Conducting a competitor analysis is a smart business move. If you can't see how you stack up against similar businesses in the same space, how will you know which areas need to improve and the strengths which can be highlighted in your communications?
Competitor audits are a powerful method of market research that can help you hone your messaging and brand positioning. Here's what you need to know about planning a competitor audit, and why conducting one is a worthy investment.
Why Perform a Competitive Analysis?
Competitive analysis provides you with a thorough view of what is happening in your industry. By looking at what a few key competitors are doing with their product mix, brand presence, communications, and other aspects of business grants important insights that help your brand grow. Moreover, these insights help your brand find key differentiation factors that help you stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
For instance, one could argue there's no shortage of pizza shops in a city like New York. But there's a reason that one shop sees more foot traffic than another since there are as many types of customers as there are pizzerias. One group would choose a pizza joint solely for the location while another would make a special trip for the taste.
B2B marketing borrows many of the same tenets. Finding out what the competition is doing helps you identify your unique value proposition. Your location could be an advantage, or perhaps you have a stellar customer service team while your competitors fall short in this area. Conversely, you could have shortcomings that the competition is handling better and it presents an opportunity to address these weaknesses.
The competitive analysis provides valuable insights that also help you stay on top of industry trends and ever-evolving industry standards. It can also spur you to try new marketing and operations moves that the competition hasn't thought of yet.
Once you complete your analysis, you can set a benchmark in which to compare future results once these changes and new marketing strategies have been implemented.
How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis
Determine who your competitors are.
Competitive analysis is typically conducted along the same vertical, such as a construction firm examining what another local construction outfit does or a marketing agency comparing themselves to another marketing agency. If they serve the same regions and/or customers, they would be considered direct competition.
However, competitive analysis doesn't need to be strictly limited to your own vertical. A competing firm could be in a slightly related vertical, like a freestanding clothing shop compared to a department store since customers can buy many of the same products there. This would make the department store an indirect competitor since they aren't strictly angling for the clothing store's customers, but happen to have similar offerings.
In addition to the vertical, other attributes should determine if another firm is a genuine competitor or not. While a family's entertainment budget would need to be set all the same, a local entertainment center isn't on the same level as a destination like Disney World.
Account for factors like company size, location, product mix, and the type of customers they have. This is the most helpful for determining whether this business is considered a competitor.
Identify the products and services your competitors offer.
Product mix is one of the key factors in a competitive analysis. What do you offer? What do your competitors offer?
Take note of pricing, delivery, what their existing customers and clients have to say, and how easy it is to find out what they offer. Compare what the competition offers to your own product mix, and see where you stack up. You could be missing out on lucrative groups of potential clients or customers. You could also not have enough of a niche defined and are offering too many products and services to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Research your competitors' sales tactics, and the results they tend to get.
Once you know what your competitors are selling, HOW are they selling it?
Is the sales process facilitated through a sales team, a self-service subscription model, all direct sales, or with a combination of direct and distributor sales? The business model deployed is important to consider because the competitor could go along with industry standards or something completely different. Each sales model also presents different customer journeys, and opportunities for prospects to engage with your content.
Once you're familiar with their sales models, determine how they entice prospective clients to complete the sale. This could encompass anything from the use of free trials to having an extensive free version of the product, such as HubSpot and MailChimp.
Does it appear that these tactics are producing significant traction? Why or why not?
Analyze your competition's content strategy.
The saying "content is king" still holds up for a reason. Prospects don't like to be overwhelmed by sales talk, and brands to be positioned as authorities in their fields. Take a close look at the quality, quantity, and locations of the competition's content.
What kinds of content are they publishing? Having a well-populated blog helps with SEO and brand voice, but whitepapers, guides, and datasheets are also important types of content in the B2B sphere. More dynamic formats like podcasts and videos are also becoming crucial to building a brand presence, and can often be used to differentiate from the competition.
How often does the competitor publish content? A brand that frequently updates its blogs, social feeds, and other channels has an edge over competing brands that don't.
Where do they publish content? In addition to owned media on your website, don't overlook external content that's published on a related, industry-specific site with a high level of authority. Examples include marketing agencies that publish with the Content Marketing Institute and graphic designers who publish on Adobe's blog. LinkedIn Pulse is also a popular destination for B2B content regardless of industry and is a free but powerful mode of additional content distribution.
Content type, frequency, and distribution are important factors to analyze but don't forget to assess its quality. A competitor who publishes poorly-written blogs rife with amateur-looking graphic design might not present much of a threat to you. But the competitor who has beautifully-shot videos on a slick-looking website, and happens to have a strong presence on an industry website is one to watch more closely.
