This post is part of a series describing customer segments that are especially valuable to retailers. For each group, we’ll break down their unique characteristics, what kind of brands could benefit from getting in front of them and how they could be identified.
The Lake Entertainer
Today we’re going to take a closer look at a creature native to my own land of Minnesota and its 10,000 lakes: the cabin owner. In and around the Twin Cities, it’s fairly common for well-off families to own or have access to a cabin within a few hours’ drive. For families lucky enough to have a lake place, many weekends in the short Minnesota summer are spent at the lake.
Each lake is different of course. But some common themes emerge when considering what it’s like at a Minnesota lake in the summer.
Lake places are made for gathering and lake place owners often invite friends and family to the lake. Summer doesn’t last long in the upper Midwest and weekends are precious. As a host there’s an obligation to entertain guests well, including making memorable meals (usually some form of barbeque,) campfires and lake toys for splashing in and around the water. This means that hosts are especially interested in products that are capable of creating a wow factor with guests.
There’s a kind of spending justification that can go along with this too. For a lot of cabin owners, they take on the expense of buying and maintaining a lake place because it allows them to spend more time with those they love. Splurging on the little extras that might make that time more enjoyable is easy knowing that these opportunities are precious and fleeting.
At the lake, the vibe is casual punctuated with the odd and outrageous. A cabin can be a place to express personality with bold decor choices that wouldn’t fly at home. And when it comes to entertainment, the weird and the extreme can come out in the form of homemade contraptions, bizarre themes and outsized dimensions.
There is a one upsmanship involved with other groups around the lake that can magnify this effect. Again, any product that is bold enough to stand out, or unique enough to represent a personal passion, has a good shot at the lake.
A High Lookyloo Factor
One of the best ways to enjoy the lake is by boat. We can divide motorized boat traffic into a few major types. There are fishing boats looking for smallmouth bass and northern pike, parents in ski boats pulling kids on tubes, jet skis zipping around in circles and a handful of powerful wake setting boats full of young adults blasting music while wakeboarding or surfing. But the most ubiquitous boat found on the water has got to be the slow moving pontoon boat.
Pontoons excel at creating a comfortable cruise for groups of up to 12 people of all ages. The classic plan when filing onto the boat for a pontoon ride is to set the throttle just above idle speed and crawl along the perimeter of the lake, enjoying the sun and gazing at all of the impressive lake houses.
These floating platforms make for all kinds of conversation, but eventually the talk usually revolves around what other people that live on the lake are doing at their place: cabin improvements under way, the boats they have, their towables and rest of the lake toys they’re using.
This creates a natural kind of window shopping experience for cruisers, as well as a “keeping up with the Joneses” effect. The scores of pontoons doing laps each day represent a uniquely potent environment for word of mouth marketing.
Meet the Lake Entertainer Buyer Profile
Stir these factors together and you’ve got a valuable prospect profile for relevant brands in a context for free spending.
Higher than average household income
Cares about entertaining friends and family and wants to impress neighbors around the lake
Considers the lake a form of ‘vacation mode’ which can lead to looser spending choices
Readily influenced by other lake owners in close proximity and able to affect referral purchases
Open to impulse buying of niche products that are personal or outrageous as a form of self expression
Product categories that should seek the Lake Entertainer
There is a huge range of products that could apply to this buyer profile. Here are a few example categories.
Personalized decor and entertaining items
Tools for cooking for a crowd e.g. pellet smokers, Yeti coolers
Bizarre inflatables and towables
Outdoor entertaining gear, especially drinkware
Products for documenting the weekend e.g. action camera
Reaching Lake Entertainer Prospects
So what are some ways to find these valuable buyers? A few suggestions.
Tax records can provide mailing addresses at popular recreational lakes for mailings or for matching with identity resolution services
Using Facebook, target fans of products that are mostly dedicated to maintaining a lake place such as ShoreMaster docks and lifts.
Run social contests to incentivize user generated content from customers
Offer to sponsor lake association events with cash or in-kind donations
Enter a float in the local 4th of July parade
Create an email newsletter with news and stats by lake
That’s it for this installment of Ideal Customer Profiles. Enjoy the summer while it’s here!
