Have you ever wondered how your company’s product stacks up against the competition? What about your pricing, or your content?

While it was once a cumbersome and time-consuming task to do competitive research, the internet has made it much easier to gather information on your competitors. Now, investing a little bit of time into competitive research can give you valuable intel about your rivals, their position in the market, and their strengths and weaknesses. Not only will you gain a better understanding of your market, but you’ll also be able to forecast trends in your industry, understand your competitors’ offerings, stay updated on competitive pricing, and find and target new customers. The only question that remains is…how do you get started?

Decide What You Want to Know

While competitive research is often outsourced to consultants, you can do just as much on your own — without having to spend the additional money. Start by choosing the competitive factors that you’d like to focus on, and create a document or spreadsheet to keep track of them. Here are a few basic pieces of information to start with:

1. Website URL
2. Brief description of company (think boilerplate copy)
3. Name of products or services
4. Pricing
5. Strengths
6. Weaknesses
7. Unique positioning statement (what makes them different from other companies in your space)
8. Types of content on site

Do Your Research

Once you know what information you want, it’s time to get to work. Start by visiting your competitors’ websites and recording the first 4 items on the list (their website URL, boilerplate, the name of their products, and pricing). The last 4 might require a little bit more digging. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Explore blogs, news articles, and any feeds that might discuss your competitors, and see what people in your industry are saying about them. This is a great way to get unbiased intelligence on your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, and key differentiators.
  • Use tools like Tweetdeck to monitor social networks for mentions of your competitors. This can be helpful because tweets and facebook comments often come from a competitors’ clients, which can give you another perspective on the company.
  • Check industry reports to see if any outside firms like Forrester Research or Gartner have put together profiles of your competitors. If you’re lucky, they may have already done the work for you.

When you’re finished, you should have a detailed, updateable catalogue of everything you would want to know about your competitors. Just make sure you continue to keep it up to date over time, otherwise your research will lose its value.

Up-to-date research can help you identify opportunities to differentiate yourself from the competition, see areas where you are already excelling over the competition, and spot any threats that may be on the horizon. In a competitive industry, knowledge is power and knowing where your competition stands will keep you one step ahead.

Do you do competitive research at your company? What kinds of information do you keep track of? Let us know in the comments!

Jenna Hanington

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2 responses to How to Conduct Competitive Research…Without Hiring a Consultant

  1. Jenna,

    Great topic, I’ll focus on one area that is helpful though there is so much to dig into on this one. The research you do for SEO and PPC campaigns can be very revealing from a competitive research standpoint.

    Using services like SEOMoz you can see the backlinks competitors have and get a better feel for targeted verticals and channels used/emphasized (partnerships, resellers, industry portals). Also tells you where they are not!

    Using Spyfu for PPC research you can see what keyphrases they target, also their current and historical ad copy. This can also show targeted industries, and how they are modifying their positioning over time.

    Using Web Data Extractor you can crawl a competitor’s site and compile their page titles, meta keywords, meta descriptions. This allows for you to see patterns and also get key positioning points across the spectrum of their offerings. Googles free site analyzer can also provide some interesting insight here.

    General searches on Google and Bing for competitor brand terms combined with modifyers like “reviews” “comments” “complaints” etc. is a great way to explore product and customer sentiment.

    Set up Google alerts for competitor branded terms as well, you’ll pick up an amazing variety of info. Everything from press releases to blog posts and negative reviews, new hires…. you get the idea.

    Follow them on Social, in B2B emphasise LinkedIn. Again you’ll see their current messaging and strategic focus, but also be ready to read between the lines and look at new hires etc. (see where they are investing for growth). Join branded and related groups as well.

    Carefully monitor wherever they share event info, what shows, channels, partners, mediums, subject matter experts, analyst…

    I’ll stop there, amazing what you can do in a short time now. Monitor and share a monthly digest with executive mgmt. covering key insights and announcments.

    Karl

    • Jenna Hanington October 12, 2012 at 3:08 pm

      These are all great points, Karl. It really is amazing how much information you can find these days without having to invest a ton of time. Thanks for sharing!