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Consider your sources: What’s missing from your marketing strategy?

Danish poker player Gus Hansen has won and lost his share of major high-stakes tournaments on the pro circuit. While his good fortune has fluctuated over the years, his strategy has not.

His mantra has always been: Look at the game from the opponent’s perspective.

And the same can be said in marketing. How keenly do you monitor the approach your competitors take to tout their services and solutions? The impact that gathering competitive intelligence can have on your marketing initiatives can be profound. After all, you can’t exploit gaps in the market, highlight differences that set your capabilities apart, or accurately identify and address your shortcomings if you don’t know they exist. 

Here’s the thing: For all the value a competitive analysis can provide, it’s far from a priority practice in the current climate.

According to a recent special edition of the CMO Survey, only 50% percent of respondents said “learning from competitors” factors into the information their companies have used to guide marketing strategy during the pandemic.

That’s a far cry from the most popular practices, which have value but fail to provide a complete perspective because information and guidance comes from the people who inform the output (sales), create the content (teams), and approve the work (executives).

  • 82.6 % turn to team members
  • 80.8 % seek input from top management
  • 70.1 % speak to their sales teams

As the data shows, marketing strategy is overwhelmingly influenced by internal sources. The survey also lists four more tactics that are more popular than learning from competitors. How can this be? Creating a successful strategy without assessing the competition is like playing golf blindfolded: Sure, you could hit the fairway off the tee. But you’ll likely yell “Fore!” a lot more.

Scrambling at the outset of the pandemic to adjust business goals—and the plans required to achieve them—presumably led companies to look inward. Everyone needed to think fast, act faster and survive the initial wave of uncertainty. But now we’re nearly six months in. It’s time to shift focus from crisis management to opportunities missed and new ones on the horizon.

Which begs the question: What’s your strategy for next steps? And does it include even a cursory review of the competitive landscape?

Admittedly, conducting a comprehensive deep dive of competitors is a daunting undertaking, especially if time is limited, resources are stretched and budgets are tight. So, begin with the basics:

  • What do competitor websites tell you?
    • What message does the hero banner communicate? This could indicate how they position themselves relative to rivals.
    • How comprehensive is their content? Does it tell you enough about the offerings and the challenges they help customers overcome?
    • What role does design play in visually communicating the sophistication of a service?
    • How engaging are the calls-to-action (CTAs)? Do they compel you to progress along the buyer’s journey?
    • Do you have access to an analytics tool like SEMrush for keyword tracking, SEO audits and other performance metrics?

  • How do your competitors position themselves in the market?
    • What are they selling? A product? A service? Expertise?
    • What do they claim makes them unique? Do they have a true differentiator?
    • Are they trying to win business on price? Capabilities? Industry experience? Something else?

  • How do your competitors use social media?
    • Do they have a preferred platform?
    • How often do they post on various platforms?
    • Across platforms, is a consistent message communicated?
    • Do most posts promote solutions and services, or move conversations forward through the likes of thought leadership?

Create a scorecard. Like a ringside judge at a prize fight, compare the competitive intelligence you’ve gathered to the method your company applies in each area. Who wins each round and why? Be critical and honest in your assessment.

Remember, it’s all about perspective. Change it, and the strategy that supports your work is bound to be stronger.

Whether you’ll play poker like a pro is another story entirely.