Competitors are meant for “competition”. How can you possibly learn how to improve your own business from them? If it sounds counter intuitive, wait till we explain.
We’re not asking you to learn about their trade secrets, fit a mole inside their boardrooms or practice corporate espionage, which was actually quite popular till the 1980s. We’re also not trying to encourage you to follow in the footsteps of Baron Abel Rosnovski and mastermind hostile boardroom takeovers.
Today, you have access to various types of advanced software that can be used to analyse the business decisions of your competitors. Also, to ensure that business rivals don’t have unfair advantage over each other, many advanced and developing nations have put in place statutory bodies or watch dogs such as the Competition Commission of India.
To earn goodwill and to project a positive image, many businesses voluntarily make certain aspects of their decisions and important reports public.
So, to be fair, you can gather information about your immediate competitors or those who’re tangentially linked to your business, in a number of legitimate ways. But, the important question is – what will you do with the information? Let’s see.
Planning to explore a new market or do the A/B testing of a new online marketing model? Well, if you’re the pioneer, you may not have much data to fall back on. If not, you can certainly use the data from your competitors to scrutinise the soundness of your decision.
This reduces loss of resources and time. You’re also much more sure footed in your approach and can use the work already done by competitors to test new approaches and policies. You can not only try and emulate , online marketing, content marketing, product development, and customer engagement, but also try and take a leaf out of their book on business culture or corporate ethics.
The simple logic is, if something has worked for “them”, it will probably work for “you”, too.
1. Use your competitors to find your niche. Unless you’re lucky enough to be the first in a market to manufacture/sell something as generic and common as cola or buns, there is a very real threat that you’ll perish in a world of “me too” products.
First, identify your customers and competitors. If you see that certain demographic segments in the market are already overcrowded, try and find yourself a niche. Study the marketing tools and strategies that your competitors have used to become dominant forces in certain segments or push down their competitors. While you can certainly test their strategies, don’t adopt them without research and analysis. Ultimately, to stand out, you’ll have to find your own formula.
If something has worked for them or hasn’t, you can test it out and find a way to fit it into your own scheme of things. It’s similar to reverse engineering where you know the effectiveness of a finished product. You’ll have to find a way to give it a unique touch and make it your own.
2. If a certain brand imaging or publicity stunt has worked in the past, it might work again. To stand out, you’ll have to unwrap your own brand persona. But, sometimes it might be difficult to know where exactly to start. By carefully studying the branding efforts of your competitors, you might know what will work in a particular market and what will not. You can also allocate a percentage of the amount your competitor spends on marketing in your own budget or even try to outshine them, if you think that your business has the bandwidth.
While market research reports and surveys might help you understand the nuances of competitor strategies in conventional marketing, , SimilarWeb, MailChimp, SEMRush, Ahrefs, BuzzSumo and other similar online tools to understand where your competitors are getting their traffic and conversions from. Also, don’t forget to check the techniques your competitors use to create brand awareness and marketing blitzkrieg for particular products.
3. Has your competitor nailed the question of customer preferences? Use it to your advantage. Customer engagement is one of the most important contributors to brand success and visibility, especially in the B2C domain. Getting to know the likes and dislikes of potential customers isn’t easy. Try to identify and analyse the customer touchpoints and engagement strategies that your immediate competitors use. Here are some of the specifics that you may want to look at:
Even if you don’t follow these to the T, you can certainly use them as indicators to create your own campaigns and improve the customer perceptions about your brand.
4. If you can’t price it right, you may have to pay the price. Out of the 5 Ps of marketing, pricing is arguably the most important. There have been innumerable case studies of businesses ceding their market share or opportunity to take the numero uno position to their rivals, simply because they couldn’t price their products right.
By studying the pricing policies of your competitors, you can understand if your own pricing will work or not. Don’t try to underprice your product to beat your rivals. Simply, take it is as a base. Skimming or penetration pricing may not work always, especially if you don’t have the first-mover advantage.
Don’t be irrational at any point. Check a competitor price to understand what works and what doesn’t work. You may also launch a survey to understand the customer pulse. Do they agree that they’re getting value for money with the deals available? Do they expect more from the product for the price they pay? You may also use it as an opportunity to educate the market and tell them how your product can fulfil their expectations, even if the price is slightly higher.
5. If your pricing is the king, your product is the kingmaker: It’s true that the right pricing can take you a long way. But, you can’t make a less-than-desirable product work even with underpricing. Therefore, the quality and effectiveness of your product/service will ultimately help you sell.
Here are some of the important things that you can learn from your competitors before you design/market your product:
Go back to the market as many times as you deem necessary before you launch a product that you hope the market embraces with open arms. Make sure that they’re ready for it. If certain strategies used by your competitors have failed, you may not want to try them.
You can learn about man-management and employee-retention skills from your competitors. Find out why a company has managed to hold on to the best minds or why it is failing. Is it the salary? Is it the work environment? Or, is it the challenge to do something new every day? How can you adopt and modify these strategies to provide a fulfilling experience to your own employees?
Ultimately, it’s about creating a unique brand perception. Retention rates and loyalty will show a positive jump only if your customers see value in your products. Don’t just imitate your competitors. Be original and unique in your approach, even when you let them do the heavy lifting at times.
It is often said – “Keep your friend close. Keep your enemy closer.” A sneak peek into their world can do a world of difference to your business.