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Because envy is not a strategy.
Competitor analysis and strategy are one thing that every business indulges in, especially today when the market saturation levels are cranked up to unimaginable levels and market penetration has become as difficult as it could ever be. In this world, research can lead to results that could determine how long you last in the industry.
Every entrepreneur aims at disruption but what after? You, the competition. In such a cut-throat economy, you must always have your guard on, while you also use devices of disruption as you do your business. This piece is not a summary of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. This piece should enable you to enter the war zones called boardrooms to put in your ideas about how you want to do your brand’s competitive analysis that would lead you to the top.
How can you gain competitive advantage through the art of looking at competitors?
However, if you do not want to look at this piece with a TL;DR approach and go into the why’s and how’s, read on.
When you plan on starting a business, you know that you are not the only one in the industry. Sure, your product is innovative, your service has an edge. But you are not seeding a new industry, you are entering one with many other entrepreneurs who also have some innovation that could help evolve the industry. You cannot change that fact, the days of beginner’s monopoly are far gone. Disrupting those giants is a far-fetched goal.
Look at what they are doing right, go back and look at what they did wrong starting out.
Usually, research usually seems to entrepreneurs as an avoidable expense because of the time it takes and the intangible nature of its result. You might (think you) have an innovative idea that no one has in the market.
The definition pretty much sums it. It is a research process that seeks to benchmark a brand against others in the same sector or market. This can help what makes a brand unique by analyzing what factors customers look at when choosing between rival competitors. For them, they are two products with similar functionality on the same rack. The question? Which one provides them optimum satisfaction for the price they paid.
When we conduct competitor analysis, we basically reverse engineer the final outcomes to get an insight into the process to determine the strategies that they have been functioning upon. This added with primary research conducted for your own brand will give the least erroneous strategy that will lead you to success.
After you are determined you want to conduct a competitor analysis, you might want to prioritize the competitors and make a list of which ones are the ones you, as a brand owner, see as perfect competition and then put them on the ticker for evaluation. This makes it easier for you to narrow down your focus to the best rather than having a 360-degree approach of considering even the weaker ones that do not deserve your attention.
Steve Jobs had a practice in his boardroom meetings that might help you in prioritizing when you have a list bigger than 10 for competitors. In the boardroom meetings, Jobs asked every member to list issues. Then, from the top 10 that made it to the list on the whiteboard, he would rub off the bottom seven issues which would become the target at hand. Such practices help you focus on the most important competition and not be overwhelmed while starting out.
Now if you are someone who ended up here while googling “how to do competitive analysis” or “how to gain a competitive advantage” then it would be safe to assume your competitor analysis strategy starts with googling your competition. Now, that is not wrong, even doing that is giving you an edge over entrepreneurs who base their entire brands on assumptions.
Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
There are multiple methods that will help you properly study the competition and their processes to help you with insight for yours. After you have determined whom to look at, you would want to determine how do you want to look at them. Let us look at some common methods:
The first step that every analysis begins with, doesn’t need a lot of digging in. It is the information that is served on the platter for the world to see, the elements carefully crafted by them, to perceive their brand as the data that determines the brand’s face value. This includes the company website, their social media handles, their marketing communication, reviews posted about the brand by an end-user, the list goes on.
Competitor content is the keyhole that lets you peep into the world of the brand that it is. It will give you insight into the details like:
• What level of quality do they function with,
• The frequency of making communication,
• The platforms they chose to have a presence in,
• Regular updates that help you in regular monitoring even after you have started with your strategy,
• What are the customers saying about them,
• Their areas of improvement,
• Their target audience which you might want to bank or completely avoid,
• Their positioning through SEO and keywords they are trying to bank their brand on, etc.
Data is the new oil and to burn your lamp, you need a continuous supply of this oil called data.
A researcher’s hat is not limited to sitting on the desk in front of the screen, they might also have to sometimes don the reporter’s hat, the detective’s hat to get data from the field.
One common practice is talking to that company’s former employees. Usually, the current employees are bound by NDA agreements where they cannot give out much information. But the former employee can give insight even into models of work methodologies and the target markets of the company.
Some researchers also pose as a potential client/customer and try to get details out of the competitor’s sales team.
In both of the above cases, you must have a list of questions before you make conversations. Fetch not only successful strategies but more importantly, the unsuccessful ones to know why they didn’t work out.
Talking to their regular customers, the ones that are giving bad reviews and the ones that are giving good reviews. These customers give a lot of insight into brand loyalty, what aspects matter to an average consumer and how to win the competitor’s market, not steal it.
Befriend the foe
When you look at the competitors, they do not have to be rivals. There is a huge scope of a relationship between competitors and it usually benefits both parties to have a network in their own industry. This helps in better differentiation of the visions, the target markets, while both parties communicate, you draw better lines between the markets. This, with the obvious tactfulness, that such high-risk strategies require.
Subway before launch, as a part of their competitive research strategy, focused on something that might take you by surprise. They went and looked at an entirely different industry instead of researching their counterparts who were serving sandwiches, hotdogs, and other fast food items.
For their research, Subway chose to dive in, head first in the fitness industry, not because they want to target post-gym hunger, but because they wanted to position their submarines as a healthy alternative to the fast-food options available then. This decision was based on the obesity epidemic that the American continent was suffering from during that time. Having clarity about a direction of how you want to position your brand might also help in determining competition and studying them.
A popular IBM Marketing Cloud study estimate says that 90% of the data that has ever existed was created in the past two years. At this rate, research becomes both- easier yet, at the same time cumbersome. There is software available for all types of analysis and even constantly tracking your competitor. All the information is out there for you to get; if you know how to find it, and what use to make of it.
Tony Robbins can be quoted here for saying, “The surest way to achieve success is to model someone who is already successful”
Like an artist that becomes obsessed with their canvas not knowing when to stop can actually ruin the piece by overdoing it. Similarly, not knowing when to stop researching the competitor might end up with you knowing more about them than their employees themselves and that might seem like a good sign, but take it as a sign to stop researching and start acting upon the insights received by strengthening your strategy.
Does all of this seem like too much of a hassle? We will not ask you lo leave it to us. We will offer help. How? Slangbusters branding process is designed in a way that competitive audit becomes a part of the base on which your brand will form.
— by Manas, Content Strategist, Slangbusters Studio