If you’re a restaurant owner and a new eatery opens up down the street, what’s the first thing you do? Make a reservation, of course, and see what the competition is offering. The same goes for almost any other kind of small and medium-sized business — better to be aware of the other options available to customers (and prospective customers) before they start shopping around.
Today, it’s just as important for SMBs to do a similar exercise on how other firms in the same sector are operating in the digital world. In fact, it may be even more important than traditional reconnaissance in business because digital technologies may be allowing competitors to target Canadian customers from far-flung geographies.
When you do it right, putting effort into digital competitive intelligence will not only show you what you’re up against. It will also allow you to benchmark yourself on the investments in technology you’ve made so far, and point you where you’ll need to spend in the future.
Search Like A Customer, Not A Competitor
More and more SMBs are realizing the value of search engine optimization (SEO), where you make sure there are keywords on your web site that help describe your products and services and make it easier for customers to find you online. Besides your company name, for example, you also want to be found by those who have never heard of you but type in keywords like “real estate marketing services,” “Canadian real estate signage supplier,” and so on.
Besides seeing how high your competitors’ sites rank in the first page of search results, go a little deeper by thinking through the other pain points or considerations your customers will have. This could include keywords related to pricing, location, the stage of their own business needs (if you’re working in the B2B space) and even the timeliness or delivery options available for specific products. A/B test your search engine results to see what brings your site higher vis-a-vis your competitors. If they consistently rank higher, they may have put more work into writing blog posts, producing webinars or other content that bring those keywords to the forefront. Updating your keywords regularly is kind of like the digital equivalent of putting up a newer, brighter and larger sign on your business vs. your rivals.
Act Like You Were Hired To Do An Online Assessment
In major retail companies, so-called “mystery shoppers” can provide a valuable service by going into a particular store and acting like a typical customer. They browse for products and see how easy or difficult they are to find, ensure items are priced accordingly and, most importantly, evaluate the quality of service from those on the floor to those working the cash register. The same technique can be applied online, but for competitive intelligence purposes as well.
Don’t just compare the web sites of similar firms to your own based on how fancy the layout and design might be, for instance. Pretend you’re a digital marketing agency who’s been given the chance to conduct an assessment of an online property as the first step in a consulting project. Walk through each of the main areas of the site, starting with the places you know your customers will visit first. These could be product pages, the “Contact Us” area with hours and location details, pages related to customer support or even the “About Us.”
Take notes as you click from page to page. How logical is your journey as a mystery shopper? Where is it difficult to find something important? How recently has new information been added where it’s needed? How well does the site encourage you to take the next step and place an order, make a phone call or visit a physical location?
Now do the same thing with your own firm’s site, and compare as an everyday customer might. Where can you improve?
Be A Social Media Eavesdropper
Marketing or providing customer service in non-traditional channels like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn might seem like a luxury -- until you go on those services and find your competitors everywhere. Don’t necessarily panic if they seem to have a sizable following, however. Social media is really more about how often those followers interact with a company or do something that provides value to a business running a social media account or page. Here’s a test you can do in just a few minutes:
Running an SMB today also means running a strong digital presence. You may not be where you want to be online today, and that’s okay, but make sure your competitor isn’t much farther ahead.
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