young woman with dyed hair conducting competitor marketing research in front of a computer

Create a snapshot of your competition’s marketing strategy in 4 steps.

You’re thinking about launching some new initiative to improve your marketing. Maybe you’re finally ready to start blogging, or you’ve decided it’s finally time to update your website. You have some idea for what you’d like to do, but you’re not sure what the industry standard is these days. Will your idea be out of place? Or is it ahead of the curve?

One way to get a quick answer is to set aside a few hours to do some competitor marketing research. What we’re proposing isn’t a complex process—after all, you don’t want to blow your entire project budget on background research. But it should give you a glimpse of where your competition is at, and help you make a better-informed decision.

1. Know who your competitors are.

You probably know some of your competition. You see their ads, or you hear them mentioned when you both bid for the same project. But there are probably a few out there you’ve missed simply because they’re new, or they don’t have as big an advertising budget, or they’re just slightly outside your area.

Start off your research by compiling a list of your competition. Open your browser in a hidden mode so that your personal search history doesn’t affect your results. Then start googling your own keywords and see what comes up. Try to pull together a healthy dozen names of business whose market overlaps yours. The more you add to this list, the more reliable your results will be.

2. What do you want to know?

Once you have your list, open each company’s website in its own tab. Now ask yourself what information is most important to you. Keep in mind, this is marketing research. So think about all the different ways they market themselves, and zero in on the most relevant aspects.

Maybe you’re interested in social media. Look to see what channels your competitors are using, how many of them contain active content, what the size of their following is, and how frequently they post. Or maybe you’re thinking about starting an email mailing list. See how your competitors describe theirs. How often do they send updates? What do they offer their subscribers?

Remember that each data point you include adds time to your project. For a dozen competitors, another dozen data points can easily take a few days to assemble and analyze. Our own research process is more thorough, so we budget about an hour per website to gather, compile, and analyze information. So, if you have only a small project, the easiest way to stay in scope is to limit your data set. If you’re looking for a more comprehensive picture, budget your time accordingly.

3. Keep an eye out for outliers.

Some of the most important discoveries you make when doing a quick research project like this will come from positive outliers. One person might have a particularly clever social media strategy, or another might have an unusual piece of downloadable content to entice email subscribers. Or, you may notice a new, creative way of presenting content on a website. They may come from the same website, or from separate sources, but either way, set them aside for a close look.

We assume that you’ll eventually want to present the results of your research to someone. You could want it to present to your board, or possibly as evidence to support budget approval. Or maybe you want to share it with your marketing team or your web design partners. When you assemble your presentation, your outliers will help stimulate discussion and draw attention to what you think is most important about your competition’s marketing strategy.

4. Compile your findings.

As you go, keep notes about what you discover for each website. Keep your data points simple so they’re easy to record in a spreadsheet. As you do your research, you might find extra questions to add to your data set. However you choose to include this data, make sure you to back and check each website for it.

At this point, you should have a neat spreadsheet with each data category in a column, and each of your competitors in a row. Compile your results and see if you can spot any trends. This isn’t a comprehensive piece of research by any means, but it should give you a reasonable snap shot of how your competitors are marketing themselves.

Competitor marketing research is a landscape, not a path.

As we said in our last post on competitor analysis, knowing what your competition is up to shouldn’t dictate your own strategy. Bear in mind that your competitors may have slightly different target audiences than you do. Or you may have a better idea that will get you closer to the results you need.

Either way, use your competitor marketing research like a map. It delineates terrain, but it does not tell you where to travel. That decision is up to you.

Published 12/30/16 by Laura Lynch