In today's digital marketing world, competitive intelligence often takes a back seat to all the key performance indicators (KPIs) on which marketers are focused—open rates, social engagement metrics, lead-to-sales opportunity conversion rates, etc.
That inward focus on how well you are doing with your revenue-driving marketing tactics is critical. But it can lead you to celebrate the wrong things. Don't let your KPIs overshadow the importance of knowing exactly how your digital marketing strategies are performing in relation to your peers who are competing against you in the market.
If you forget to look at the bigger picture, you'll miss a perspective that, well, separates the best marketers from the mediocre ones.
You can easily keep tabs on how your campaigns measure up against others in your industry without hiring an expensive third-party research firm. Of course, there may be times when you do need customer research and use a fancy detailed matrix of your competitors for in-depth analysis for identifying new products or for market sizing.
But I'm talking about a quick and easy dashboard that measures you, the marketer, against your competitors.
Competitive intelligence helps you...
- Increase your chances of winning in the marketplace
- Shape the development of your digital marketing strategy
- Create a strategy for new product launches
- Uncover threats and opportunities
- Establish benchmarking for your analytics
Most businesses do not have the luxury of having a dedicated employee, let alone a dedicated team, to gather and analyze gobs of data. However, you can easily track basic KPIs to inform decision-making at your company.
Having analyzed the digital marketing strategies of numerous companies of various size and in various industries, including e-commerce, SaaS, and travel companies—and their competitors—I suggest the following for benchmarking.
Website Performance Metrics
To track the performance of a website, gather data from sites such as SEMRush, Pingdom, Similarweb, and Alexa. While that data is not always accurate when you compare three or four competitors at once, you can spot trends.
Important metrics to monitor include the following:
- Website visits: The average number of visitors per month can easily size up how popular you and your competitors are.
- Bounce rate and site speed: Correlate these two metrics. That's how you can determine whether you need to make changes to your own website. For example, if your website has a high page-load time compared with your competitors, that will impact your page rankings, bounce rate, and overall customer satisfaction.
- Geographic sources of traffic: Look at what percentage of visitors comes from what regions. That's critical if your company plans to expand beyond its current geographical presence. It will also allow you to spot global opportunities by finding gaps in distribution when looking at all competitors.
- Website traffic by channel: See where your competitors choose to spend their time and money. For example, a company that has a higher percentage of visitors from email probably has a large prospect database. If you look at their website, you can examine how they collect data for their email marketing programs. Are they getting website visitors to sign up for newsletters or special offers? If not, they may be purchasing prospect data from a data provider. You can adjust your own strategy to ramp up marketing campaigns in areas where your competitors are not actively engaging prospects, or to increase spending in areas where they are outperforming you.
Benchmarking reports from industry research reports are also helpful for tracking average open, click-through, and conversion rates.
By putting together your newly found competitor insight and your own metrics, including your past performance, you can establish your own benchmarking.
Mining for More Data
Where are your competitors spending their advertising budgets? How are they using social media and PR? What jobs are they posting? Those answers are not hard to find, and they provide powerful insights.
- SEO/PPC research: Tools are available to help you determine what ads your competitors are running and how they rank for particular keywords. Check out SEMRush, SpyFu, and WhatRunsWhere. You can also look at their overall spending for PPC campaigns. Depending on the source, however, the accuracy of this data can be as low as 50%. So use it for gauging overall direction, but don't rely on it entirely.
- Social media: This is probably the hottest area of marketing and the hardest to assess. Mining data on social channels is especially tough when tracking consumer brands. It's best to monitor your competitors' activities monthly, and make sure to look at the posts ad promotions that companies generate. When updating or changing your strategy, you should have a solid understanding of what social media channels your competitors are using, types of posts they are making, how frequently they are using social media, and how successful they are (including number of users and levels of engagement).
- PR: Press releases, financial reports, and thought-leadership blog posts distributed by your competitors provide great insight into their partnerships, possible marketing spending, and other initiatives.
- Job postings: From time to time, take a look at LinkedIn or other job sites and you can get a good idea of where and how the company plans to expand.
Frequency of Competitive Analysis
The answer depends on the type of business that you have and the competitive landscape.
For example, if you are selling a product in the SaaS Cloud space where you have 10 competitors, most of which are leading innovators, it makes sense to track their every move. However, if you are a B2B company and you have only one or two competitors in the manufacturing sector, you probably can get away with doing some basic benchmarking once every quarter.
It is advisable to do a competitive analysis prior to changing strategy, launching a new product, or making tactical plans for the next quarter or year.
Don't Be Afraid: Know Where You Stand
Here's the bottom line: Don't get too excited about your 5% jump in email open rates, or passing a "likes" milestone on Facebook. Have the courage to see whether you are really a marketing rock star by benchmarking yourself against your competitors. Your business needs to know what your competition is doing. And I don't mean just knowing your competitors' products and pricing.
With the insights you'll get from these tips and tools, you will be able to create a solid strategy, spot-on tactical plans, and (at the very least) a fantastic presentation to your executives or board.
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