the key strengths and weaknesses of your competition. Include your company in the sheet.
- Rate your company compared to your competition, based on a 1-10 scale. Example: How effective is your email marketing compared to your top competitor? Rank it on a scale of 1 (very bad) to 10 (far superior).
- List the best opportunities your business has to inch into the market share of your competitor.
- Highlight the major differences between you and your competition. If you don’t have any, why not?
- Create an Idea Cloud of content that you can create that fills a need your competitors have NOT created.
- Make a list of content that your competitors have published that you can improve on. Analyze the resources that would be needed and weigh the benefits. Are there different types of content you could create that differentiate your company, such as videos, white papers, or others?
STEP #6: Review Your Competitor Research Regularly
There’s an old saying that goes: “If you’re not advancing, you’re standing still.” Or is that a new saying? Or did we just make that up? No, it’s definitely an old saying you should keep in mind. The lesson is this: a business must be moving forward or risk becoming irrelevant. That’s why you need to pay attention to your competition and adjust your efforts as needed.
- Review your marketing strategy once a month. This doesn’t need to take a lot of time, because if you’ve followed the process outlined here, you’ll know your strategy intuitively.
- Check in on your competitors to see what they’re doing with their marketing. Have they changed their pricing structure? Has your competition rolled out a new product line? Are you subscribed to their email list and do you have a copy of their latest catalog? You must keep tabs on what your competition is doing.
- Survey your customers to learn how to stay ahead of your competition. Here are a few questions you can ask:
- How did you hear about us?
- Have you heard of these other brands: (list competitor brands) AND
- Which of these brands have you used?
- Which of these benefits are most important to you: (list quality, price, customer service etc. and ask the consumer to rate their experience with your brand)
- Create a Content Calendar and schedule at least one piece of content per quarter that compares or contrasts your brand to that of a competitor.
The goal of Competitor Research and Analysis is not to obsess on your competition, but to understand them so you can differentiate yourself. As we pointed out in Step #1 above, you should never lose sight of the customer and their needs. Make sure to include the needs of the consumer as you develop your competitor analysis. If you do that, you’ll satisfy your most important constituency.