In business it is often said that only the strong survive. The businesses that adapt to their environment the most effectively greatly increase their chances of surviving, or better yet thriving. But so do the companies resourceful enough to learn from them.
Developing trade secrets, creating innovative offerings, and tracking market changes can take a lot of time, money and effort. Many companies, both large and small allocate substantial sums of money towards these initiatives to win. Yet there are others that lurk in the shadows – Spying on companies large and small to uncover key insights to help their business grow at a fraction of the cost.
Now before some of you get worked up on the ethics of this topic, I want to state that I am not advocating for unethical business activities.
Monitoring your competitors, or other successful companies that you may look up to, can be equated to studying Lebron James to learn his best moves to incorporate them into your game.
There are many levels of spying. Today, we’re talking about using digital marketing tools…it’s not like we’re encouraging you to sneak into a team’s locker room during warm-ups to steal play-sheets like a certain patriotic football team that will remain nameless..(Had to sneak that in there. I am a Steelers fan!)
The internet has equipped us with the power of anonymity and empowered us to access vast amounts of information at our finger tips. We have the ability to use both, along with our many smart connected devices, to spy on our competition.
Here we go…
The activities you are about to participate in are of a highly classified nature. Use absolute discretion while executing this mission.
Agent, your mission if you choose to accept it, is to breach the digital footprint of your competitors, monitor them from a distance undetected and utilize the latest technology to extract key information. Deploy what you have learned to advance your organization…and take over the earth. Well, maybe not the last one…but at least use it to gain market share in your industry 😉
Below are a few considerations to help you on your way…
- Follow without being detected – stalk competitor social media and third party web profiles.
By following the social media properties of your competitors you can uncover updates on product releases or changes, new industries they are exploring, existing customers and new potential customers.
You can also monitor their company profiles on websites like Glassdoor (reviews from employees), Google Maps (Reviews from customers), Amazon (if they are selling products there), etc. Understanding what customers like and don’t like about your competitors and their products can be a great learning experience for you. Often times people purchasing a product may say something like – “I like this product, but it would be great if it had this” (or was more durable, wasn’t so expensive, had different colors, etc.). These are all opportunities for your business to learn and grow. It’s one of the best focus groups you could ask for.
- Subscribe to competitor email newsletters
Companies use email newsletters to communicate with their potential customers, partner organizations, and investors. Consider subscribing to their competitor email newsletters or blogs – use an email that is not clearly identifiable.
- Mine competitor websites
Websites reveal a great amount of information about a company. Take your time going through the websites of your competitors. Determine how they are positioning their company in the minds of their customers. Uncover what they are doing well, and what you think they can improve on – then review your own website and make adjustments.
- Understand what keywords they are targeting
Your competitor may have invested in search engine optimization, or be utilizing paid search advertising. Consider checking their URL on a service like www.keywordspy.com, www.spyfu.com or even the free Google keyword tool located in Adwords. What keywords are they targeting? Are these keywords you should be targeting as well?
- View Competitor Back links
There are great tools out there that allow you to see links pointing to your competitor websites. Why should you care? The web is made up of links. It is what makes the digital world click. By browsing these links you can not only see what is being said about your competitors, but identify potential places that you may be able to obtain a link from. SEO algorithms regularly change, but obtaining quality links from good sources is never a bad thing and can significantly help your rankings in search engines. Consider these tools to view your competitor back links:
- Set up Keyword Alerts for competitor company names, products, key personnel, etc.
There are many great online monitoring tools that exist. These tools crawl websites, social media profiles, and forums looking for specific keywords that you specify. Consider using an online monitoring tool to monitor your competitor company names, key employees, brands, products, etc. Consider utilizing free offerings such as SocialMention.com, or Google Alerts. For the experienced spy, that wants the best…consider premium offerings such as BrandWatch.com or Trackur.com. For more resources, consider this great list of social media monitoring tools.
- Remember, Tomorrow Never Dies
Change is the one constant in life. Don’t just check out your competition one time and stick your head in the sand. Every minute of every day social media posts are occurring, press releases are being submitted, blog posts are being published, website content is being changed and more. Some of these are likely from your competitors.
There are many that discuss the power of the “First Mover Advantage” – the idea of getting to market first with a new offering, innovation, message, or positioning. While being the “First mover” can have its benefits, remember…Pioneers were often the ones that met their demise with arrows in their back when exploring uncharted territory. Spying, or should I say “learning”, from competitor wins, successes, innovations, and marketing efforts can help you establish a stronger position to win in your respective marketplace.
Now it is time to put these suggestions into practice.
So get your favorite drink (shaken or stirred), open that laptop or smart device, put on some James Bond music and get to work.
Remember the success of your organization is resting on your shoulders.
Good luck Agent.
About the author
David Brim is a marketing consultant, entrepreneur and investor living in Orlando, Florida. In 2009 he founded Brand Advance, an agency made up of talented marketing, creative and web rockstars to advance both client ventures and his own. His primary professional focus areas include online lead generation, Software as a Service (SaaS) products, ecommerce ventures, and real estate. Spy on David at his blog Filled to the Brim (www.davidbrim.com)