Who else is swimming in your pond?
If any of y’all did a marketing/business degree you’ll remember the words ‘COMPETITOR ANALYSIS’ being drummed into you, like they held all the secrets to curing cancer, crossing the universe and eternal human life. Really. Successful. Businesses. did it, and if you didn’t – truthfully I don’t quite remember the punchline, but I think it was something super inspiring like ‘you are destined to fail’. Basically the world revolved around lots of spendy analysis before you even decided on what bloody products you wanted to sell.
The good news is that we evolved, got 4G-enabled phones and biz-life isn’t quite so dramatic anymore. There’s loads of elements to running a business, and the internet has heralded a whole new world of ‘anyone is your market’ – as long as you have a digital presence.
Which means some of us jump right in and worry about who else is in the sandpit later. (And by ‘some of us’, I mean, ‘most of us’.)
While it’s not the barrier to entry it once was, keeping tabs on the competition is still important, and if you haven’t quite gotten around to it just yet (or you’re lurking on the edges of entrepreneurship, welcome, jump in!), here’s a handy lil’ guide to walk you through the critical elements, what to avoid and who to keep your eye on during the race…
Saddle up, brand cowboys.
Step One. Figure out who the heck your competitors actually are.
You guys, I can’t stress this part enough. The people/brands who are actually competing with you for your customer’s dollars or eyeballs are…drum roll please…most probably not who you think. *audience audibly gasps, towards the back of the room, a lady faints in shock*
Expect to be humming Jamie Lawson’s ‘I Wasn’t Expecting That’, as you confront your inner preconceived notions head on. Because while you may have a firm side eye on who you think you’re in the race with, there’s most likely a couple of outside entries tearing up the outside lanes, that you have absolutely no idea how they got a starting block in this race. Side note: don’t try and fight it. The internet cares not for carefully defined industry categories. Your customers can buy anything they damn please without even putting pants on.
The good news tho, is that because we’re lazy little, non-pants wearing, couch surfers, it’s really bloody easy to see what we’re doing. (Unless you care enough about your digital footprint to go incognito/VPN – and let’s be real, ain’t nobody got time for that.)
This part could get spendy (but please don’t let it). There’s a plethora of services who will happily give you seventy five years worth of reading material on who your customers are cheating on you with (in exchange for your credit card digits, obvs), but if this is your first time on the dance floor, seriously – don’t boil the ocean. There’s plenty of free tools that’ll give you as much info as you need to get started.
Here’s my picks:
- Similar Web. Freaking love it. The free version has plenty of detail, and they have some really good suggestions for who – by virtue of search data – is going head to head with your site. Plus you can do some solid benchmarking and audience behaviour research while you’re here.
- Next, go to your Insta profile and click the little down profile button to recommend similar accounts. It’ll bring up a plethora of similar brands – and the best part is, they use follow data to determine which accounts are deemed like yours, so even if some seem a little left of centre, it’s a pretty solid view of the biggest audience overlap, and thus, who else is competing for your fan’s eyeballs/wallets.
- Finally – trawl Reddit. (but please don’t stay too long, or you’ll be down a rabbit hole reading about the nicest things people have ever done for their pet budgies and somehow you’ve lost 17 weeks of your life.) Incase you missed the memo, social recommendations are the new black, and Reddit is the place where mindless chatter gathers and multiplies. Check for some threads of people discussing your category, brand or product. The gold mine ones are where people are asking for alternatives for your brand or product and (while that’ll probably cut your tiny heart into a million little pieces, shake it off folks, this is research, feels aren’t permitted) the responses are where you should be diverting your attention.
Step Two. Put them them through their paces.
This is the fun part. You get to get your judgement on, whilst running rampant across every platform they own! It’s like test driving a new car. Poke around their corners of the web, find out what you like, what you don’t like (and any good ideas you can steal…)
A couple of easy ones I like to run:
- Search, I look up their name, their products, their key people/influencers. See what they’re bidding on, and how they tailor their results to different searches. If you’re feeling particularly tech savvy – check out Google Ads Auction Insights Report or pop their URL into the Keyword Planner to get a better look under the hood.
