Whether you are starting up a new company and writing your business plan, or just updating your current marketing strategy, a detailed competition analysis is essential. Knowing how your competitors think, operate, and try to take your customers are key elements that can give you an edge in maintaining your market share.
However, researching your competition isn't always easy. You can't simply walk into their CEO's office and ask how they do things. It takes stealth, cunning, and perhaps even a bit of covert research to get the data you need to make a sound analysis and form your own strategies.
To help you keep up with the competition, we've assembled 9 ways you can keep tabs and gather data. Here they are:
There is no doubt that you can glean a boatload of information with a few detailed searches on Google. Set up Google Alerts to notify you when your competition is mentioned online by name as well.
However, be careful and monitor how much time you spend on Google. There is a common tendency to get "lost" in online research and find that hours have gone by. Look for the "nuggets" of information, but avoid getting sidetracked. After all, you have your core business to focus on!
The trades in your industry will often highlight certain and specific businesses. Keep a regular subscription to the trades of your industry. Look for articles and highlights of companies and trends that could affect your marketing strategy.
This is a great way to get first-hand demonstrations on your competition. Walk around and collect brochures, marketing papers, white papers, and even samples. You can find out a lot about how much care your competition takes to market to their customers and promote their products or services.
It is likely you and your competition use the same ones to obtain supplies and inventory. There is harm to talk to your suppliers, and it is completely ethical to ask common distributors and suppliers about your competition. Now, whether it is ethical for them to answer is another question.
However, you may find that some delivery drivers and account managers are free with their information. They could provide insight into how much and how often materials are ordered and even if they obtain special discounts.
If your competition has a social network presence, keep tabs on it. You don't have to "follow" your competition through your own business accounts. Instead, create "covert" accounts specifically for the purpose of following the competition. This could give you insight on how they offer special sales and deals to their social followers.
You should be asking your own customers about how you are doing. This type of information from your own customers can be revealing how often a customer shops at your business compared to the competition down the street.
Don't be shy about shopping at the competition. Eat at their restaurant. Buy a batch of their home building supplies. Get your hair done there. Whatever the case, doing actual shopping as a "mystery shopper" will help you see how they spend money and effort on interior/exterior design, customer service, quality of product/service, etc.
While your competition may naturally seem like the enemy, why not try to befriend your fellow industry business owner? You may find you have a lot in common. And who knows, you may both find you can swap insights to help each other out mutually. A "friendly" competition could even be healthy and more motivational when you have more respect for your fellow business owner.
No matter what tips you take from here or elsewhere to study up on the competition, you should always make a habit of keeping your research ongoing. Review data every few months or at least every year. The better you know your competition, the more you know how to match and even beat their efforts to attract customers.