It’s not always easy to admit that our opponents are better than us, even if it’s glaringly obvious. Overcoming our pride and opening ourselves to a little learning can be a challenge, but doing so is essential to survival in a competitive marketplace. Being willing to set your pride aside, build a data-driven analysis of your competition, implement their strategy, and track your progress will ensure that your shortcomings are short lived.
Self-knowledge is a powerful tool, but confronting our shortcomings can be difficult for even the most confident among us. For many companies, the countless man-hours spent pouring effort into a marketing plan or content schedule can be hard to swallow if that time yields little in the way of results, but accepting your situation is the first step in understanding your competition.
Begin by eschewing your ego for cool observation. Where do your analytics fall short? By how much? What are your goals? How far are you from meeting them? Lean on your analytics and refuse to sugar coat the hard truth, as doing so prevents meaningful introspection. Now look at your competition. What does their social media community look like? What kind of engagement do their blog posts see? How do their prices compare to yours? Once again, stick to hard numbers and do not color the truth in any way.
This approach carries two advantages. First of all, it allows your company to evaluate its successes from an objective viewpoint, circumventing emotional roadblocks and the invariable detriment of pride. Second, it allows you to view things as they are, instead of as you wish them to be, creating a foundation for accurate and actionable insight.
Numbers aren’t the only source of objective insight when evaluating your competition. Current and previous customers can provide a bevy of information, provided your relationship with them enables this sort of interaction. Simply ask questions such as, “What do you like about our competitors?”, “What do you believe their strengths are?” and so forth. This adds a counter-balancing element to your assessment that also provides the necessary subjective interpretation that all business must contend with in order to find success.
With a humble demeanor and objective approach, it’s time to evaluate your competition the old fashioned way: research. Leverage the insights gleaned from your customers and target specific aspects of their operations, product, or marketing that demonstrate particular strength. Posit hypotheses to test against and then take notes and collect data in order to better understand what’s going on.
Let’s take a fictitious example to illustrate the approach. Your company sees little to no audience interaction on its social media pages, while your competition has a bountiful following and a community of loyal users willing to shout their enthusiasm from the rooftops. You notice from a cursory viewing of their social media that video is heavily emphasized. You build the hypothesis that their video strategy is building engagement, collect data, noting that the number of comments on video posts are much higher than on their other social posts, and confirm your theory.
Once you have data in hand from a number of tested hypotheses, it’s time to determine what you’ve learned. Gather the data drawn from successful testing and adjust failed tests to fit the collected data until a direct correlation is discovered. Collect the resulting information and sit down to the metaphorical drawing board.
What have you learned from your observational testing? What theories proved to be true? What differences exist between their operations and yours? How does their audience differ from yours? What else have you learned?
Use the data you’ve collected to build a body of useful insights. Ensure that you’re asking the right questions by aiming for aspects of their execution that your business can emulate. Avoid dead-end queries such as, “Why don’t our customers use social media as much as theirs?” Instead, look at the hard information and draw conclusions about their approach and the results based on what’s available. Doing so will ensure that the discovery that occurs is data-driven and, therefore, actionable.
With a thorough understanding of your competition’s strategy, it’s time to implement what you’ve learned. Take the insights gleaned from the previous step and build action plans around what was discovered. Adjust product development, ad tone, content strategy, and market positioning in order to leverage your newfound knowledge in a way that’s uniquely useful to your firm.
The key aspect of this implementation lies in understanding that no one approach is universally successful; that attempting to directly copy the strategies of competitors is a recipe for failure. Instead, evaluate what works for your competition on a strategic level and adapt it to your business’s individual circumstances. In doing so, you’ll harness the best that your rivals have to offer without compromising the character and integrity of your own.
With your strategy in place, the last step that remains is to evaluate the effectiveness of your new plan. Regularly measure crucial metrics and determine where improvements or changes could be made. Compare your own results with those of your competitors and, if your numbers fall short, consider what you may be doing wrong, what they may be doing better, and what about your disparate circumstances may be fueling the gap.
It’s important to remember as your plan initially unfolds, that patience is paramount to objectively evaluating your results. With any change, there’s the potential for both drop-off in results as previously successful methods are altered, and over-adjustment to your method born of worry. Give your plan time to take shape, make adjustments once sufficient data is available to guide the change, and keep a level head at all times.
Sometimes your greatest asset in a competitive market is the competition itself. With a cool head and an intelligent approach, your team can determine what makes your biggest rivals tick, distill their strategy, implement it in your own firm, and turn it into a competitive advantage. Acknowledge your strengths and your weaknesses, and your business will be stronger for the effort.