Ask yourself: “How much do I really know about my top two or three competitors?” Do I know the ways in which they’re similar – or different – to my company? The ways in which they advertise to and engage with prospective customers? How much money they’re making, year-on-year? If the answer is ‘not very much’ then it’s time to raise your game with some in-depth competitor analysis.
How can competitor research benefit my business?
Competitor research can help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of businesses that offer a similar service or product to you, as well helping you to identify your own. It’s something that every company should do on a regular basis, after all there are new businesses coming on the market all of the time, and if you’re not watching them…well you can be sure that they’re watching you!
It’s a vital component to any business strategy and will enable you to make smart decisions about the way you operate, charge, advertise, and communicate with customers and prospective customers, among many other things. It also ensures that you stay ahead of the trends because you’ll constantly be monitoring for any new areas that your competitors expand into – identifying a possible gap for you to exploit.
Getting started: creating a framework
Competitor intelligence doesn’t have to be a full-time job, although it is for some people. If you’re keen on keeping everything in-house then a good place to start is by creating a competitor research framework. This could include creating a box-grid with some/all of the following information:
- Name of direct competitors
- Year founded
- Main services/products offered (with prices)
- Main website pages (i.e. About Us, News, Blog, Contact Us)
- Goals/objectives (if you’re able to deduce this from your research)
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Threats posed to your business
- Social media platforms used (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, G+)
- Marketing strategy
- Business financials
It’s also worth including a column about your own business, for reference. Let’s focus on the last three points in more depth. Here are some additional things to consider:
1. Social media platforms and customer reviews
- How many different channels are your competitors active on?
- How often are they posting on each of these channels?
- What type of content do they publish?
- What tone do they use?
- Do they activity encourage the participation of customers and prospective customers?
- Do their posts/tweets get a lot of likes and shares/retweets?
- How much are people talking about your competitors on social media?
2. Marketing strategy
- Do they offer a company newsletter?
- Do they advertise in print, or online?
- Do they advertise through pay-per-click on Google?
- Where do they rank in Google (for the keywords that you are ranking for, or want to rank for)?
- Which publications have they been featured in before?
- Do they have videos on-site, or a YouTube channel?
3. Business financials
- How many shareholders do your competitors have?
- When do your competitors file their accounts?
- What was their turnover for the last financial year?
- Has the turnover improved year-on-year?
- Do their assets outweigh their liabilities?
Company Check credit reports can help you to assess your competitors’ financials. The Credit Risk Score feature also calculates how likely a business is to become insolvent in the next 12 months, from 0-100.
This exercise alone may help you to identify where you are falling short – for example, you might not have a blog or news section on your website or an up-to-date social media profile (both easily fixable).
What else can I do to help with my competitor research?
Here are a few additional ideas to help with your competitor research:
Shop them yourself
Reading about a company is important but you need to get a feel for them too – and what better way to do this than to visit or buy something from them yourself? If you’re doing this online make a note of the overall customer experience – how easy was it to find the products you wanted? How easy was it to move through the checkout process? What payment choices did they offer? If you’re visiting a physical location then it’s particularly important to pay attention to store environment, prices and special offers and customer service.
Ask your customers
Asking for honest feedback is vital for any business, and it is not just useful for competitor research. You may decide to do this via email, or through customer interviews or focus groups if you value face-to-face contact more. If you have a budget and would like to target both customers and prospective customers it may be worth running a one-day survey on YouGov, for both quantitative and qualitative data.
Hire a professional
There are many market research companies out there that will help you understand what your customers think and what they want. This will enable you to maintain a competitive edge and ensure your business objectives are being met. Many of them specialise in a number of different sectors, and offer methodologies including: focus groups, in-depth interviews, face-to-face interviews, telephone studies, online research and workshops.