We live in an imperfect world, and that means we can only have imperfect information. So, there is no sin in using inherent knowledge and a little imagination to finesse a marketing strategy or to get a decision just over the tipping point.
Marketers know this, and they know that means there are times crucial decisions need to be made with a less-than-desirable amount of data or information. For example, when it’s difficult (or too costly) to get specific insights into the behavior of a certain segment of the audience, marketers can use the information they do have about that audience and mix it with educated guesses, best practices, and experience to choose a course of action that is most likely to deliver results.
However, a strategy or decision made with more imagination than information is a strategy that we can, at best, say means well. But that’s not enough if you want your marketing process to be effective. The more information you have, the better your chances of market success. That’s why intelligence about your competition’s marketing efforts should be a cornerstone of your marketing strategy. And this is truer than ever now that we’re well into the marketing shift caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Go Beyond a Superficial Glance at the Competition
To understand the marketing landscape in your market well enough to make informed decisions about your marketing strategy, you need insights into how your competitors are marketing themselves. A proper competitive marketing analysis provides those insights. It helps you get to know your competition very well — extremely well. And it does this by sliding your competition’s marketing activities under a microscope.
Done properly, a competitive marketing analysis will make you aware of what your competitors are doing, both strategically and tactically, and provide insights into the “why and how” aspects of their marketing. It will inform you about exactly what your competitors are doing to achieve their marketing objectives, why they are doing it, how they are positioned in the market, and most importantly, how it affects your business and how to respond.
At the highest level, this involves reviewing the competitor’s website, reading the corporate brochure, and analyzing other tactics. But, it is much more than that too. Structured properly, the review and analysis process should give you an integrated picture of:
- What your competitor’s key messaging and positioning goals are
- What value propositions they’re actively highlighting
- How they have structured their content marketing program
- How media relations tactics play into their strategy (if any)
- What’s really going on under the hood of their digital and social media marketing efforts
These insights will be capped by an intimate understanding of how they’re tying all tactics together with design and the visual side of their branding. With the proper analysis, you will begin to fully understand the positioning your competition is trying to achieve and how they’re going about it. And then you can use this insight to inform your marketing strategy.
Understand When to Counter and Copy
A vital decision that competitive marketing intelligence will inform is when it is right to counter or copy a competitor’s efforts. Too often, marketers make the decision to emulate a competitor’s approach or position against them based solely on internal considerations and business objectives. Of course, these are elements that need to be considered for direction, but they are more likely to be successful when they are paired with insights into a competitor’s visible marketing activity.
Best practice theory and playing copycat with leaders in your space alone will not allow you to optimize your approach. The right insights into your competitors will make it easier to judge a competitor’s moves, better positioning you to decide when its best to go head to head on a strategy or tactic, or when its best to play a little monkey-see-monkey-do. Too much activity in either direction, uninformed by competitive insights, risks executing an ultimately directionless strategy.
The Pandemic Paradigm
If all of this was true before, it is even more so now.
The trajectories you may have understood your competitors to be on before the pandemic may be completely invalid now because the business world has moved through changes fast. So, there is no substitute for a fresh analysis of how your competitors have adjusted their marketing.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, most of the conversational focus in the business and marketing world was on the “shift” that every business would need to go through with their marketing and positioning to raise awareness and effectively counter competitors. For some businesses, that meant completely rethinking certain business objectives and marketing strategies. For others, it meant doubling down on whatever they were doing, but with a couple of crucial adjustments in content and digital marketing.
Whatever the case may be, the reality is that this “shift” is done or nearly completed for most companies. We are no longer in the process of entering a world of vastly different competitor marketing strategies and tactics, we’re already there. And, if you don’t know what your competitors are doing, you’re already behind.
Is there any downside to competitive marketing intelligence?
No. But, it is a time-consuming process that requires you to take time away from business development and regular marketing activities to dive into a new mindset. Sometimes when you’re busy with other day-to-day tasks, a proper competitive analysis process takes a backseat to other priorities. And therein lies the problem: Competitive marketing intelligence is important, but often becomes low-priority. But it shouldn’t be.
Whether you find the time to do one yourself, or give the right agency a list of competitors and let them handle the rest, a competitive marketing analysis is something that should be moved to the top of every marketer’s priority list.
*Updated version of blog published 03-29-2016*