It’s one of the golden rules of marketing.
And it’s sound advice. You wouldn’t launch a business without carefully surveying the marketplace first, to figure out the opportunities and threats (I hope). The same goes for your marketing.
But there’s a danger in looking too closely at your competition, too.
You can go really wrong if you feel under pressure to match what your rivals do online.
All too often, I see companies that research what tactics their competitors have adopted online – for example developing a Facebook or Twitter presence – and then feel under pressure to compete on that same ground. They don’t want their competitor to dominate that channel, so they invest a lot of time and energy “catching up”.
Or else they assume, usually without any evidence, that their competition’s strategy is good, and believe they need to do something similar.
Although we’re not web designers, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen company owners point to a competitor’s website and say, “We need something like that”. Again, they usually have no evidence that the website is in any way effective, beyond the fact it looks slick.
Some even deliberately copy winning sales funnels – although they call it “hacking”.
The problem is twofold.
First of all your competition’s online strategy may be rubbish.
Obviously there are many companies doing brilliantly, but I think it’s indisputable that the mass of companies marketing themselves online are operating without a real strategy, without real imagination and without real success.
The vast majority are still feeling their way with a marketing form which is still in its infancy – and you should copy what they’re doing at your peril.
Second of all, even if you do have competitors who by any objective standard are doing well with their online marketing, it doesn’t necessarily help you to do the same thing.
I don’t know about you, but my Inbox is packed full of emails from my own industry which sound exactly the same. No matter which company I Google, immediately hundreds of results come up for companies with similar-looking websites, offers and messages. It’s really hard to distinguish between them.
In practically every industry, differentiating yourself online is an enormous struggle.
So why would you deliberately try to look and sound just like one of your competitors?
What you really need to do is find ways to be different – and better. That’s the only way to stand out significantly.
So by all means research the competition and monitor their moves.
But don’t assume their way is the only way. Or even the best way.
Use the info you gather to understand what messages your audience has already heard, so you can build on those….
To figure out what mistakes to avoid….
To understand the opportunities they’re missing.
Then carve out your own space.