When considering potential products and services to offer, it can be useful to look at the nature of the target audiences involved. Inbound marketing based on niche communities represent the ultimate dream for retailers that want to sell direct at incredible margins. Some groups can be more readily persuaded to buy online and to help evangelize a product solution.
So what does an ideal niche look like? Here’s a checklist of desirable audience traits to test product ideas against.
Traits of an ideal niche audience
Readily targetable – using advertising or organic means, it’s possible to make content and messaging available to your group. Having a unique user persona is great but it will be of limited use if you’re not able to identify similar users in the marketplace or to reach them.
Impressionable – Some groups are more open to persuasion than others. Users that follow influencers on social media or that read learning publications or videos, show that they are interested in advice and suggestions.
Self-motivated – Offering utilitarian products has its place. For the small brand selling online though, it’s especially helpful to operate in an industry where the users are motivated by personal passion. That could be a cause, a personal hobby, a mark of individualism or other thing that generates emotion.
Buying power – Audience members should be willing and able to buy online. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ultra wealthy as long as they have some discretionary income. These users should be comfortable moving from browse to purchase without getting overly caught up with privacy or security concerns.
Part of a community – If there isn’t a place to discuss the industry you can always create something and add value by cultivating it. But it’s even better if there’s an existing one that you can leverage and participate in. Online discussion boards or meetups provide a great way to hear from potential customers directly and you can mine the existing chatter for clues about what motivates purchasing behavior.
Example Niches – Meat Thermometers and Carbide Chisels
Hobbyists that don’t do work as a professional but that want to dabble are a prime opportunity for niche brands. There are plenty of weekend warriors that want to buy their way into upping their game, whatever that game may be. One example of a brand that benefits from this kind of audience is Thermoworks, who is the undisputed leader in digital meat thermometers. Chefs swear by the Thermapen, considered the Cadillac of instant read thermometers for its accuracy and speed. Home chefs likely have very little need for a thermometer that can measure accurately to the tenth of a degree, or that can create a readout in 3 seconds instead of 10 seconds. But if they just spent thousands on a new outdoor kitchen and want to follow their Big Green Egg recipes closely, spending $100 to get the best thermometer seems worth it. This kind of narrow focus has allowed Thermoworks to attain an enviable market leader position and they have such a cult following that they can afford to avoid marketplaces like Amazon.com entirely.
The content opportunity for brands catering to a specific niche is to show the output that pros get out of their high end tools. By demonstrating what’s possible, ambitious amateurs are offered a tempting shortcut to improving their own skills. And while huge hobby categories like woodworking have been crowded with vendors forever, there are sub-categories with specialized tools like creating bowls from stumps through wood turning. As an interested beginner you can get a cheap set of chisels from Harbor Freight to do the job. But if you want to use the tools that the big accounts on Instagram use to create their works of art, you’ll have to pop for a premium brand like Robert Sorby and their titanium-nitride Turnmaster with tungsten carbide cutting head.
So where do you go to find categories, sub-categories and sub-sub-categories? Communities are a good place to start. Anywhere people organize to discuss their passions and hobbies can be a great source for ideas. There is a seemingly unending supply of obscure subreddits where users discuss their unique needs and preferred brands. Sites like subredditstats.com can help to identify groups that are gaining momentum. Meetup.org is another place to see how people self-identify around interests. This can be a good way to spot emerging trends to seek out new opportunities. Axe throwing, whiskey tasting and creating and ice carousels have only recently become relatively mainstream and each have their own accompanying set of specialized accessories.
Moving in and taking over
Once a community is identified, it’s best to create a product offering at the high end of the market to command the best prices, presuming you can demonstrate that your product is obviously much better than the others. But that is easier said than done, especially for lucrative niche markets. As an alternative, you can position yourself as the affordable version of an existing brand (like RTIC did for YETI) or create an ordering experience that’s faster or easier than the rest (like Bulk Reef Supply did for salt water aquarium hobbyists) or another way of differentiating from the current line up. The products may seem weird to the general public, but to the right audience they’re the stuff of dreams.
