Know Your Competitor Research Inside Out

man looking over business financials

Do you know who your competition is?

I used to work as a bouncer at nightclubs, festivals, and shows. It would often be me and a handful of other guys to secure thousands of people at the event or festival. In this instance, you never knew who the enemy was because everyone was presumed to be there attending to enjoy the entertainment. But the bad guys were all around lurking in crowd watching and waiting to strike.

Your competitors are the same when you don’t know who they are. The fact is once you start to succeed you will have more and more competitors and people who are watching your every move. Building a eCommerce brand has been a tough journey but a very rewarding one, at first it was learning the business, then the finances, then team management and then competitors and price monitoring it never ends. But staying ahead of the competition shouldn’t feel like another task that you have to do. I started to enjoy seeing the gaping holes in their marketing and product fit and would often be using the research to build new campaigns and selling new products. Enjoy it!

I think that companies who want to succeed at any cost will throw large chunks of money at media platforms to build audiences. Why? companies want to win against the competition.

Ive found it that sometimes the most obvious competitors are not really the best competitors to allocate when researching true competitors.

The customer doesn’t know what categories you are trying to play in, they are oblivious to that. You as a business owner have the category in mind when you build the business, thats obvious to you. 

When building out you business you would be building a little swipe file of competitors both direct from the search engine results and aspirational competitors. Or at least you should be.

One tweak that I apply to competitor research is category research. While its nice to have aspirational competitors I really need to know who it is that is taking the market share of $$$ from my search terms and advertising audiences.

If you sell ice cream, you don’t compete with just ice cream companies, but a myriad of brands that do a similar job for the customer. At the end of a long day, I might reach for pancakes or refreshing bubble tea instead of ice cream.

See the competition angles there? bubble tea and pancakes. Not really your first thought for competitors to ice cream. But they are.

If your competitor has feature X, it does not mean this product feature is recognized, prioritized or valued by it customers nor the competitor itself. It’s most often not an apples-to-apples comparison.

You’re always competing against a significantly wider set of alternatives than you’d like – and that set is in constant movement. Attempting to limit competition by narrowing it down in a strategy document does not make it so.

I like to use Clickup… or I could use Notion. On paper, these companies are in different categories, not direct competition, but they’re absolutely alternatives to each other. They both handle similar problem solving elements that appeal to me.

To be a success and not get side-swiped once you get to the top by competitors you need to know them. You need to know your goal and at the very least consider what their goal might be. Just to protect your revenue should they start targeting you and your business. I also don’t mean targeting you like pointing guns at you, but more targeting your keywords, your products, your messaging and your brand image.

You have so many competitors and this increases the more success you have. Thats not changing, if anything it will only get harder. Each of these competitors will have their own goal or you may encounter one of those rogue ones that has no goal and is a complete wildcard.

If you can be clear about what your goal is and know what resources you have and need to fulfil the work to get there, you are 2 steps ahead of 99% of your competitors. Most competitors will have a lot of goals and not be thinking about who needs to do what to help them hit those goals. They may even have multiple goals and no one assigned to any goals. This is the more likely situation where competitors are not organised but just ambitious.

In my businesses when I started out I wanted to do ecom, dropshipping, affiliate, client side agency and then developer work all at once and when I look back I was the only resource allocated to all of that. It is not uncommon for businesses to be thinking like that. When I was bouncing we had limited resources per every 1,000 people within the show and had to make sure each bouncer was being used to maximise efficiency and cover ground.

Running Click Bucks is a great side hustle for letting creativity out.

The key to this entire post is to have clarity on your goals, have the knowledge of what resources to have to get you there and to form a clear picture of your main competitors, and assess if they have a strategy to knock you off the top or are they just throwing mud against the wall to see what sticks.

Define the key people you need in order to help you reach your business goals. Many hands make light work.

In my eCommerce business I make it very clear. We have 3 customer support people who are customer-facing. They handle the calls, the support and billings support requests as they come in, and then I have the operations team of 4 who handle fulfillment, marketing, and website work. Everyone knows their swim lanes and what they are responsible for and who their direct support is.

Everyone has clarity. Everyone has purpose and everyone has a direct support when they need help.

Now competitors and I mean your real competitors not dropshippers or churn and burn stores wont have this in place. Unless they are all in career dropshippers who have teams ad portfolios. The real competitors should have tell tale signs that you can see when the market shifts, trends emerge and new products launch. You should be able to see their change in tactics and how they adapt to this change. If you cant message me and Ill help you identify these changes of behaviour and how to pick them up.

Looking below its hard to tell what product is the best fitness tracker. They all look same same.

Just note down in a sheet or notebook somewhere what you notice about each competitor. I personally log a manager sheet per store, website, brand that I own/operate. This contains all my research for that market and any observations I see while reviewing the changes in the market and any competitor movement. If you track it you can monitor it for patterns, better than not tracking it and letting it blindside you right?

Now how to make sure the competitors cant catch up to you.

You should be singing your brands message from the rooftops. Making sure there is a lot of noise around your USP and everyone who visits your store knows what that USP is.

The more you can make visitors aware of your place in the market the more traction and followers you will get.

  • promote your values,
  • your people,
  • your products,
  • your unique selling point

The more people will find a connection with you, your brand and your message.

To really compete in any market there needs to be winners and losers. You can always call out competitors but make sure you have yourself a good shield in place for when they come back at you. Make your point of difference so clear that there is no cause for concern on backlash. Alert & Inform your prospective customer that this is what you do, how you do and what they can expect as a client or customer.

Choose the delivery method of these points and fully align with them. If you don’t do one of these things that you say DONT mention it. You need to have a solid problem and solution message in play to get buy in from a customer. No half-hearted vague AF message, that just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Only when you announce your target, you can define a strategy to win… or at least, you can make yourself believe you are now truly playing the game. Being the brand people want to buy and the brand that competitors wish they could partner with is the winning ticket. Always be building a brand and not a store.

Identifying your goals is the only way to reach them. If you keep your goals inside your head and not written down or having a huge printed sheet outlining the target goals its hard to move towards them each day. The same goes with your competitors, if you know who they are in your noggin but have not put them in any research list or outlined them in your competitors research spreadsheets you can lose sight of them.