This is the fourth post in a monthly series dedicated to preparing your business for the upcoming economic recovery. Today, I discuss gathering competitive intelligence, one form of market research which can easily be performed by the small business owner in preparation for business growth.
Market research is the foundation of business strategy. Good market research validates assumptions, informs strategy, and inspires business vision.
What do you want to know about your competitors?
1. Product assortment
2. Services and how they are delivered
3. Locations and Distribution methods
4. Company reputation among suppliers and partners
5. Marketing plans and strategy
6. Management strategies
7. Executive changes
8. Promotion and pricing strategies
9. Customer service strengths and weaknesses
10. Positive or negative public relations
11. Customer buzz: Identify advocates and naysayers
12. Financial position
13. Credit policies
14. Advertising : Appearance and content
15. Website analytics
This is just a starting point for your research as each business will have different list – the imperative is to begin your research with purpose. Create a spreadsheet to make notes of your observations and analysis for each key factor.
Where can you find competitive intelligence?
A competitor’s website is the natural starting point for research. Web presence (or lack thereof) points to opportunities and threats based upon the products and services defined and the marketing message encapsulating the company brand. However, the competitor’s website does not tell the full story so use the following websites to gather more intelligence on your rivals:
1. Do a Google search on your target and see where your competitor has an active online presence. Do they have a Facebook page? A Twitter presence? A branded community? Check out where your competition is most active and assess the engagement level of their customers.
3. Have your competitors recently changed their website? Are you interested in seeing the web archives of their website? Check out http://web.archive.org to see all archived web pages of your competitors. A product such as Copernic Tracker is worth the nominal fee as a way to gather timely future content changes on your competitor’s website – all you need to know from new products to promotions to new customer recommendations.
4. Where do customers and experts in your industry add ratings and reviews? If you are a restaurant, check Yelp and Urban Spoon to see what is being said about your rival. If you are a contractor, check Angie’s List. Are you looking for consumer product reviews? Check epinions.com or pissedconsumer.com. Consumers are increasing their participation both as critics and brand ambassadors so you will likely find real consumer feedback about most businesses.
5. PRNewswire.com provides a history of news releases relevant to a company or products in the business of creating press releases over a period of time.
6. Check the buzz about your competitors on social networking sights using www.search.twitter.com, www.boardtracker.com , www.boardreader.com , and www.socialmention.com. You will be able to read comments, assess sentiment about your competitors, and identify their issues which can become your opportunities. Using social networking intelligence, you can also determine who your competitors critics and evangelists are and why.
Who should you include in your competitive intelligence search? Obviously direct competitors in your target market are included but don’t stop there. Broaden your research to include similar businesses in other markets – you may gain inspiration from their marketing practices. Don’t forget related businesses that may be expanding product lines in response to the recession. For example, many home construction companies are now actively pursuing the remodeling market as the new home market declines.
Combining competitive intelligence with customer research and market trends will help you craft business strategy to propel you out of the recession and into growth. Using inexpensive web-based tools, there is no excuse for the small business owner not to have access to high quality research that used to be the sole bastion of large organizations. In the next few posts, we will discuss tools and methods for researching customers and trends.
What are you using to keep track of your competitors?