There are plenty of reasons to like podcast advertising. One reason that might be known to interrogators but not obvious to the rest of us is the podcast audience’s state of mind while consuming content and its vulnerability to suggestion.
Podcast ad revenue
Spending on podcast advertising continues to grow at a blistering pace. According to IAB, ad revenue growth jumped from $69 million among the largest companies surveyed in 2015 to $119 million in 2016 and a forecasted $220 million in 2017.
It’s not too difficult to see why podcasting is a hot market. Advertisers are seeing the value in the direct relationship between host and listeners. With production costs low compared to other mediums, there are shows dedicated to very niche topics, with hosts passionate about their material. That makes them an influencer with that community, with credibility and remarkable recommendation power. Compared to digital display ads, podcasting offers a much less competitive landscape that’s naturally ad-blocker resistant.
In addition to these benefits, podcasts are unique because of the setting they’re consumed in. Subscribers often listen while doing other activities, including exercising. Distance runners, weight lifters and all kinds of athletes that train in long stretches need something to pass the time and podcasts are a wonderful solution. The reason that’s important to advertisers is that physical fatigue can bring down our mental defenses and make us more likely to be influenced by suggestion.
According to an article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, individuals that are fatigued show a greater susceptibility to yielding to leading questions. This is one of the reasons that intense interrogations are often preceded by periods of sleep deprivation. Taken too far, this technique is so successful it can lead to false confessions. During an intense workout, podcast listeners are more likely to be convinced and influenced by effective ad messaging.
The interrogator analogy paints an alarming picture with advertisers playing the role of brain-washer. But our malleability during physical training can be empowering for the listener too. If you’re having a hard time making a positive change, physical exertion may be a catalyst for internalization when combined with audio messages.
The idea of inserting persuasive messaging during physical work is nothing new. Drill sergeants and football coaches have been using the tactics forever, repeating their favorite mantras while their target audience sweats. And judging by college football TV it works; just listen to athlete interviews and count the number of internalized messages that are dredged up when put on the spot.
Brands that advertise on a podcast that’s consumed while exercising now get their turn to play coach.
Shopping or browse pages tend to be the domain of the usability team, with utility and efficiency being the primary goals for optimization. There’s good reason for this as conveying the important product attributes can help users make purchasing choices, guiding them down the sales funnel. And click through rate to the product’s detail page is a critical performance indicator. But the browse page can also be an opportunity to deliver and reinforce value statements about your brand too. Visual clues on the product listings deliver brand messages with repetition, which aids in comprehension and recall.
Have a look at this browse page for Red Wing work boots.
They have codes that indicate the features of each pair of boots in relation to workplace needs. Filtering options include insulation against electricity, waterproofing, etc. Besides helping a customer navigate the site, displaying these product attributes sends a message to users that this brand is serious about work and their boots are purpose-built for the task. Visitors get this information at a glance, without having to read.
Compare to another shoe site NikeID, that is more geared toward the fashion-conscious and those the like to express a unique personality.
This site allows for color personalization and notes each product that is eligible for the feature. The addition of color wheels to each product image reinforces their brand’s commitment to co-creation and personalization.
The outdoor retailer REI uses a different browse page template for their outlet versus their main store. Here is their main store’s listing of jackets.
The outlet “REI Garage” displays products in a similar way but emphasizes the bargains by using strike-through pricing and calculating the percentage savings.
Because they’re delivering a different message in their outlet, they use a different template.
Messages can extend beyond the products to include store policies and content marketing. Bulk Reef Supply serves the DIY reefing community and has invested heavily in tutorial and product review videos. They add value to customers by offering lots of helpful guidance and infuse their product listings with visual cues to remind visitors that help is available.
In addition to badges, product images themselves provide an opportunity to lay out value drivers. In this case SCOTTeVEST offers an ‘x-ray’ of their apparel on mouseover. Besides being somewhat functional for browsing, it delivers the idea that you can carry a lot of stuff in these closes without looking bulky, which is the center of their value proposition.
