“We don’t have any competitors.”
If you’ve thought this—or worse, said it out loud—better think again.
Today’s buyer has more information, and more choices, than ever before. Just because you may not have direct competitors doesn’t mean the buyer doesn’t have alternative ways to solve their challenge—or spend their money. When sizing up the competitive landscape, it’s important to think about your competition in a broader sense.
Competitors can be:
- Direct: Offer very similar solutions, to the same target audience (e.g. Avis vs. Hertz)
- Indirect: Solve the same general problem but in a different fashion (e.g. Avis vs. Uber)
- Ancillary: From a different category but compete for the same budget (e.g. Avis vs. Hilton)
Each competitor type requires a different messaging and marketing approach. For direct competitors, you must present strong differentiators and clearly highlight your unique value. Get out of the feature set and talk about the unique customer experience you provide to avoid the perception of a “me too” offering.
With indirect competitors, your job is to highlight how your way of solving the problem is better/faster/easier than the alternative. In the case of Avis, Uber is a powerful indirect competitor. When positioning against Uber, you might focus on how the customer has more control over the timing and experience of their transportation.
For ancillary competitors, it’s critical to persuade the buyer to prioritize the problem you solve over others. Keeping with the Avis example, when appealing to vacation travelers, you might share stats on how much time the average vacationer spends in the car, and how that time can create memorable experiences.
But, going broader on your competitive research isn’t enough. You also need to go deeper. I’ve seen many a competitive matrix built mostly (or solely) from website messaging and sales feedback. Don’t get me wrong, these are two critical places to start…but if you’re stopping here, you haven’t gone far enough to drive real competitive insight.
Here are some other helpful resources to explore as you evaluate your competitive set:
- Webinars, studies and reports competitors create or participate in
- Social media – Not just what they’re pushing out but how people are engaging; what conversations are taking place with or about your competitors
- Review sites – These differ by industry but could be sites like Google, Yelp or Facebook, or they could include sites like TechCrunch, TechRadar, CNET, Capterra, G2, or others
- Analyst reports – if competitors are getting coverage as innovators and you aren’t on the radar, understand how analysts are positioning them
- User forums – we always talk about the voice of the customer but sometimes forget we can drop in and directly listen to them talk to one another
- Competitor’s job postings – the talent they seek says something about their priorities and their growth areas
- Glassdoor reviews – Are there disgruntled employees that could signal a chink in the armor? Do you get a sense of their brand personality based on how employees talk about the company?
- Former competitor customers and/or employees – Check your networks and those of your team to see if you can leverage your connections to get additional “insider” insight
- Your own Win/loss surveys – Hear first-hand from current customers and lost opportunities to understand their perception of you vs. competitors as they journeyed through the buying process
- Media coverage – What publications are competitors appearing in? What POV or insights are they being tapped for?
- Financial reports – While these are great for overall market benchmarking and fiscal health assessments, they can also provide clues into products/categories of focus, possible expansion plans, etc.
Budgets, timelines and resources likely won’t allow for a deep-dive into all of the above but including even a few of these will provide fuller context to your competitive situation.
I’ll leave you with three final thoughts as you set off to assess, or reassess, your competitors.
- First, be honest and neutral in your intelligence gathering. Take off your corporate marketer hat and conduct this research as if you know little to nothing about you or your competitors. This is likely the starting point your prospects are at.
- Secondly, competitive research, like most things in today’s world, cannot be a one-and-done exercise. The landscape is constantly changing and if you’re not actively looking around you, you can easily be passed by.
- Sometimes it’s necessary to find a partner. In the case of #1 above, it is often difficult to do research “as if you know little” because you may have become too close to your offerings. A third party can provide that outside in perspective and see things that you don’t see anymore. In the case of #2 above, it is difficult to make time to go deep when you’re paddling to keep your head above water.