While there’s real truth to the idea that if you stay focused on doing content marketing well, there’s no reason to worry about what anyone else is doing. But that overlooks the fact that operating in a vacuum — or an echo chamber — poses its own risks. With that in mind, I’ll offer thoughts on how to use competitive research to keep tabs on your competition and the marketplace.
What Kind of Competitive Research Should I Do?
Competitive research is an idea that covers a lot of ground and there are many tactics that fall under the competitive research umbrella. So how do you know whether to examine competitors’ social media presence? Their website? Publications? Tradeshow and webinar activity? The list is as endless as the marketing tactics in your industry and most of us simply don’t have the resources to tackle them all.
Rather than spreading yourself too thin, I recommend that you focus on two things:
- The marketing channel or method most important to your business
- The marketing channel or method most productive to your competitors
The first is easy enough to define and should guide your tactical decisions. (More on this in the next section.) The second may take some thought, research, and even a bit of guesswork on your part. Even with that uncertainty, the information you can gain is worth the grain of salt with which you’ll need to take it.
The easiest path is to determining where a competitor is most effective is to see where they are most active. If it’s important to their marketing, they’re likely to be participating actively and on a regular schedule.
That said, without solid knowledge of their operation, you can’t know how tight a marketing ship they might run. Activity doesn’t always mean effectiveness. In fact, it can simply be a comfort zone that they’re unwilling or unable to push beyond. Bear that in mind and look a little deeper at the quality of their work in a given channel and not just the quantity.
How Should I Do the Research?
With so many different potential areas to research, there are lots of tactical options. Begin by eavesdropping. Not 1940s-private-eye style, with your ear pressed to the wall, but by subscribing to your competitors’ email newsletters and blog feeds, and by attending webinars and other events.
Follow them on social media and monitor not only the content they produce, but the conversations they engage in with prospects, clients, and others.
Track their publications. Note what they’re writing about, who they seem to be addressing, and what formats they are publishing in.
This is an area where keeping up with the Jones really does matter. You may not be comfortable, say, producing video, but if that’s what your audience has come to expect because that’s what your competitors are producing, you need to either follow along or create a truly compelling alternative.
You can make your task easier by using alert services to help you track a competitor’s activity. Google Alerts, BuzzSumo, and others are excellent for this. (And I’m happy to share more if you want to chat with me about your specific needs.)
There is also the entire world of SEO and PPC advertising, and tools to monitor these markets, that is worth diving into if it’s a primary driver for you or your competition.
What Should I Do With My Research
Once you’ve gathered data on your competitors, it’s time to act. But think, first.
That is, you may not need to do anything. You may already be “best in class,” in which case, you’ll need to look elsewhere for improvements in your marketing effectiveness.
But if there are areas where you’re not as creative, as engaged, or as engaging, you will want to consider your options.
One note of caution here: if you plan on adding more to your marketing mix, but don’t have the resources to do it well, reconsider. Make a case for adding the resources you need, or evaluate whether redeploying existing resources makes sense. Doing something new may get you more attention, but it’s not going to help you move the needle if not knocking it out of the park.
Strategies for Fragmented Industries
One last thought: You may feel that competitive research isn’t worthwhile because you work in a highly fragmented field. Without an easily defined group of competitors, is there any value in looking at a small (and probably not representative) sampling? Yes.
Researching competitors who aren’t necessarily competing against you directly won’t arm you with insights for outbidding them on your next project, but it will provide you with insights into how they differentiate themselves, what they do to appeal to prospects, and even cross-selling opportunities in areas you haven’t considered.