Competitive Research for Small Business
Why and How to Study Your Competition
In 2007 the New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined the maximum amount allowed under NFL rules ($500,000) for videotaping the play calling of other teams. The scandal was dubbed Spygate and rocked the professional football world. Belichick wanted to know what his competition was doing so that his team could perform better. Unfortunately, what the Patriots did was against the NFL rules. Fortunately for you, studying your competition is both legal and ethical.
The problem is that you don’t want to be like your competitors. You want to defeat them, not join them. This leads to the temptation of demonizing, belittling, and ignoring competition. You know your business, you know your customers, but what you don’t know is why some people don’t choose your business. When you figure out what draws people to your competitors, what they’re doing well and what ideas they have, then you can figure out how to win over the customers you don’t have.
Bruce Lee said, Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own. It’s not about copying your competitors, but learning from them. The end result should still be a unique reflection of your company and your values.
Take time to follow your competition through social media. You can follow their public Twitter feed, Facebook page, and LinkedIn profile to see what they’re doing. Are they offering discounts? Do they have contests? What gets people to affiliate with them online? Take a minute or two every day to see what your main competitors are up to online.
Use a search analysis tool like Google Trends or Google Insights to see what’s driving traffic to your competition. Enter a keyword for your industry and see which sites come up toward the top. Look for trending search terms that you can add to your site. Plug your competitor’s site into Alexa to get free web analytics. There you can see traffic, search keywords, the audience of the site, and many other metrics. You can even compare your site to their site to see how you stack up.
Competitive Research Helps You Plan Your Business Strategy
Create an anonymous survey asking customers about your competitors. Tools like SurveyMonkey let you create free online surveys to gather the data you need. If you want to know why customers choose other brands over you, there’s not a better tool than a survey. Offer an incentive to get people to take the survey, and use the results to see how your competition is winning.
Get out and see them. Walk into your competitors’ shops to see what’s going on. Call them and place an order. Step through their order process online. See what it is about buying from them that’s compelling – and what’s frustrating – and then apply that to your own business. If they know who you are, you might need to hire someone to do the secret shopping for you. This isn’t something you need to do constantly, but every six months to a year a secret shop of the competition will give you a good idea of what needs to change in your own business.
Search for your competition online. See what other people are saying about them - both good and bad - to see what kind of buzz they’re generating. You can narrow your search to get better results. If you’re using Google, you can specify the types of sites you want to search. After you type in the name of your competitor and press "Enter," click one of the options from the Search list on the left of the page. For example, click "Blogs" to see only blog results or "Discussions" to see what people are saying in forums online. You can also adjust the time to see what’s been happening in the last hour, day, week, month or year.
Remember, though, treat your research like eating fish: chew thoroughly, spit out the bones, and swallow the meat. In other words, study and research until you’ve gathered every bit of information there is on your competition. Then you can dissect the negative aspects from the good aspects of the opposing company and improve yours based on these findings. Who knows? You may even be able to improve on your competitor’s strengths and find yourself pulling ahead before they know what's happening.