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What are your competitors doing that you don’t know about?
That might sound like a paranoid question, but it’s not. It’s a marketing must. If you don’t know what your top competitors are up to, you can’t beat them. It’s that simple.
Of course, you can’t expect the competition to turn over secrets to you – but you don’t need them to do that to be informed. All you need to do is observe, think, and ask a few key questions about what they’re doing.
Where Are They Marketing Themselves?
The first thing you need to know is where and how they’re finding customers. You don’t need a copy of their marketing blueprint to figure it out. Here are some suggestions.
- Check out their website and make note of their most important keywords. You probably have some keywords in common, but you should still look at their content to figure out which words they’re targeting.
- Search the keywords you’ve identified on Google and Bing to see if they’re advertising with either search engine.
- Search social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to look at their profiles and see the kind of content they’re sharing. Your Google search may also turn up a few retargeting ads for you to check out.
- Track their social media mentions.
You may want to create a spreadsheet to track who’s marketing where – and how they’re doing it. Don’t forget to check sites like Tumblr, Snapchat, and Reddit. They don’t get mentioned as often as Facebook and Instagram, but they still offer marketing opportunities.
What Makes Them Unique?
You’ve spent some time figuring out how to distinguish yourself from your competitors – but how do they distinguish themselves from you?
A brand’s Unique Value Proposition tells you a lot about how they see themselves. Are they branding themselves as innovators? Solid and reliable? Affordable? Luxury?
You can pick up a lot of clues about your competitors’ unique qualities by looking at their websites and ads. What you learn can help you figure out how to be more competitive.
What Marketing Techniques Are They Using?
It’s not enough to know where your competitors are putting their marketing dollars. You also need to know what they’re doing with it. It can take some time to get a handle on their strategy, but it will be time well spent.
You may notice that they’re running both search engine ads and retargeting ads. That may indicate that their target audience requires a lot of nurturing before they buy. Or, you may notice that they’re relying heavily on customer-created content on social media, and that could inspire you to create some brand ambassadors of your own.
You should also make note of the kinds of content that performs best for them in terms of engagement. Are they posting lots of videos or sticking mostly to photos? Are they using infographics or instructographics? Every technique they use could point in the direction of more effective marketing for you.
What Are Their Strengths and Weaknesses?
As you observe your competitors’ marketing and check out their websites, you’ll probably notice that there are some things they do exceptionally well. Maybe they’ve got killer blog posts that fans love and that get tons of shares on social media. Or, maybe they’ve got a YouTube channel with hundreds of useful videos.
At the same time, you should look for things they’re not doing so well. Maybe their website’s out of date or their social media posting is irregular. Maybe they haven’t done a good job of differentiating themselves in the market.
Make note of anything that might be helpful. Your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses can help you fine-tune your own marketing strategy.
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What Are Their Values?
It’s become increasingly important to consumers to know that the brands they buy have a moral center. You know that because you’ve seen the way brands can suffer when they misbehave. Customers can turn on brands in a flash if they feel they don’t share their core values.
If your competitors are affiliated with causes or charities, it’s important to know about it. You should look especially hard at any marketing efforts that tout their involvement and values. It’s quite common for brands to dedicate pages on their websites to their charitable efforts and values.
Millennials put a very high premium on corporate values both when they seek employment and when they shop. If you’re not clearly articulating your values and your competitors are, you might be at a disadvantage.
Keep in mind that when you express your values, you should look for causes that align with them. For example, a lot of food manufacturers and restaurants get involved with local food pantries and soup kitchen or sponsor food drives for hungry families.
How Do They Engage Fans?
Perhaps the most important question to ask is what your competitors are doing to engage their followers and fans. Engagement can mean a lot of different things from reading a Facebook post to creating unique, brand-based content – but it matters at every level.
One of my favorite ways to track engagement is to look at my competitors’ CTAs on social media. What are they asking fans to do? They might:
- Ask fans to vote by asking them to like a post for one option and share it for the other.
- Ask a question and encourage fans to answer in the comments.
- Sponsor a contest and give entries to fans who like, comment, and share their posts.
- Ask fans to create content and use a special hashtag they’ve created for that purpose.
You can also make note of the kind of content that gets the most engagement. Do they get five times as many likes on the videos they share as on photographs? Are they sponsoring contests to incentivize engagement? These are all good questions to ask.
What your competitors are doing shouldn’t be a mystery to you…
If you think of yourself as a detective or a corporate spy, you can learn a lot about your competitors by tracking them online, taking notes – and then using what you find to improve your marketing strategy and beat them at their own game.