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Just because you’re small doesn’t mean you can’t compete.
While small businesses may not have the same resources as larger competitors, they do have distinct advantages. Small businesses are often faster and more flexible, able to adjust to changing market conditions. It’s a scrappy style that keeps us all rooting for them, like David and Goliath.
Conducting research in order to make decisions quickly is a key area where the scrappy style of small businesses has its advantages. Instead of large, slow and expensive data studies, customer research for the small business might be as simple as calling a few customers up on the phone.
The same holds true for competitive intelligence. As a small business owner, you don’t need huge marketing teams or budgets to get intel on your competition. There are much faster and cheaper ways to gather useful competitive intelligence that you can take advantage of.
Read on below for 10 ways that a nimble small business owner can gather useful intelligence to inform business and marketing strategy, without breaking the bank or getting bogged down.
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First up: read their web sites. Your competitors’ web sites are the fastest and often most comprehensive source of competitive intelligence about their targeting and messaging, products and services, and sometimes even their size, sales and pricing. Start there and you may find most of what you need is covered.
Next, create a Google Alert. These are a great way to stay on top of new news about your competition. You’ll get a notification message when Google finds new content or press releases mentioning your competition. Once you sign up, you don’t have to do anything at all and competitive news comes to you. You can even put in your own name and business, and Google will alert you when someone else mentions you.
Your next competitive intelligence option is to look at social feeds. Like their websites, your competitors’ social feeds are a quick and free way to gain insight into their targeting and messaging, and you’ll often find pitches or ads for their services mixed in. You can sometimes get a sense of who their customers are by looking at follower lists and social interactions.
Next, if you have access to their advertising, pay special attention to the implied target audience, and how they position themselves versus others in the marketplace. What do they say is the benefit of using their service over yours? Do they have any specific technical advantage or details they provide to try to convince customers? Sometimes a simple Google video search will do. You can also look for print ads in magazines or industry trade publications.
If you have a little time and money, you can go another level and attend a conference. You may even already attend annual conferences for your industry where you can make it a point to collect competitive intelligence. Check out their booth and materials, listen to them present, and ask other attendees questions that can give you insight into what they’re doing.
NEWSLETTERS & EMAIL
One tactic that I highly recommend to every small business owner is to subscribe to your competitors’ newsletters and email lists. This is often the first place that competitors will make announcements, and you can see exactly what they’re saying right now to potential customers. Where do they seem to be focusing their time and messaging? Are there any new offers being sent? Any new news? Your competitor might have a subscription box on their website right now. Take a look and sign up.
Another research tactic is keyword research. This one takes a little bit more time, but it can be very fruitful and revealing. Keyword research can often tell you where they’re focusing their marketing content, what they think their customers are searching for, and possibly show you areas of opportunity in your own marketing. Use a tool like SEMrush. You can enter your competitor’s site into the tool and see which keywords they rank highly for. You’ll also see exactly which web pages on their site get the most traffic. It’s great for benchmarking your own performance.
Perhaps one of the simplest and most effective ways to get competitive intelligence is to ask your customers. Customers who are fans of yours are often open to giving information on competitors. Ask them if they’ve ever tried another company’s services, what they tried and the advantages or disadvantages of that experience. You can even create a survey using Google Forms or SurveyMonkey. Send the survey to your customer list. It’s relatively easy to do and might even be free depending on your list size and survey length.
No one knows your competitor, better than… your competitor. So, try calling them up! Call customer service and pretend to be a potential customer. You’ll be surprised what they’ll tell you. And you can ask just about anything you want. It does take a little courage but is highly effect. You’ll learn about the services they offer, how they position themselves, their pricing and how they respond to frequently asked questions or objections.
BECOME A CUSTOMER
And now, the final resource. You can become a customer. You may be hesitant to give a competitor your own money, but this is the absolute best way to get an inside look into your competitor’s customer experience, services, and the pros and cons of what they do compared to what you do. This may not work in every instance. But for some of you out there this might actually be feasible if you think about it. For example, if you work in tax or financial services, you may not want to have your competitor look at your books or manage your money. But if you are in the medical service industry, landscaping industry, or in an industry where business is conducted online, it might make more sense.
PUT THE COMPETITIVE INTELLIGENCE TO WORK
Here’s a recap of the 10 ways you can get information on your competition:
- Look at competitor websites for a big jumpstart
- Sign up for Google Alerts for the latest news
- Read social media feeds and look at their followers and interactions
- Look at their advertising, which often reveals targeting and positioning
- Attend conferences and industry events where your competitors are present
- Sign up for their newsletters and get on their email lists
- Conduct keyword research to determine their priorities, strengths and weaknesses
- Ask customers about their experiences with your competition, or create a digital survey to send to your list
- Call your competitor or their customer service department and ask away
- If you can swing it, become a customer and get first-hand experience with them
Use these 10 tactics to find competitive weaknesses and gaps. Address target audiences that your competitors are neglecting. Find an angle to paint your business as a superior alternative. Think about alternative pricing models and service delivery.
Position yourself to win.
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- 6 Questions to Optimize Your Marketing Funnel (with template)
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow Kevin on LinkedIn.