When was the last time you asked, “Who are my competitors?” or conducted a full-fledged competitive audit? If you’re like many companies, it’s been a while… and by a while, we mean it’s been since “Saved by the Bell” was airing new episodes. Okay, so maybe your competitor research is a tiny bit rusty. But does it even matter, you might ask?
Yes, it does (bet you thought we’d say that). But really, understanding who your competitors are, how you’re different from them and how they’re speaking to their target audience (who is likely also your target audience) is very important. Here’s what you need to know about competitive audits and keeping tabs on your industry competitors.
Sometimes, even the best marketers pretend to ignore their competitors because they know their own products or services are far superior. It’s the old “our quality beats yours every time so we don’t have to even think about you” mentality (that’s a thing, right?). But there’s one problem with this school of thought – your customers and potential customers won’t have any way to know what you know. They’re not industry insiders, and they certainly won’t know your differentiators just by taking a quick browse online.
Here’s the bad news: Buyers often go to whichever company’s website shows up first (or second or third) when they’re searching for a solution. And then they buy from them. So even if you know that Competitor McCareless is the worst online education provider in the entire world (universe?), and your courses and instructors are leaps and bounds better, they’ll get the lion’s share of your shared ideal audience simply because they beat you in search rankings. Talk about unfair. But, keep reading. It’ll get better, we promise.
Here’s what to do. First, go to your customers. Ask them how they search online and try searching in Google using the keywords they give you. Then put yourself in your customers’ shoes and search online using additional keywords you think make sense for that type of consumer. The companies that show up in this search are your competitors. But they are not to be feared (or dismissed)! No, they are to be audited.
Even though we just painted a picture of doom and gloom thanks to search rankings, consumers are smart. Most will do their research before buying, so bad reviews or poor pricing can still turn away potential buyers even if their website shows up first in a Google search. What’s more, a competitive audit can help you figure out how to set your company apart from these other brands by spending time seeing how they message their offerings, and where they advertise. So even though search is important, it’s not the only thing that matters.
Now that you have a list of likely competitors, become their biggest fan. Well, maybe not quite, but take the actions that a new customer or raving fan might take if they just got exposed to each brand. Sign up for their newsletters, follow them on social media, and make sure someone on your team is reviewing all the top competitors’ sites and press pages every four to six months. Oh, and don’t use a company email address for all of this. It’s perfectly ethical (and beneficial) to do competitor research, but having your company email pop up over and over again on a competitor’s site can look a little… well… stalker-y.
In any case, your sales and marketing teams need to be aware of how competitors tell their story so you can make sure you are coming across differently – and, of course, better. Regularly conducting a competitive audit can give you insight into whether your competitors have won any awards, or are participating in conferences that you should be attending – and so forth. This may spur some ideas for improvement, or help you identify gaps in your marketing and sales.
Even though it might sound fun, it’s not in anyone’s best interest to ignore your competitors forever. Instead, make competitive research a habit – and seek to learn from what you discover. Wondering how to set yourself apart from your competitors even further? We can help. Give us a call!