Find out what technology stack the competition uses.
This can be harder to determine if you don't have any inside scoops on the competition, but you may find out if their content discusses any systems they work with.
In addition to any proprietary tools and systems, the stack analysis would include marketing platforms, CRM tools, email marketing programs, influencer marketing platforms, and other tools that they use. Compare your own stack to theirs and look for efficiency points and areas that could use improvement, particularly if one program in your stack integrates poorly or doesn't give you maximum utility for all of its features and functionalities.
Analyze the level of engagement your competitors' content receives.
How do people interact with the competition's content...if they do at all?
Look at how soon it shows up in search engines for various terms, or the company's name. If the content is internal, check if there are comments and other interactions on the blogs. When posts are shared on social media, do people comment on them there?
For content distributed elsewhere, such as YouTube and Medium, look at their views and likes. Content doesn't always need to have high view numbers to be effective. But if a Medium post gets thousands of claps or a blog post is constantly being linked, they're certainly doing something right with their content.
Observe how competitors market their content.
How do people find out about the competition's content? Are they sharing new posts on social media, through an email list, RSS feed, or are things strictly kept to their website?
How is content presented? Do they just have a blog up and that's primarily the extent of their content strategy, or do they offer "sweeteners" such as exclusive content that is only accessible by signing up for the email list? Do they work with other distribution methods like the types mentioned, and if so, do they have any special pedigrees that push them ahead of the competition? For example, Game Developer Magazine has an "expert blogger" designation for certain industry professionals that makes them more noticeable when browsing headlines.
Marketing content is partly in how it's presented to the outside world, just as much as it is in how it's distributed.
Examine each competitor's social media presence, digital marketing strategies, and which platforms generate the most engagement for them.
There are platforms that certain industries gravitate to: food brands will post on Twitter and other platforms, but certain dishes and styles of presenting food become known as "Pinterest-worthy" or "ready for the 'gram". One brand can live or die by Twitter while another in the same exact industry with a similar size and customer base has only 10 followers.
Look at the different facets of the competitor's digital strategy: their websites and how they look and navigate, overall online presence, content quality, and publishing frequency, and the social platforms where they have the most engagement. It doesn't necessarily mean that you need to crush it at Facebook just because a competitor is doing so: but if you notice this is a trend across your most successful competitors where you're falling short, it could be time to open an account there. There's no way to know this without doing a thorough competitor audit.
Perform a SWOT analysis of your own brand and the competition (where applicable).
Taken from the Boston Consulting Group's acronym for "strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats", the SWOT analysis is a handy tool to assess where your business is and how you compare to the competition.
In addition to internal factors on the individual brand level, SWOT also accounts for external factors. This could encompass anything from specific events in your industry or the business world, or larger trends worldwide. A good example would be the pandemic changing the way that people shop. It presented both opportunities and threats to retail businesses that had a very short time to adapt.
- Strengths: what do you know you're doing right? What's an edge you're aware you hold over the competition? How can you play to these strengths?
- Weaknesses: what are you aware of that's holding you back, and could use improvement? How could these weaknesses be addressed?
- Opportunities: on an individual or society-wide level, what is happening or expected to come that you feel you could capitalize on?
- Threats: on an individual or society-wide level, what is on the horizon that could spell devastation for your brand?
Compare your SWOT results to the insights gleaned from the close examination of your competition.
With all of the insights you gained in analyzing your own standing after the competition, parse the information into a strategy. How will you continue to play to your strengths while addressing shortfalls? What kept you ahead of the competition already, and what kinds of risks and innovation are they taking on to differentiate themselves?
Competitive analysis isn't solely for spying on your direct and indirect competitors. It's also an excellent learning opportunity to see where you stand, and how you can level up your entire brand and digital presence.
Making the Findings of a Competitor Audit the Cornerstone of Your New Marketing Strategy
Competitor audits are an extremely time-consuming undertaking. However, they are also utterly crucial for gaining new insights into your industry, customer base, and how you can stay ahead of the competition. This information forms a solid basis for your entire marketing plan, and how to move forward.
According to HubSpot's 2020 State of Marketing report, businesses that routinely research their competition, and base their marketing materials around what they discovered, are twice as likely to see revenue increases. Firms frequently overlook significant amounts of revenue by not examining the competition closely enough to see what they're doing right-- or even where the industry is headed.
As your B2B marketing agency partner, LAIRE has the toolkit and digital marketing experts you need to conduct an in-depth competitor analysis and use the insights to give you the exact solution needed to level up your B2B brand.
Contact us today to set up a free 20-minute marketing assessment.