In the NFL, the top teams learn everything they possibly can about their key competitors. As the season progresses, more and more information becomes available. By the time Super Bowl XLVIII arrives, teams will have seen game films, injury reports, even social-media-tracking that pinpoints any personal issues that could affect a competing player's performance.
It's not as easy for marketers, but knowing your competition can be just as important. Here's a basic process:
1. Select your top five competitors.
If you're in the movie theater business, other theaters are your competitors, of course. But what about other ways to see movies, such as Netflix or cable? And how about other competitors in the entertainment category, such as sports arenas and theme parks? Consider looking at published lists of the top players in your market, often produced by local business journals and newspapers.
2. Identify the top five things you think are important to your customers. Then check your answers.
Ask some customers to tell you what's really important. Depending on your industry, you might want to interview them directly. If not, creating a survey on Survey Monkey is simple. Asking your Facebook fans or polling your LinkedIn connections can add value by increasing engagement with people you already know.
3. Rate your own organization and look at competitors.
Gather data by viewing competitors' websites, looking at their social media sites, looking at news coverage, talking to your sales team and asking your best customers. Some categories, like hospitality, have numerous websites where users rate and discuss their experiences. Remember, these ratings can be abused by companies who post their own comments or pay others to rate them. This recent report provides some data on which sites consumers trust.
4. Stay on top of the news about competitors.
Set up Google Alerts for key competitors. This is a no-brainer. Stop reading now and do it. Sign up for their newsletters and RSS feeds. Subscribe to their blogs.
5. Create a tracking tool and a schedule to update it.
Once you've determined which factors are important to customers, set up a spreadsheet or other tool. Use your best judgment and the research you did above to compare yourself with competitors on these factors. Update this quarterly.
Tracking your competitors and comparing your strengths and weaknesses can help you identify your message strategy — where do you outshine them in ways that are important to customers? It can also help you differentiate your marketing — if everyone has a blue website with a big picture of their product on the home page, and very little dynamic content, make yours different. It can help you choose media that set you apart — if all your competitors are on Facebook but no one is tweeting, maybe that's something special you can do.
Janet Kyle Altman is the marketing partner at the accounting firm Kaufman, Rossin & Co.