By now, you’ve come across a lot of blog posts that provide a list of tools you can use to spy on your competition, including this excellent post on the GetResponse Blog. The tools are designed to provide you with detailed information, which is terrific. After all, the starting point for any competitive analysis is to have good data that you can use to win the battles with your competitors.
Where most people fall short, however, is when they confuse information with insights. Having information is great, but the real differentiator between brands that under-perform and brands that excel is that the brands that excel use their information to derive competitive insights.
So, with that in mind, here are some steps you can take to elevate your thinking to that of insights rather than just information.
Step 1: Broaden your definition of a competitor
When most people do a competitive analysis, they start by comparing what they’re doing to what their direct competitors are doing, but that’s a mistake. A better approach is to broaden the definition of who your competitors are. That way, you can get in a full and more robust picture of the competitive landscape.
For example, the graphic below highlights the competitive set for Starbucks. You’ll notice that Starbucks’ direct competitors include other coffee shops. From there, the competitive set expands into restaurants and cafés. After that, it encompasses coffee people buy at grocery stores. And it keeps going from there, until you realize that Starbucks coffee actually competes with everything and anything people drink to relax, recharge and reflect.
Step 2: Read the 10K filing in your direct competitor’s annual reports
This is one of my favorite digital secret weapons and it’s totally under-leveraged by most people I know. In many countries, publicly held corporations (companies that sell stock on a stock exchange) are required to file an annual report. Buried within that report is a seldom-read document that, in the United States, is called a 10K.
Many companies are required by law to provide detailed descriptions about their plans for operations, marketing, and sales in the upcoming year. It’s a goldmine of information that even includes that company’s perspectives on the threats and opportunities in the marketplace.
No matter what country you live in, and no matter what the specific name of the report is in your country, take the time to track down the information on publicly held companies. Once you do, you’ll realize that these companies have done a lot of your work for you – they even provide details on how much money they’re spending on their marketing budgets!
Step 3: Use digital tools to gather and compile data
As highlighted in Everything You Need to Know to Spy on Your Competition (the excellent blog post mentioned previously), there’re a variety of great tools you can use to gather data about your competitors. Here are a few of my favorites:
- BuzzSumo: This is a great tool to use if you want to find out which of your competitor’s blog posts have been getting the most traction. When you’re reviewing the list of greatest hits, try to find patterns in the content. In other words, try to see if there are groupings of posts that seemed to do better than others.
- SpyFu: If you want to find out what keywords your competitors are using in their paid search campaigns, then SpyFu is for you. You can search for any domain and collect competitive data about that company – every keyword they’ve bought on Adwords, every organic rank they have, and every ad variation in the past 10 years. Amazing stuff.
- SimilarWeb: There’s a ton of great data available for people using the SimilarWeb platform. I mean a ton. Just drop the URL for any of your competitors into their platform and you’ll get a graphically-rich and appealing presentation of data that you can use to derive insights about your competitors.
And here’s a bonus tool. This one isn’t necessarily good for doing a competitive analysis as much as it’s good for analyzing your own content.
- QuickSprout: Login to QuickSprout and give them access to your Google Analytics data. I know… giving someone else access to your Google Analytics data is scary! But Neil Patel (who runs QuickSprout) has a knack for providing excellent data in an easy-to-digest manner. Once you’ve taken the leap and allowed them to log in to your Google Analytics data, QuickSprout will provide you insights on how to give your content an extra push.
Step 4: Write all of your information down on a massive sheet of paper
We’re going old-school here by asking you to take digital data and transfer it to a large sheet of paper, but stay with me on this and you’ll see why this approach works like magic.
Ultimately, after you’ve collected your data, you’ll have a pile of information in front of you. The number one mistake people make when they’re gathering data is that they get so overwhelmed with the data that they can’t make sense of it all.
That’s where the large, poster board sized piece of paper comes in. (Side note: poster board paper is about 91 cm/36 inches x 61 cm/24 inches.) Take the poster board paper and start jotting down all the data and information you’ve compiled.
But don’t just jot it down. Instead, categorize it. By that, I mean that you should start grouping the findings from your various data sources into categories that are related to one anther.Here are some categories that I typically include in my competitive analyses:
- Industry Background
- Industry Trends
- Key Competitors
- Target Market Segments
- Keyword Phrases
- Geographic Footprint of Web Traffic
- Sales and Marketing Channels Used by Competitors
- Competitor’s Strengths and Weaknesses
- Innovative Marketing Approaches Used by Competitors
- Customer Journey Mapping
- Catch-All for Ideas Unrelated to Above Categories
Step 5: Connect the dots
As you compile all the information and data onto your big sheet of paper, you’ll start to notice pieces of data that are related. Here’s a great example from a competitive analysis I conducted recently. You’ll see in the SimilarWeb data below that a competitor had a big spike in their traffic during the month of July.
That’s a data point from one set of information, but by including it on the big sheet of paper, I suddenly noticed another set of data that helped me piece together why there was a big spike. Here’s a graphic from the other data that helped me see how the two pieces of data were interconnected:
I noticed that a lot of the traffic was coming from WinPrizesOnline.com and SweepsAdvantage.com. Once I connected the dots between the two sets of data, I realized that the big spike in traffic was as a result of a promotion that the company ran, not as a result of paid advertising, or better SEO.
If the data you collect is strewn all over the place on yellow stickies and PDFs and on Word documents, then you can’t always see how the data is connected. But by taking the data outlined above and dropping it onto a big pad of paper, I was able to connect the dots and see how some sets of data related to the others.
Wrapping it all up
We’ve covered a lot of ground here. We talked about how you should broaden your definition of a competitor; how you can use publicly available data to get insights into your competitor’s business; and how you can then connect the dots on all of the data you collected so that you derive actionable insights that can help you move forward.
All that said, the key idea I’d like you to remember is that doing a competitive analysis isn’t just about collecting data – it’s about deriving insights from that data that can help you as you move forward. By focusing on insights instead of information, you’ll be able to set your company apart from many of the competitors your facing.