When it comes to competition: you can’t live with them … and well you can, however, live without them. Especially when you run a startup, or small business, it can feel as though everyone is your competition.
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Yet, whether you are competing for customers, market share, thought leadership, territory, press, or something more – it is essential to ensure a healthy balance of competitive awareness and self-awareness.
The wrong competitive outlook (and actions) can easily turn into paralysis analysis and competitive envy. Meanwhile, the right measure of insight can produce real results for your business. So, instead of cyberstalking competitors, it is time to make it less about them and more about you.
Here’s a look at nine quick, strategic tips to help focus your competitive efforts, remain proactive, and turn competitive information into actionable business results.
Assign a competitive AOR
Let’s face it. You can’t spend every waking hour monitoring competitors. Depending on your business size, consider assigning this AOR (area of responsibility) to an intern, employee, independent contractor, or group of employees.
This will empower you to focus your competitive sights and delineate actionable goals (instead of stalking competitors across social media networks, which will cause burnout and duress). Once an AOR is assigned to someone, their goal is to carry out predetermined competitive tasks and report findings on a quarterly or annual basis. This will force you to take a more strategic, and helpful, approach to competitive analysis.
Define the challenge
Are you at a point where competitive analysis is feasible for (and will benefit) your small business? By redirecting resources to one area, another will invariably take a hit. So, before you make a concerted effort to track competitors, determine why it is important in the first place. Define the business challenge that will make competitive insights meaningful to long-term goals.
For instance, are you having a tough time connecting with customers? If so, a quick competitive analysis can help you learn how brands in your category connect with consumers. This deep dive will reveal how best in class competitors connect; tied to real business results. Ultimately, these takeaways can be applied to your business.
Learn the landscape
Define the competitive landscape early on. If you are tracking every competitor under the sun, then you are wasting precious time and resources. Instead, take time to decipher your true competitors. There may be fifty brands in your category, but only five that you directly compete with for customer share of mind.
First, look at direct competition (i.e., companies that compete within your category). This is where their products and services perform the same function as yours. Next, consider substitute (or indirect) competition. If resources are scarce, focus on direct competition, until you can afford to expand your efforts. This ensures your activities are capable of delivering true benefit.
Listen to conversations
The best competitive intelligence is often not the messages that companies send out, but rather what end users (i.e., customers) are saying behind the scenes. To gain a true picture of your competitive landscape, scout out industry forums, online reviews, customer feedback, etc.
This will reveal a clear and candid picture of how competitors are courting their customers. Meanwhile, it will unlock insights into areas that your business can truly compete on – problems that a competitor may be missing or is too large (and inflexible) to readily address.
Study points of contact
Evaluate how your top competitors engage customers. Several things to consider include, but are not limited to, media and advertising, in-store, cause association, e-commerce, loyalty programs, online efforts, etc. This will give you greater insight into areas that your business can improve upon. While it is unlikely that you can “heavy up” on all of their efforts, pick one or two areas that complement your strengths and compete on those factors.
Identify a best in class competitor
While you will likely have more than one competitor, you may find it helpful to identify one competitor that, in your eyes, is truly first-rate. They may set the standard in terms of their portfolio, business results, commitment to innovation, strong awareness, customer support, etc.
Identify your competitive “role model” and track their progress (and missteps) in market. This will help you focus your competitive monitoring with surgical precision, which is more likely to drive actionable results for your business.
Define indicated actions
When you are monitoring competitors, it is equally as important to outline key takeaways. For example, “What have we learned from their market efforts?” Mainly, has your competitive research met the main challenge (e.g., as described in tip #2)? If your answer is yes, what action will you take based on this new information? If you don’t have indicated actions, then all of the competitive analyses in the world are futile.
Shore up competitive blind spots
As your business grows, competitors will take notice. At this point, you will need to think like your competitors. This includes making your market position unassailable and shoring up blind spots (i.e., areas of weakness that you can’t readily see). Blind spots are “blind” because they are often areas you overlook, or tactics you would not consider. However, just because you wouldn’t dare do it … doesn’t mean your competitors share the same sentiment.
For example, since inception, YFS Magazine has experienced impressive YoY growth. To that end, we learned this lesson quickly when Entrepreneur magazine purchased the misspelling of our former domain name in 2013 (in all likelihood to benefit from our growth and improve upon their website traffic).
While this is no longer a competitive issue (given our pre-planned and finalized domain migration to yfsmagazine.com in which we own the misspelled domains as well) it is a simple lesson learned for your business: look for blind spots early to prevent competitive attempts to capitalize on your growth.
Meet your best competition
Often, after all is said and done, you will come to realize that your greatest competition is “you”. Comparing yourself with others can distract you from your business goals. Instead, once you’ve identified key competitive insights, stay focused on sharing what makes you special with the world.
Focus on making the best possible version of your business and tap into your internal vision. Every single day you’ll learn to block out the internal voice that says you “can’t” and listen intently to the silent whispers of, “I can.”