The fact that these visual brand messages are native and repetitive is the key to this opportunity. Product listing pages with 50 or more products listed at a time offer a chance to drum key attributes into visitors’ heads as they scroll, in a way that feels natural.
Tactics for delivering brand statements are often at odds with usability tools designed with utility in mind. But the browse page for a product catalog offer a rare chance to do both in the same place.
Podcasts continue to surge in popularity and content producers and sponsors are flocking to the medium. Calls to action for advertisers are a little different for audio and require some new ways of tracking. Here are a few observations for how podcast ads can be set up to be measurable so advertisers know what’s working and so podcast producers can convey the value they bring.
Audio CTA Examples
The Tim Ferriss show is a blockbuster in the podcast world and is known to drive huge sales. Jamie Foxx calls him ‘the Oprah Winfrey of audio” for that reason. Ferriss excels at quantifying things in general and his audio ads are no exception. He’s good at monetizing content in a way that’s not slimy. So it’s no wonder his shows provide plenty of good examples of smart CTAs and campaign attribution.
URL shorteners can make it easier to direct traffic verbally, especially if you’ve got a dedicated offer you’re trying to track. Tim Ferriss uses the obscure .blog TLD for short links to content on his site, which often augments the material available directly in the podcast episode.
He also sends people to response URLs that are set up just for him. That way the sponsor can note traffic being directed to this page in their web analytics tool and have a sense of how much the podcast ad is responsible for.
Sometimes it’s easier to direct people to search for a resource rather than try to recite a long URL over audio. Podcast hosts (or guests) can instruct listeners how to create a query that will work on Google or in an on-site search.
Maybe the most impressive example of this technique in action is when Seth Godin is a guest on a podcast. The host simply tells the audience to google ‘Seth’ and of course his prolific marketing blog shows up first. Being able to reliably tell people to just search for your first name is reserved for enormously well-known and reputable personalities, with loads of search-friend content online (i.e. Seth Godin.)
Podcast-specific discount codes/offers
This one isn’t specific to audio format but it’s especially important there. When sponsors are willing to attach an offer for new customers, making that offer code a vanity code allows for better attribution. Plus publishers appreciate having an exclusive offer to make to listeners versus repeating an offer that’s already readily available.
Fuzzy attribution works too
Not all results have to be quantitative. In addition to hard stats, podcasters can use publish dates as a way to note the influence of their ads on the audience. Noting the business results before and after the initial airing can be effective as long as the results are dramatic enough.
The Tim Ferriss Show often notes that products sell out quickly after being featured on the air. TV shows like Shark Tank also share the attribution challenges of being a broadcast medium and often airs updates to previous deals to reinforce the value of the tank.
Triggered memory storage for delayed responses
Podcasts are often consumed in a setting that doesn’t allow for immediate response. If you’re driving, exercising or raking leaves while listening, you’re not going to take action right away and are already distracted by your task. Using tricks to make it easy to mentally file the information for later use is essential. At a minimum, use repetition to ensure the CTA isn’t lost in the clutter.
A higher cost purchase can be a factor but the mental energy involved doesn’t necessarily line up with the dollars involved. Consider a few especially tricky decisions and some easy ones, at all different costs.
Buying a new car $$$$
Selecting a new phone and plan $$
Hiring a contractor to work on your house $$$
Picking a gift for a new girlfriend $
Vacation souvenirs $$
Specialized products with a clear leader (e.g. WeatherTech car floor liners) $-$$$
Renewing existing services like insurance $$ (Conversely, selecting a new provider can be very taxing.)
Favorite dishes at known restaurants $
Certain purchases can feel like an ordeal. For brands in e-Commerce, the goal is to remove as much of the mental labor required to make a purchase decision. Some of the things that exasperate users and contribute to mental weight include:
Opaque costs and terms – it’s mentally taxing to try and figure out where the catches are and how we might be getting taken advantage of.
Unfamiliar settings – making decisions in a new city or in an industry new to you can leave you feeling disadvantaged.
