Why you should make a Competitive Landscape Analysis a regular part of your marketing plan.

Imagine you’re driving down the highway. How often do you look in the rearview mirror? Sure, you don’t want to look too often, or you’ll end up in an accident. But if you never check, you may find yourself blindsided by a vehicle overtaking you in the fast lane while you were nodding at the wheel.

The purpose of our initial Competitive Landscape Analysis (CLA), which we recommend to clients at the onset of any major development or marketing project, is one of reconnaissance. It is a discovery tool both for us and our clients, where we learn more about their industry and they learn more about their competition. The CLA also establishes a baseline: with it in hand, we are better able to design websites and marketing campaigns that are based on trackable, quantifiable data.

But one CLA won’t last forever. Like any metrics report, it gives us a glimpse into the data at a fixed point. And that data changes quickly, evolving over the course of the year—and even over the course of a study.

So, how often shouldyou do a CLA? While the exact needs will vary for each business, we recommend once a year. Here’s three reasons why.

1. Your competition is a moving target.

It’s a huge confidence boost for many of our clients to see where their competition is and realize that, once their new website is launched or their marketing program kicks into gear, they’ll quickly outpace their nearest rivals.

However, there’s also a danger in thinking that the competition will stay where they are. In reality, your competition is also evolving. In fact, if I’m looking at twenty websites in a CLA, odds are that at least one of those websites will have changed by the time I finish and present my results. I’ve even had websites change and update while I was trying to analyze them.

The first CLA sets the groundwork, but subsequent CLAs can help you understand the rate of change. Maybe the competitor who had the worst website in our first CLA has since updated theirs and moved into the Aspirational group? Maybe 20% of your competitors changed their web designs over the last year? Maybe 80% of them did? You won’t know if you’re not looking.

2. Your own marketing plans change over time.

Here’s another thought: we work closely with our clients so that we can learn what their seasonal marketing cycle is like, what the busy seasons and dry spells might be, when their major conferences and sales events land, etc. Often, that puts us in a monthly-to-quarterly rhythm, where we might sketch out a year of ideas, but focus on execution of deliverables.

Over the course of that process, the marketing plan shifts and bends to accommodate unexpected hurdles and opportunities. Maybe we discovered a new demographic to target, or realized one of our target audiences isn’t as interested as we thought they would be. Good marketing plans should adjust based on client and user feedback.

But after a year of maneuvering, we may find ourselves in a very different place from where we expected to be the year earlier—even if it’s an unexpectedly good place. This is what a regular CLA is intended to control. You don’t need to worry that taking a detour will land you in the weeds if you bring a compass (or, to bring this metaphor into the modern age—a GPS). Similarly, you can adjust your marketing plan with greater confidence if you have a designated check-in point to help you reassess your plan.

3. Repeated CLAs reflect your company’s progress and highlight shifting industry trends.

Finally, a regular CLA is a fantastic way to mark your own organization’s growth, as well as to track developments among your competition. Whereas the first CLA is usually a wake-up call for many businesses, helping them see exactly how much they must improve to maintain their competitive edge, subsequent CLAs offer businesses some well-earned confidence that the decisions they’ve made in developing their website and marketing strategies have paid off.

CLAs also help businesses who want to be early adaptors to changes in their industry—or who want to know what who the early adaptors are, so they can keep an eye on them and see whether those strategies paid off or not. Instead of playing catch-up, CLAs help businesses stay on their game.

Annual CLAs provide the year-over insights that keep your company on track.

Because the competitive landscape changes so rapidly, it’s important to keep your finger on the pulse. A single CLA orients you within the landscape, but conducting them regularly provides your business with new data points which they can use to triangulate their position within that landscape, find their bearings, and move their company forward in the right direction.

So instead of treating your CLA as a once-and-done project, plan to run them once a year, or before any major marketing project or brand overhaul. Time them for a slow point in your near when you have time to think ahead, and do them enough in advance of your crunch period that you can use the insights to plan your strategy.

No businesses thrives on navel gazing. So take a step back and look at what your competition is up to. There’s a lot to learn.

Published 05/16/19 by Laura Lynch