How to Write a Marketing Plan, Part 4
Assessing your competitors early and frequently is part of being a healthy, growing business. This type of analysis will direct the rest of your marketing plan, give you ideas for new offerings, and help you stay relevant in an ever-changing marketplace.
Analyzing your competition will also help you:
- Identify new competitors
- Clearly state your product’s unique differentiators
- Direct your marketing messaging
- Identify where to advertise
- Set goals for your brand’s future marketing efforts
- Evaluate pricing structures
- Potentially identify new target demographics
Identify Your Competitors
If you’re at the stage where you’re researching your competitor’s marketing plan, then you likely already know who your competitors are. But if not, your first step is to figure out who you compete with, as not all businesses are created equal.
One way to do this is simple: Google. Another way is to attend tradeshows and industry conferences. A third way is to use a tool like SimilarWeb.com or SpyFu.com, which will provide a list of competing or similar websites.
Using Google, you can search for your product’s exact qualities. Suppose you have designed a new ceramic, non-stick pan. Search for “ceramic non-stick pan,” “non-stick pan,” “non-stick cookware,” “types of non-stick pans,” and “ceramic vs. Teflon pans.”
Direct or Indirect Competition
Make a note of whether you think the competitor is a direct substitution for your product or not. For example, if you sell a non-stick pan and someone else sells a non-stick pan, that’s a direct substitute. A great example of direct competition is Blendtec vs. Vitamix; both are high-end blenders used in commercial and residential settings.
If someone else is selling an alternative way to do some things you’d do using a pan, it’s not a direct competitor. For example, a George Foreman Grill can make a grilled cheese sandwich, paninis, and cook vegetables, but it isn’t a pan. So, it isn’t a direct competitor. For this type of indirect competition, note how your products overlap and differ.
If you sell an app, but the app is only available for the Mac, your indirect competitors include those who make a similar app for PCs.
Research Your Competitors’ Online Presence
Once you find competing products, you’ll want to record everything you can find in a spreadsheet, from the traits to the online channels on which they appear. Here are specifics on some of the things to research:
- Go to the products’ websites. Record their URLs.
- Go to their social media channels. Record all of their channel URLs.
- Sign up for their social media channels and email subscriptions.
How Can You Purchase Competitors’ Offerings?
- In the case of something like a non-stick pan, what stores sell their products? Are they in big-name stores such as Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Costco? Wal-mart? Macy’s? Sam’s Club? Target? Are they only selling on their website? Are they only on boutique websites or stores? Are they on Amazon or Etsy?
- Do you sell non-physical products? Let’s say you are selling a course. Udemy, Coursera, LinkedIn Learning, and virtual and physical summits are places where courses and instructors are available. Or are your competitors only selling their courses on their websites? Are the courses available on a limited basis, or are they available 365 days a year?
Experience Your Competitors’ Offerings
- Buy their products and services.
- Note what it was like to purchase from them. Was it easy? Was it personable? What didn’t you like?
- How did they communicate after you ordered?
- How long did it take to receive the product or service?
- Was there any aftercare, such as follow-up emails, asking for reviews, checking to find out if you are happy with the product, showing you ways to use the product, and inviting you to an online community of users such as a Facebook group?
- Once their product or service arrives, record what it is like to experience it. Logging into their website and looking around is an example of experiencing their product. Video your experience of unboxing the product while commenting out loud about the product’s packaging.
- Are people reviewing their products? If so, where? On social media? On YouTube? On their website? What do these reviews say about the product? You’ll want to read and watch as many reviews as possible to get the common thread of positive and negative traits. Make notes of everything you find. Who typically reviews their products or talks about them on social media? Note all the demographics you can observe.
Analyzing Your Competitors’ Marketing Tactics
Once you’ve identified your competitors, it’s time to research their marketing strategies. The following sections will walk you through what to consider on their website, social media, email communication, and paid online advertising.
Analyze Their Website
- What language (call-to-actions) and incentives are on the website to get people to take action?
- Do they publish a blog? If so, what do they discuss, and how frequently do they post?
- Do they have free downloadable offers such as ebooks and whitepapers?
- Do they have videos on the site?
- Do they conduct webinars?
- Do they have a podcast?
Review Their Search Engine Presence and Online Advertising
- Identify what words are driving traffic to their site from search engines.
- Find out if they are doing paid advertising in search engines.
- Find out what terms they are using in paid search campaigns.
- Do you see their products in online advertising? If so, where? Do you know what triggered their ad to appear (search results, remarketing after you’ve visited their website, liking competitors’ pages)?
- Learn what websites link to your competitor’s website; these links are known as backlinks.
Analyze Their Social Media
What social media channels are they on? While there are many more, here are the most common channels:
- Google My Business
When looking at their channels, find out these things:
- Are they using influencers to talk about their products?
- How frequently do they post on each channel?
- Are they more active on some channels than others?
- Do they share different content on different channels, or is it all the same?
- Do they promote other products and community members? Or do they stay focused solely on their product or service?
- Note what type of posts get the most and fewest comments, likes, and shares.
- Note how frequently the business responds to the activity on their posts and their tone (playful, formal, neutral, personal, or generic).
Evaluate Their Email Marketing
Once you’ve signed up for a competitor’s email list, what happens?
- How often do they email you?
- Do they only sell in their emails?
- Do they offer special coupons?
- Do they provide educational or entertaining email content?
What’s Your Competitor’s Engagement Level?
As you work on collecting the information above, make notes about what you like and dislike. Would you do this for your business? Why or why not? If someone analyzed your business against these competitors, would you appear on par, just getting started, or way ahead? Why? These things are essential to know so you can consider what you want to work on first and why. Be sure to tie your list of things you want to improve upon to your goals. If your goal is to get funding, what does your online presence need to show? If you aim to achieve distribution through big box stores, what do the buyers look for when researching your business?
- You’ve collected a ton of information. For this process to be of value, you’ll want to review all of your research and rank what your business could do better, do the same, and won’t do.
- If someone analyzed your business against these competitors, would you appear on par, just getting started, or way ahead? Why? Knowing this is important because it will help you prioritize what you want to work on first. Be sure to tie your list of things you want to improve upon to your business goals. For example, if your goal is to get funding, what does your online presence need to show? If you aim to get placed in a big box store, what do the buyers look for when researching the businesses they accept?
- Ensure your competitive analysis is easily accessible and understandable to your team. You’ll use it as you move through the following pieces of building your marketing plan.
- Decide when you’ll revisit your competition analysis and do it again. You’ll likely want to review your competition every six months to a year. This will keep you aware of new competitors, those who have left the market, those who have produced additional offerings, and those who are steady.
- Work on your Asset Assessment.
More Marketing Plan Articles
This article is part of a series to help you create a robust marketing plan:
- Part 1: How to Write a Marketing Plan
- Part 2: How to Define Your Marketing Goals
- Part 3: How to Define Your Target Audience
- Part 4: How to Analyze Your Competitors and Their Marketing Plans
- Part 5: How to Conduct a Marketing Asset Assessment
- Part 6: Creating a Marketing Budget for Your Business
- Part 7: How to Choose the Best Marketing Platforms for Your Business
- Part 8: How to Create a Content Marketing Calendar
- Part 9: Defining Your Marketing Metrics