Convoluted options and dependencies – if it’s too difficult to consider various scenarios, the customer starts to feel overwhelmed.
Visibility – if your purchase choice is very public there’s added pressure to get it right.
Incomplete information – it’s tougher to make a confident decision with unknowns in play.
Unclear product lineup – sorting through tiers of service, model generations and variations can be tough if the differences aren’t well communicated.
Mapping user personas and customer journeys can help to illustrate the state of mind of those who might be considering a specific product or service. Consider how hard they need to work at making a buying choice and how you can reduce some of the mental energy required.
And there are new business opportunities for companies that find a way to make high dollar purchases with difficult purchase processes more enjoyable.
Frequency is a key element of campaign design, especially in retargeting efforts. Multiple touches usually do better than one-off messages. But additional impressions will increase the rate of spend too. It’s a balancing act to find an efficient rate of spend and a satisfactory return on investment.
Credit: Neil Patel
That’s if you’re paying for additional impressions. It works better if you can get them for free.
While adding external impressions will increase costs, mental repetitions are free. By developing creative specifically designed to enhance recall, you can increase the returns on your campaigns without breaking the budget.
Mental recall by design
There are myriad techniques for improving recall including classic advertising tactics like repetition and setting slogans to music. For more creative ideas, and to get the most drastic effects, we can look to memory champions and the mnemonics they use.
Each year the top mental performers in the US gather to compete in the USA Memory Championships. Performing feats of memorization such as recalling entire blocks of poetry upon a single exposure to it and committing hundreds of digits of random numbers to memory, they use mental tricks to help enhance recall. Our target audiences may not be focused on memorizing details but we can still employ some of the techniques used.
There are a lot of techniques that competitors use to store and recall large amounts of random information. One of the popular and effective is the Method of Ioci or constructing a mind palace. A mind palace is a mental image of a fictional place that contains rooms and other structure features that you can place items within. By leaving memorable items to trigger you memory within your palace, you can evoke memories by walking through your palace.
For example your palace may contain a kitchen, a pantry and a dining room among other rooms. To recall a 3 of clubs and 5 of hearts when memorizing a deck of cards, you might place 3 cavemen at the dining table, arguing about dinner. (Cavemen carry clubs.) They could be eating their favorite artichoke dip (fave = five, artichoke = hearts). And the story goes on from there as you walk from room to room through your palace.
According to memory experts the key to selecting effective characters and events is making them remarkable and out of the ordinary. The more absurd or emotional or personal the events the better. So cavemen are better than golfers because you don’t see them every day and artichoke dip is better for me than candy conversation hearts because I happen to actually like it. Those valentine hearts are nasty.
We can borrow that best practice for memory by using familiar settings in the creative, incorporating absurdities and using known personal preferences. Create visual ads that accomplish this by incorporating visuals that crazy, personal or emotional, or all three.
This one’s easy. Just make your creative a little more bizarre to add more potential for recall. You don’t have to go all the way to deranged, just make it something you don’t see every day.
Here’s a well put together ad campaign from Mutual Jewelers Insurance.
It takes what could be a mundane topic in insurance coverage and ads an absurd twist: a ring stealing crab. This campaign gets bonus points for using animated display ads, which grab attention, and for adding absurd words as well as visuals. There are a series of ads that each use an obscure vocabulary to describe the theft, with alliteration to boot. “Criminal crustaceans” and “beach bandits” are memorable because they’re unusual and kind of weird.
Adding emotion doesn’t have to mean making people weep or being overly serious. Your ad should evoke a feeling, the stronger the better, to boost memorability.
This image from Granite Gear is actually from their Instagram feed but is a good example of tapping into the emotions of the target audience.
The image is paired with the copy “Hang on summer, don’t leave just yet…”. Every backpacker knows the bittersweet feeling of summer winding down. Plus the image itself shows why summer is worth savoring. It depicts one of the rewards of a long hike: a peaceful sunrise after a good night’s rest in the tent. This makes good use of an emotional reaction unique to the target audience rather than going for a completely syrupy ad to try and make general consumers misty eyed.
