I have a friend who works for a chain of gas stations here in the Southeast. It recently came up in conversation that he is discouraged from using other gas stations, as he would be supporting a competitor. I guess that makes sense, and this is common practice in many companies. Back in my early twenties, I did some temp work at a Coca-Cola corporate office and was reprimanded when I returned from lunch holding a Mountain Dew (oops).
I thought about my friend recently when I visited one of his competing gas stations and left impressed by my experience. The store was clean. The employees were professional, nicely dressed and friendly. They offer a wide variety of snacks, including freshly prepared foods and healthy to-go options. They have a free air station for when my tires are low. They even have a hot dog topping station! I thought, does my friend know what he’s missing? Does his marketing department know what they’re missing? Or does the entire company think they’re the best, because they’ve never checked out the competition?
It made me think about how often we may not know how to best position our own products or services because we ignore what our competitors are offering. So how do we go about checking out the competition?
- Read their online reviews. What do their customers appreciate? Are they lacking in any areas, and could you take advantage of that? Would your customers have similar complaints about your company that need to be addressed?
- Check out their website. How is it designed? What kind of information and support do they offer? Is it user friendly and easy to navigate? What kind of vibe or feeling do they convey? How have they highlighted and presented their products/services? Are they offering anything you haven’t thought to offer?
- Stalk them on social media. Visit their Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn pages. Sign up for their newsletters, free downloads and white papers. And don’t forget SlideShare; many companies post presentations and PDFs that could give insight on their best practices.
- If possible, fully experience your competition. For example, if you’re a hotel owner, stay in a competitor hotel for a night. Go beyond making a sneaky phone call to check rates, and go see what they have to offer from check-in to check-out. Then you’ll know how to market your own property (because you’ll see what sets you apart) and what you may need to improve (they offer eggs and bacon for breakfast, while you offer only doughnuts and coffee).
- Set up Google alerts. You should already be keeping up with what’s being said about your brand, but setting up a Google alert for your competitors is an easy way to know when they’re mentioned online.
- Love your enemies. Build a friendly relationship with your competitors, and share information that could help each other. Think of it as bouncing ideas off someone in your industry rather than sharing trade secrets. Who better to give advice than someone who likely experiences the same problems and challenges you face?
- Be honest. Your competitors will do some things better than you and some things worse. Don’t make excuses. The purpose of checking out your competition isn’t simply to come up with excuses for why you can’t do this or that. Truly evaluate what you could or should change.
Suzanne Youngblood – Director of Content Marketing