In business it’s great to have your own direction; after all it’s all the little things that make us different that helps to build a unique brand and allows us to stand out from the crowds. However, blindly driving your vision forwards without an understanding of our competitors and their current activities, certainly isn’t recommended. It takes hard work and sheer determination to forge a name for your business. Only by keeping tabs on who else is out there and monitoring what they’re up to do you have any real hope of maintaining that position.
Here are a few steps to help you on your way to an effective competitor monitoring strategy:
The initial thing to do, and the most obvious, is to identify your key competitors. Focus on your top five to start with, unless you feel there are more contenders that you need to keep an eye on. The key is to make your list manageable – too long a list and you run the risk of not having enough time to monitor it effectively.
Hopefully you’ll have a good idea of who they are anyway but this is a good exercise to push you to think outside of the box a little. Bear in mind our most influential competitors aren’t always the most likely suspects and they may not even be in the same industry. Instead of thinking: “if a person doesn’t buy my product who will they get it from”, consider: “if they don’t buy my product what else might they spend that money on”. The competition may be an entirely different product or service. For example a car dealership’s main competitors will most likely be other dealerships, however it could also be a holiday company.
Now you have your list it’s time to start looking at what your competitors do. Your analysis at this stage should be top level and answer the following questions:
- What are their products and/or services?
- Who are their customers?
- How do they market themselves?
- How do they talk to their customers?
- What channels do they use to talk to their customers?
- What are they doing well and what are they not so good at?
All this information can be gleaned from channels such as their website, blogs, social media accounts, brochures, newsletters and review sites. The internet has certainly made it much easier for spying! Also, if they have something to subscribe to, make sure you’re on that list.
You know who they are and you know the basics about them, now it’s time to start routinely tracking their activities. Monitor their social media posts daily, read their newsletters and blogs, check out the trade press for new launches.
News clipping subscription services, such as PR Newswire, can be a great choice for fast-paced industries and you’ll receive daily emails containing news clippings on all your predetermined search words. This can save a great deal of time trawling the internet and papers for competitor news.
Alternatively, set up some Google alerts so that you are notified of any new content across the internet that includes your search terms. You can set these up to be the names of your competitors, products or anything you like and it won’t cost you a thing!
Try your hardest to learn about new launches before they happen and before your customers catch wind. This makes it much easier to be proactive rather than reactive. If your competitors are limited companies you can find out this type of information on the investor pages of their website.
New entrants to the market should be identified as soon as possible so it makes good business sense to schedule a regular evaluation of your watch list. Just because a new entrant is significantly smaller than your business it doesn’t mean they’re not a threat. Small businesses, and particularly completely new entrants, benefit from a combination of agility, energy and drive fuelled by passionate owners, and most probably have been watching you from afar for a long time. They’ll no doubt have lots of new ideas so keep a watchful eye on their progress and activities. You could learn a lot from them!
We have a lot to learn from our competitors, and best of all we can learn from their mistakes. The key to competitor monitoring though, is not to let it alter your fundamental business vision and values. Use the information to learn and be informed of the market around you and use this knowledge to make your business better.
Here’s a quote to leave you with:
“You can’t look at the competition and say you’re going to do it better. You have to look at the competition and say you’re going to do it differently” Steve Jobs.