"Watch your competitors, but don't follow them."
- Arnold Hax
This weekend I was reading Inbound Marketing by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah (highly recommend!), and this quote from one of their professors at MIT jumped out at me. It quickly summed up my feelings about how B2B organizations should relate to their competitors.
I have a number of clients who are launching new business, and I am helping them draft the content for their websites. As part of this process, I always suggest doing a brief competitive analysis.
Truthfully, I've had mixed feelings about this type of analysis. On one hand, I don't think it is always useful to see what the competition is doing. You don't want to get stuck into thinking, "Well, the competition is doing this, so we should, too." As Hax succulently states, following the competition is a not a good idea.
Also, if you don't know specifically what you are looking for it is easy to start collecting data and run into "analysis paralysis." I can collect all sorts of data, but unless I frame it in a way that is useful for my client, it will be worthless.
Of course, there is an upside to competitive analysis as well: you need to have an understanding of what is going on in your market so you know what your prospects are experiencing. To stay focused, I concentrate on five key questions when reviewing the competition.
Is your product or service similar to what others are offering?
This may seem like an obvious question, but I have found that many new (or existing businesses) don't take the time to understand who is doing what they do. When I recently asked one client why his business was different, he responded, "We are the only ones doing this." Not surprisingly, when I started to search, I found companies who were doing the same thing. Competition certainly isn't bad (and in many cases it is favorable), but you need to understand who your primary competitors are so you can monitor them.
What makes you different?
If there were one question a competitive analysis should answer, this is it. You need t be able to take the data you collect to understand how exactly you are different. Prospects are looking for this kind of information, and you want to tell them instead of having them guess (or find out from your competition). If you can't answer this, how can you convince a prospect to do business with you?
When prospects search for information in your category, what are they finding?
I find the actual process of searching for competitors to be insightful as it gives me a window into what prospects are going through. Is it easy to find information on the competition? Are there certain keywords that bring up the competition? Are others standing out because of social media?
Are there any types of content that you need to have?
When looking at competitors, I often find that most have some type of content, be it a newsletter, a blog or something like that. While I don't think you should copy what the competition is doing, it does help to know if there is some kind of content that is necessary. For instance, all of your competitors offer a demo, it may make sense that you do the same.
What types of content can you offer that no one else is?
On the other hand, the thing I enjoy looking for is content that the competition isn't offering. As an example, when I was doing a competitive analysis for one of my clients, none of its competitors had an eBook on why this type of product is needed. Creating an eBook would be a great opportunity for them to stand out (i.e. if everyone is doing this, it's easy to get lost).
If you are looking for ideas on how to find the answers to these questions, check out the posts below.
Is this the kind of information you look for when doing a competitive analysis? What other questions do you try to answer?
- Using LinkedIn to Gather Industry Intelligence
- Do You Know Your Enemy? A Competitive Intelligence Primer
- How To Lay a Solid Foundation for Marketing Success
About the author: Michele Linn is a B2B content strategist who helps companies create content and think through how their B2B prospects will consume it (from registration to promotion). You can follow her on Twitter or read more of her posts on Savvy B2B.