The notorious Puppy Monkey Baby Super Bowl ad combined emotion (repulsion) with absurdity and got double the recall. But don’t let the desire to boost the stickiness of the ad overtake the brand message you’re trying to convey. It is possible to overdo it.
Memory champs incorporate their own meaningful spaces and memories into their palaces. Experiences unique to you are more likely to be recalled when referenced externally. If you’ve ever caught a whiff of a unique smell from your hometown’s factory or a special dish your mom used to make when you were young, you know how it can take you back to a host of memories.
It can be a challenge to pinpoint personal settings since everyone’s experience is unique. But you can work with experiences that are shared by your community, your experiences unique to a profession or your geography. SCUBA diving enthusiasts probably all remember the feeling of getting their certification card in the mail or downloading their underwater photos from their camera after a dive. If you are a real estate agent you probably know how it feels to cash a commission check on a hard-earned sale, memorable because of the hurdles overcome. And people within a local community probably have memories attached to the local landmarks that are popular within the area.
Spire Credit Union is squarely focused on the Midwest, and the Twin Cities in particular. Their storytelling ads are peppered with landmarks and any local will instantly recognize. This helps their brand connect as ‘one of us’ but it also helps their message stick. The next time someone in the neighborhood walks by a building or vista featured in an ad, it has the potential to trigger recall.
A little effort for a big return
Utilizing 3rd party organizations to power retargeting ads can be a great way to get feet wet and to leverage advanced segmenting tools. It’s tempting to also outsource the development of the ads themselves too. Take care not to accept the basic templated ad shells that are available out of the box. If you go beyond brand colors and logo as the extent of your customization, you have the chance to multiply the effectiveness of your campaign by leveraging mnemonics, just like a champion mental athlete.
User personas are great tools for focusing messaging and keeping your users’ motivations at the forefront when developing content and products. A classic way of displaying a user persona internally is through a visual poster that can be hung on a wall. To add more color, and to make things more practical, you can pull the profile off of the wall and onto the screen with web advertising.
The interest map
To start, create a new user profile on your OS. This will make it easy to switch profiles and not contaminate one group of data with another.
Then, start creating a digital footprint with your user’s pain points in mind. In the fictional example of Mary Manning, she’s a middle aged real estate agent who lives in Nashville. Based on her user persona, she may visit sites about marketing, look at products that she can use in her real estate career and of course do some social networking.
Creating click streams that advertisers will tap into will take some work. Spread the task over days or weeks to build a robust click stream. To make it easier for them to identify and target your persona, make sure to fill out profiles with the big data collectors like Facebook and Twitter. Retargeting campaigns are especially prevalent on the web so visit some content and product sites that may have a budget to lure you back. If you click on a web advertisement to begin a visit, you’re more likely to be tracked and put into a retargeting bucket.
Viewing the Results
After ‘Mary’ has made her interests and shopping patterns known, you can start to see how her world is impacted by other advertisements, providing great context for your own messaging strategy. Browsing general interest sites like local news pages and weather forecasts should start to reveal which companies are spending money to reach your ideal users.
After spending some time walking in Mary’s shoes, you might be surprised to learn which companies are dominating her attention, especially if they are not a direct competitor for your product or service.
Treat your personas’ digital footprints as assets, updating the stream once in a while. Then you can tap into a live picture of her world any time you need to, and get a real picture of her potential experience online, based on real (virtual) world conditions.
January can be tough for a lot of reasons. Daylight hours are short and the weather is often gray. The excitement of Christmas and the new year are over and settling back into daily responsibilities can be daunting.
I wanted to share a suggestion for battling the Winter Blahs: running with podcasts.
Cold weather running with podcasts
Body and Mind
Running (or another form of exercise) is known to be a good way to boost moods and to reduce anxiety. I’m recommending running because of its availability. There’s no gym or equipment required and as a solo activity, it’s always available on your schedule.
Podcasts have been around a long time now and are enjoying a kind of renaissance lately. I’m new to the podcast party but have been making up for lost time, listening in to all kinds of shows whenever I find the chance to listen. Podcasts really work for mood when paired with running.
