I'm a big fan of keeping an eye on my competition. I try not to be so arrogant that I think I have all the answers, and doing a competitor analysis helps me see what other people in my industry are up to and lets me learn from their successes and failures.
Having fresh ideas and cautionary tales at my fingertips helps me stay dialed in to what my customers want. I can then work on devising strategies to deliver those wants better than anyone else. I use the following five resources when I want to do a competitor analysis on my competition.
1. Their Website
So simple, but I'm surprised how few people bother to take a good look at their competition's websites when doing a competitor analysis. What I find most useful is looking at how they're marketing themselves. Consider comparing your website to theirs and ask yourself who's doing the best job of speaking to the customer. What products or services do they feature? What specials do they offer? What trends do they highlight? Are they speaking to a slightly different niche than you are? Does their marketing reflect that?
I check up on my competition's websites pretty often, and I always pick up something useful. Oh—and you may want to also sign up for a newsletter or alerts for updates and specials. You'll be getting inside information regularly delivered right to your email!
2. Review Sites
Whether it's Yelp or another site, customer reviews can be a goldmine for your competitor analysis. Learning what wowed or disappointed customers can be a window into dos and don'ts for your own company. Are there things customers are asking for that you could provide? Is there a process in your industry that really annoys customers? Can you find a way to alleviate that pain?
Customers who take the time to leave reviews are giving you tons of great material. Anything your competition is doing wrong can show you what you may want to emphasize as a point of difference. Their customers hate the long wait time? You can advertise your speedy service. They want a lower-priced option? You try leading with a value-priced choice.
3. Online Search
You can start your competitor analysis by gleaning the basic information online—location, hours of operation—but there's often a variety of other information as well. You may discover other sources for consumer reviews. Has anyone written an article that mentions your competition? Is it mentioned in blogs? You could uncover ideas for generating buzz for your own company, and you could also make new connections with people who are covering your industry.
4. Job Ads
In addition to the fact that it's just flat-out interesting to see how your competitors present themselves to job-seekers, you can also pick up useful information. If a competitor is hiring for new positions, that means they're growing, and you can draw some conclusions about how they're growing. Are they opening a new location? Are they adding people to their sales force? Are they bumping up production?
5. Conferences and Trade Shows
If you attend a trade show and never leave your booth, then you may be missing a huge opportunity. Take the time to wander around and check out the ways in which your competition is selling themselves. Conferences and trade shows let you know who's launching new products, what trends are dominating and who the thought leaders in the industry are. Look not just at what's being sold, but how it's being sold. Also you may want to keep an eye out for alliances among your competitors as well as partnerships and connections with tastemakers in your industry.
Now, all this research into your competition isn't about being a copycat. In fact, it's the opposite, since you want to distinguish yourself as unique. It's about leaving no stone unturned. You may find marketing ideas you'd never have thought of before. You may even find something that will inspire you to offer something completely new.
Examining how your competitors interact with and serve customers can be beneficial to your business's growth. Maybe you pick up the idea to start a podcast. Perhaps you discover that the competition's Facebook page has lots of followers, but hasn't been updated in a year, revealing an underused way to connect with consumers. Whatever you discover, keeping your finger on the competition's pulse by doing a competitor analysis just makes sense.
Read more articles on competitive research.