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How to Monitor Your Competitors

I spent the other night curled on my couch watching Mean Girls and eating a big bowl of chocolate peanut butter ice cream. (Yes, I know. Be jealous.)

Now, if you’ve seen the movie, you know it’s jam-packed with gossip, rumors, feuding and backstabbing among cliques of high school girls. And, that these same girls often go to extreme lengths to one-up their enemies. Because of this, it got me thinking about enemies (or in a business context —competitors), and what your relationship with them should be.

Mean Girls

Overall, I think the soundest strategy is to think like Chinese general and military strategist Sun-tzu who once said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

With this strategy, you are aware of your competitors and what they are doing; therefore, you know what to expect. This inside look into your competitors helps you better position yourself to attract customers by enabling you to emulate their best practices while capitalizing on their weaknesses.

With this being said, it’s important to do a thorough background check on your competitors and then to continue monitoring them regularly. Here are some strategies we use at PR 20/20 when performing competitor analyses for our clients.

Give Your Competitors a Background Check

Know your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as well as you know your own. With the Internet, competitor background checks are easier than ever before. Here’s some suggestions to get you started:

  • Analyze your competitors’ Websites. What works well? What doesn’t? Are there aspects of their sites that you could incorporate into your own (i.e. blog, product directory, store locator, etc.)? How can you make your site stand out from others?
  • Find out who their customers are and what they are saying. Monitor review sites, forums and social networking sites to see what their customers like and dislike. What problems do customers face with your competitors’ solutions? Can your product or service fix those problems? How can you differentiate yourself?
  • Read any information your competitor publishes, including case studies, whitepapers, press releases, etc.
  • Research your competitors’ site performance. How do they rank for specific keywords? What words do they seem to be targeting? From whom are they getting inbound links? Is there an opportunity to get the same links?
  • Keep a database of competitor media coverage. Who is covering them? What are they saying? Is there an opportunity for you to contribute?

Continue Monitoring Competitors Regularly

Once you’re familiar with your competitors’ background information, make sure to stay up-to-date on their activities. By always knowing what they are doing, you can better position your company among them. Following are some ways to do this:

  • Sign up for the RSS feeds for your competitors’ blogs and/or media rooms, as well as any online newsletters they may have.
  • If your competitors hold online events, such as Webinars, make sure to participate.
  • Set up Google News Alerts for your competitors’ names and products or include competitor names in monitoring tools like Radian 6 or Scout Labs. Find instances where people are talking about them online in media or blog mentions. Read them.
  • Find competitors on social networking sites. Follow them on Twitter. Fan them on Facebook. Read their LinkedIn profiles. Know what type of content they are publishing and how their connections react.

Differentiate Yourself

By doing initial background research and then continually monitoring your competitors, you will begin to see what works and what doesn’t. Learn from your competitors. Emulate the tactics they use that find success, while improving on their weaknesses. Identify your key differentiators and then plan your strategy and messaging around that. In doing so, you’ll help your organization stand out.

Don’t Forget About Disruptive Innovation

Remember that all the competitive intelligence in the world doesn’t help if you don’t innovate. Don’t be afraid to do something different and take a chance, it might help you execute and adapt faster than your competitors.

Your Thoughts?

In what ways do you monitor your competitors? Share with me the benefits of doing so.

Tracy DiMarino is an associate consultant at PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency and PR firm. Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDiMarino.

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Photo Credit: Pink Rocker

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