- Website. Here’s the fun part. Go to their site (and eh, make a bit of a pest of yourself by googling their name and clicking on an ad), click around a bit, add some stuff to your cart and then leave. Check out their re-marketing and abandoned cart efforts. Do this enough, and you’ll get a clear picture of the standard lure back offer that your category customers expect. (You’ll also see how much they invest in re-marketing when the effing products follow you around for the next millennial…)
- Oh – and while you’re on the website, make sure you spend some time playing a little game I like to call ‘what little shit can I do better?!’ Shipping rates are a great one here. Did ya know it’s one of the top reasons for cart abandonment because we’re all tight bastards? Truth. Find out what the regular price of post is, and if you can, beat it. (Another truth bomb – complimentary shipping is one of the best ways you can add value without devaluing your brand.)
- Subscribe. That’s right, sign up to the email list so you’re getting the latest and greatest in real time. Ditto for their social media accounts. Side note: there’s no shame in doing this from your Finsta account – in fact, I encourage it and I’ll tell you why in a red hot minute if you stick around for a bit. Another side note: ‘Finsta’ = ‘fake Instagram’ and if you don’t have one, I just really don’t understand how you stalk people?
Step Three. Set and forget (ish).
If you’ve got time to keep popping your head over the fence to check out the gardening efforts of your competition – well, you’ve got way too much free time on your hands, and can I recommend a good Netflix series perhaps?
Truthfully, you shouldn’t be doing the hard core comp analysis more than once a year. Automate, yo. Set up a few little flags so that the magic of the internet can do the rest. (Otherwise known as ‘using your time wisely’.)
- Google Alerts. If you’re not already doing this for your own brand, then buzz off very right now and DO IT. And while you’re there, plug in your competitors as well as some product and industry key words, so you can keep abreast of the latest – including new entrants – without even having to venture outside of your inbox.
- Also set up a flag for common job boards like LinkedIn and Seek. Knowing what they’re hiring for – and the volume – will give you a sneaky lil’ inside peek at where the resources are going for the next 12-18 months or so…
Step Four. Know when to tune out.
There’s another reason why automation is king – and it sings to my point above about using a secondary account for all your competitor stalking – you don’t want to be too actively seeking out your competitors. You actually want to be a little bit removed from what erryone else is doing, especially when you’re doing that all critical brand repositioning/new product development rodeo.
In 2019, it’s virtually impossible to not be aware of what everyone else is building – especially if you run your business online. It’s right there, smacking you in the face every time you open a social media platform or scoot around your favourite news sites. You can’t help but know exactly what they’re doing every live long minute of the day – and as a wise woman* once said, comparison makes you a shitty marketer and a bland brand.
It’s just noise. So learn how to switch it off.
I know of successful brand folk who mute their competitors’ social accounts while working on new products. I’ve worked for one of the world’s biggest brands (seriously, check out my LinkedIn, it’s not hard to figure out who I’m banging on about), who actively told us not to focus on our major competitors. It’s not that they weren’t keeping tabs. It’s just that they wanted us – the team building the plans and launching the products – to bring unique brand defining experiences to the table. And it’s impossible – on an even an unintentional level – to not be influenced, swayed and inspired by the work of your competition.
And then there’s brand FOMO. I can’t think of an easier or more comprehensive way to dilute a great idea than to be distracted by all the bells and whistles of what everyone else is doing. Repeat after me: ‘It doesn’t matter, my idea will be kick ass and I don’t need to add *insert random feature that competitor’s product has* to be successful’. There is room for everyone with a point of view, but it’s super easy to have your confidence rattled if you’ve got one eye on ALL THE OTHER THINGS while you’re trying to launch your own brand.
Stare too long, and before you know it – you’re the proud owner of a brand that is a carbon copies of everything else already on the market, except it has your logo on it.
So my final word? Competitor analysis is bloody critical. But once you’ve done it, keep the stalking to a minimum while you quietly and confidently build your own empire – an empire that actually has a point of difference.
*Aforementioned wise woman is me. Obvs.