Bond. James Bond. Who out there has never thought about being part of the exciting, glamorous world of espionage and spy-craft? While Bond has spent the last 50 years fighting against terrorists, enemy nations, and Victorian morality, today’s small business person can use some spy-work of their own to take on their competition. True, the rival coffee shop down the road probably isn’t plotting to take over the world or disrupt the global banking system, but they’re certainly doing their best to beat you!
Every business has to face competitors at some level. To overcome them, you have to differentiate yourself from them. To successfully differentiate your company from your rivals, you first have to know everything you can about them. We’ve visited Q Branch and pulled together some tips, tools, and tricks you can use to learn about and study your competitors. Here are some of our favorites.
Subscribe to your competition’s blogs, newsletters, and social media handles
One of the simplest ways to stay close to your competition is to be the first person they communicate with. When they publish a blog, post to social media, or send an email, you should be the first one to read it. Company blogs and newsletters are typically used to announce new products and services, changes in operating hours, new customers and business partners, and promotional offers. To stay discreet, you may want to consider creating a second online profile used exclusively for monitoring competitors’ social media accounts and email campaigns.
Do business with your competition
It may sound counterintuitive, but the best way to know your competition is to do business with them! By moving through the process of purchasing a product/service and then engaging with it, you will be exposed to nearly every part of your competitor’s organization—from sales, marketing, and service, to billing and service fulfillment.
If service is delivered over the web, engage with the service every few weeks. Many web-based service companies will pilot or soft-launch service enhancements prior to announcing them to the public. By subscribing to these services, you will be exposed to such updates in advance of public knowledge.
Set it and forget it online activity monitoring tools
Keep tabs on your competition’s online activity through Google Alerts. Signing up is quick, easy, and, best of all, free. Once you’ve signed up for an alert on your competitor’s name, you’ll receive an email whenever your competition is mentioned online. In addition to monitoring your competition, you can also use this tool to monitor specific keywords and terms that are relevant to your business.
Another “set it and forget it” alert tool you can use to monitor your competitors’ online activity is the WatchThatPage.com alert. This tool monitors specific web pages and sends you an email alert when they are changed. When a company pushes changes to their website, it may signal changes in their marketing message. Knowing when such changes occur will help you react more quickly.
Monitor Twitter mentions
Stay in tune with what fans and detractors are saying about you and your competition on Twitter. Use social media monitoring tools such as TweetDeck and TweetBeep to alert you when someone mentions specific keywords such as your company name or your competition. The small business support site GoSmallBiz.com, also offers a social media dashboard that helps you monitor your social media accounts, including Twitter.
Grade your competition’s online marketing efforts
Using HubSpot’s Marketing Grader tool, learn how effectively your competition is leveraging social media, blogging, SEO, and lead generation activities on their website. Grade your own website and compare scores. The higher your competition scores, the more you can learn from them.
Be a student of the past
Travel back in time to see how, and most importantly when, your competition changed their website. Using the Wayback Machine, you can see what a website looked like throughout the years. By looking at the history of your competitor’s website, you can identify and record trends in marketing, messaging, design, pricing, etc. For example, if your business is affected by seasonality, did your rival make changes to their site the last few seasons? If so, what can you learn from those changes to better position yourself for the upcoming selling season?
The same can be done by archiving your competition’s more traditional marketing collateral, such as newspaper and direct mail pieces. Simply file them by competitor and date for future reference.
Use data aggregators such as Dun & Bradstreet and InfoUSA to collect detailed company information. Access to such information doesn’t come cheap, with both services requiring access fees. However, to circumvent this expense, check out your local library. Many public libraries have a subscription to ReferenceUSA (the library-use brand name for InfoUSA).
It is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby they achieve great results.
Knowledge is power. Knowledge about the competitors who are rivals for your customers’ attention and affection is critical to coming out ahead. If you know what they are doing, then you can better position your own efforts to build your brand and deliver a better customer experience. Technological developments make it easier than ever to keep an eye on your competition and see exactly what they’re doing—and how it’s working out for them. So unleash your inner James Bond, check out the latest tools to complete your mission, and use our tips to get an edge!
Article originally published on GoSmallBiz.com