I’m one of those people that strongly believes that you shouldn’t copy your competition. If you find yourself stuck for new ideas, saying (or even thinking), “Well what is Acme Competitor doing?” isn’t going to make your brand more successful or relevant in your industry.
That being said, there are some areas where you can look to your competition for inspiration when it comes to shaping your own engagement strategy for your target audience. Think of your competitors as your most relevant case study: if it is working for them, then there are likely some aspects of what they are doing that will work for your company as well.
While there is no complete way to know how successful a competitors search or print advertising is (unless you have a snitch on the inside), one easy way to tell is if it caught your eye. If you find yourself continuously drawn to one style of ad or wording, then chances are your audience is doing the same.
See what the similarities are that you are drawn to and try to include that feature into your own advertising campaigns.
Communication with Community
See how active your competitor’s social media profiles are. Do their Facebook updates get a lot of shares, comments, or likes? Do they update their Twitter feed regularly? While you shouldn’t copy the content they are sharing, see what gets the most engagement. This is important because their target audience is YOUR target audience. If the audience responds more to posts with photos, try to weave more photos into your posts. Likewise, if you see tweets get shared or retweeted more during a specific time of day (or day of the week), try to experiment with your own Twitter post timing to see if you can produce the same effect.
Look at your competitors’ websites and social media profiles. Is the design relevant and engaging to your community and target audience? The type of industry you are in affects what type of design style that should be implemented in all your online (and print) branding. Try to find a few elements that you think would work for your own company (e.g. a clean look versus a cluttered one; a helpful navigation menu that makes it easy to find interior pages) and compare it to what you are already doing to see how you can improve.
I believe that great content, no matter who it’s from, should be shared. Just because it is someone from your competitor who wrote a great industry piece, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t tell anyone about it. I frequently share news, blog posts, events, and information from others in my industry (yes, even direct competitors) and I have found that it helps me not only grow my network, but it also educates me because I’m learning about my industry from a different perspective.
Sharing others’ work (and tagging them in the share post, when possible) will also grow engagement on your end, as often they will retweet your post, like it, etcetera, thus leading to greater visibility for you.
If you’re a local business, check out your competitors’ stores (with a friendly intention) to see what they are offering. Again, this isn’t meant to “copy” what they do –and it especially isn’t meant for you to “accidentally” tip over a display or write a mean review on Yelp– but to see what is working for them versus what isn’t. This is especially helpful if your stores are laid out the same. If you notice yourself lost trying to find a specific product that you know your customers regularly need or you see a display for a product you carry that effectively captures your attention, make those mental notes for how to improve your own store.
Additionally, on the online front, check out the local SEO of your local competitors. They might have a profile on a local directory or website that you can add yourself to as well. It may also be worth seeing if competitors are members of any organizations or chamber of commerces in your area that would be beneficial for your company to join as well.
Do you keep seeing employees or leaders of your competitors speaking at industry conferences, trade shows, or local events? That just might be the kick in the ass you need to do it yourself. Regularly apply to speak at industry events to help grow your presence, establish your authority, and network with others in your industry.
Checking out your competitors can put you at an advantage, if you are using it as motivation for your own products in motion, instead of relying on them to supply the ingenuity you are just planning on copying. Look to how you can take something others are doing and do it better: this is what will stand out to your target audience.
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