Competition is the foundation of the free market, and it's what makes the system so successful. It keeps pricing in check, stimulates creativity, and provides the framework for business growth. By keeping an eye on your competition, you can save yourself time, resources, and money.
You vs. who?
To identify and learn from your competitors, you need a plan.
“To make sure we're staying on top of it and above the curve, we look at our competition's website, their blog, their social media—whatever their footprint is," says Tracey Phillips, owner of the client retention company Promotional Presence. “We look at what their mission statement is, what their 'About Us' is all about, and how they're reaching out to their customers."
How to find your competitors
It's not difficult to identify your competitors.
“I use [online tools] like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and Ubersuggest to show me my top 10 competitors who are ranking for the exact keywords that my website does," says Simply Insurance co-founder Sa El. "With this information, I am able to look at a ton of different sites and determine if a site is a competitor and, from there, I can start to reverse-engineer their site," he says.
Mike Morse, attorney and founder of Mike Morse Personal Injury Law Firm, joined a crowded sector 10 years ago and had to determine who his competitors were. “You simply put search terms into [a search engine] to instantly see who your competitors are," he says. “Make a list. Look at how many reviews there are. Look for holes in their marketing and advertising."
Next, ask yourself what they are all missing.
“I made a list of their characteristics," Morse says. "I made a line down the center of the page and wrote the opposite of what they were—and that was me. I started marketing and advertising opposite of what they were. I wanted to be the Cherry Garcia of legal marketing, not the traditional vanilla. And it worked."
How to learn from your competitors' marketing
Looking at your competitors' websites can give you a wealth of information.
“We learn what products they carry, how they acquire their products, at what price point they sell their products, and how they generally market their products," says Hayato Yoshida, co-founder of Wagyu Beef. "We then critically assess how their methodology compares to ours in each of these respects." This helped Yoshida find a new product to offer customers that is so popular it's difficult to keep it on the shelves.
Laurie Wilkins, founder and editor of Call Outdoors, likes to use Facebook to find and learn from his company's competitors. “I join a group or community that I know my target audience would be a part of," he says. "I then ask a question directed at industry professionals. When someone answers as an authoritative voice, I immediately conduct a deep dive into them and their business. I will also privately message them if I am looking for more information."
It's like being a secret shopper (albeit digitally)—a time-tested technique in the retail world.
Once Wilkins knows who his competition is, he says, “I look at how they have previously engaged with my target audience in this space." He sees what works and what doesn't and then follows those patterns.
Good old-fashioned surveys help Daniel Carter, founder of Zippy Electrics, study the competition. “We subtly survey our target markets twice a year to help us update and improve our products and services," he says. "It's an effective method for our business as it continues to drive prospects toward us."
These surveys help determine the needs and preferences of Carter's target audience. “By using the collected facts and our own innovations, our business continues to prosper despite the pandemic," he says.
By studying competitors' physical and digital footprints, you can glean all the information you need to set your company apart.
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