Monitoring Your Online Competition Can Make You a Better Marketer
Guest Post by Rachel Baker
Effective businesses are experts in their field, knowing the needs of their customers and the value of their products in filling that need. However, the truly successful businesses are those that also understand how they compare against their strongest competitors. Monitoring your online competition can sound intimidating or controversial, but it is truly one of the best ways to track trends in your industry and ensure that your business is staying abreast of changes and customer desires.
You can effectively learn to monitor your online competition by viewing it not as a stealth mission, but as a meeting of the minds. After all, both your company and your competitor’s company probably claim to be among the best in your field; by engaging your competitor in a discussion, you are displaying openness and transparency, demonstrating your subject matter expertise and showing a willingness to collaborate for the benefit of your customers. These traits will help to strengthen your customers’ trust in you as a business, which in turn makes those clients more likely to recall your business and contact you directly when in need.
You do not have to present a guerilla-style attack on your competitors in order to engage with them. In fact, taking such actions will do more harm than good. Perhaps the best way to begin is to take passive steps in learning about your competitors. Recommended first steps may include the following:
Sign up for their newsletter
Follow their Facebook and other social media accounts
Read their blog and set up notifications when new articles are posted
Spend some time looking through their website
With these first steps, you will have a solid grasp of how your competitor’s company portrays itself, how frequently they contact their customers, and through what channels they interact with consumers. Some follow-up questions to apply to your own business are:
Is our own key messaging consistent and clear? How similar is it to our competitor’s language?
Does our website give users a positive experience? What does our website provide that our competitor’s doesn’t, and what can we take away from our visit to their website?
As a subscriber to the competitor’s newsletter and social media accounts, how do I feel about the frequency and tone of the communications they send? How does this affect thoughts about our own business’s marketing strategy?
Is our blog kept current and interesting? An active blog presents you as an engaged leader, while a stagnant or uninteresting blog gives the impression of a business that is behind the times, and can actually do harm to your business and reputation. Does your blog engage readers? Do you even need to devote resources to a blog at all?
Once you have glimpsed your own online presence with fresh eyes, you can wade further into the reputations of your business and your competitor’s company. Here are some next-level actions that will help to inform your own business’s strategy:
Check out reviews of your business on Yelp and social media sites.
Read the reviews of your products on Amazon and other sales sites.
Set up a notification alert when your business is mentioned online.
Compare your research against the results of your competitor. What can you learn about how customers are perceiving, using and talking about your products and services? How can you improve the customer service experience at your company?
Your customers want to work with a business that cares about them and is clearly willing to go beyond expectations. One of the most effective ways to build that trust is by being transparent in your community, and treating your competitors with the same amount of respect you show your clients. Here are some ways to do that:
Don’t try to hide your business affiliation; one way is to show your pride in your company by signing up for newsletters using your work email address.
Give respect where it’s due. If your competitor wins an award, perhaps you could congratulate them with a brief, handwritten note or email.
Never write disparaging reviews of or snide remarks about your competitors. However, a compliment on one of their Facebook posts, for example, is a friendly and classy gesture.
Be open to ways in which you may be able to collaborate with or learn from others in your industry. If you can set aside competitive attitudes to share your company findings or participate in an industry workshop, you will further reinforce the professionalism and reputation of your business. The opportunities for growth are myriad.
Be the Value
You know your products are good. After all, you’re staking your business on that fact.
And if your marketing, sales and service teams have the training and resources they need, then that word is spreading within your community. However, the most valuable sales resource you have is current customers; between repeat business and word of mouth referrals, you can establish a solid base of loyal, happy clients. The best way to retain these clients is not only on the showroom floor; by consistently demonstrating the value of both your products and your business in meeting the customers’ needs fairly and efficiently, you will reinforce your business as the most competent and effective option.
You can also be more direct in demonstrating your products’ value. Pinpoint the differences and strengths that make your products unique from your competitor’s, and incorporate that uniqueness into your marketing. Perhaps it’s even worth considering a physical comparison—place your product next to a competitor product on the showroom floor, and encourage your customers to test and compare the products.
Furthermore, you are an ambassador of your company; act graciously and sincerely, and your esteem will come to be reflected in your business’s reputation.
It is possible to monitor your competition in a way that won’t feel sleazy, and can actually benefit your business, your customers and your community in multiple ways. Consider these suggestions when monitoring your online competition, and you will see improvements in many aspects of your business.
Rachel Baker writes about marketing, social justice issues and climate change. In addition to helping universities and nonprofits strengthen their communications, Rachel performs freelance work in copywriting and web design for small businesses. She gets excited about Photoshop projects, website analytics, food and big ideas. Rachel is a recent transplant to Pittsburgh. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.