Huge companies like GM, Microsoft and Walmart spend millions of dollars each per year on competitive intelligence — basically, spying on what their competitors are doing and planning to do in order to keep up with them.
Most of this corporate intelligence gathering is perfectly legal but it can be very expensive, involving private investigators and spy-vs-spy skullduggery at one end and plain old industry involvement on the other, whether attending conferences and other events or monitoring trade publications with high subscription costs. And don’t forget the secret shoppers!
Anyway, the costs add up.
Until the Internet came along, it was too expensive for small and mid-sized companies to do much to track their competitors besides gather gossip here and there.
The Web changed that. Being able to delve into a website was a good start towards seeing what the competition was up to. You could see their new products and learn who they hired and read about any expansions they were planning.
But of course, a website just has stuff that the company wants to share with the public. A good website won’t give you anything really juicy. That’s what social media is for.
A useful blog post from the email company Vertical Response, “6 Easy Ways to Keep Track of Your Competitors,” recommends that you:
- Follow your competitors on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, or YouTube. Facebook recently rolled out the ability to add competitor’s pages to your “Pages to Watch” section and compare their results with yours.
- How is the competition communicating with customers via social media? What types of information are they sharing and how often?
- How many followers do they have compared to you?
The Vertical Response article also offers tips for using search engines and especially Google Alerts, as well as online reviews to get to know your competition better.
Finally, of course, you should still visit competitors’ websites. But don’t just look at their products and prices. And don’t just look at how pretty (or ugly) their website is. Test its functionality too.
- Does the site look good on phones and tablets? Mobile devices can account for up to half of traffic these days.
- Does it collect email addresses? Email is a great way to maintain an ongoing relationship with customers and encourage repeat business, which is more profitable than new business.
- Does it integrate social media through sharing buttons and a Facebook faces box? Another way to encourage that profitable repeat business…
While you’re at it, look at your own website for these features too. Because even if you don’t, you can be sure that your competitors will.
— Erik Curren, Curren Media Group