Running provides an extended amount of time to listen to a show or shows without mental distractions and while your brain is enjoying those exercise endorphins. Choose a podcast that’s inspiring or challenging and double down on the positivity. An engaging podcast can distract from the pain and monotony of a long run too. The two activities really are complementary.
Favorite podcasts to run to
TED Talks – Everyone loves these talks and for good reason. They’re smart, inspirational and uplifting. Most presentations translate well into the audio-only format and range from 15 minutes to 45 minutes.
Interviews and Biographies – By surrounding yourself with great minds you gain a new perspective for what’s possible.
History – Podcasts are a great format for learning important lessons from history without cracking open a thick textbook. These shows offer a peak into history’s best stories and characters in an entertaining way.
Spiritual Development – Sermons and interviews work nicely for a 30-60 minute run. Especially when you’re running outside, this can be a great time to connect with the Lord and to gain an eternal perspective on the stresses of the day.
Business Skills and Case Studies – See what you can learn by listening to show regularly and hearing what other professionals have achieved.
Some podcasts are quite long or take several episodes to tell a story. You can use that to your advantage by linking podcast listening with your runs. If you only allow yourself to listen to a certain show while you’re running you’ll have another reason to get out and run.
Download episodes on wifi before you leave instead of streaming to save on data and to avoid interruptions when you’re outside of good cell coverage.
When it comes to competitive analysis, it’s relatively easy to see what happening out there but a lot harder to know what to do about it. Skipping the hard part can lead to limited benefits or outright bad decision making.
Here are some examples of the varying degrees of thoughtfulness that can be given after recognizing what a competitor is up to, and the implications.
Blind following: A direct competitor is doing this, therefore we should do it too. Observing what a company is trying usually affords no insight into results. Even when there are results offered as part of an interview or case study, consider the source carefully. They are often presented to paint the sunniest picture possible.
The best case outcome when chasing companies in your market is to match their functionality but to be behind on timing. There may be a time and a place to follow but in the long term it’s a losing strategy. The trouble is that when you see your direct competition doing something enviable it’s hard to resist the desire to duplicate it, especially when you can see the potential so tangibly.
Another option is to out-do the competition’s idea. This is easier said than done but if you pull it off you’ll not only put yourself in a great position but also nullify the competitor’s effort to some degree. In most cases it’s not enough to be incrementally better than the first mover though. You’ve got to cover the topic at hand or address the need in the marketplace so well that there’s no question who did it best and to make it difficult for the next company to outdo your effort.
A better option would be looking for relevant companies in non-competitive industries. If a company is innovating outside of your marketplace, copying and adapting their idea is a great strategy. The extra effort required is to see how the principles involved translate to you and your industry before diving in.
Another way to use competitive intelligence without following the pack blindly is to copy the strategy but vary the tactics. If you can diagnose the reason why your competition is doing a certain thing you can evaluate it and, if it fits for you, gain a shortcut to generating successful ideas.
For example if you sold Halloween costumes and sought mentions to improve your SEO strength, you might observe your competition offering free family-friendly costumes to mommy bloggers for them to review. They are engaging with publishers within the industry in order to encourage coverage and to generate links and social mentions. For your company, you might find the best way to utilize that strategy is to reach out to bloggers to ask them to collaborate on a ‘best of’ list of costumes to be published on your site. Potentially the collaborators would be credited within the article, offering an incentive for them to promote the piece. It’s still engaging with publishers to encourage coverage but finding a different way to get there.
Finally, you can use research on the competition to figure out what not to do. We are all looking for a Blue Ocean Strategy, or the chance to carve our a niche and dominate at what we do best. If you look at what your archival is doing you can better understand their positioning strategy. Sometimes the best response is to run in a different direction. If they are staking their claim to a territory you’re not interested in, you can take steps to distinguish yourself from their position.
With a little thoughtfulness, competitive analysis can be a great tool for business planning. The key is resisting the lazy temptation to copy first and ask questions later.