Cutting-Edge Competitive Insights You Didn’t Know Were Possible
There has long been a belief that you shouldn’t focus on what your competitors are doing, just do what you’re doing, do it well and you will succeed. Unfortunately, this motto no longer stands true. It’s now more important than ever before to keep one eye on your competitors.
With a highly competitive marketplace both domestically and internationally, brands are needing to be more aware of what and who they are truly up against and what their competitors are doing – more importantly, how it’s impacting them. Are they losing customers within a search engine or as far down as the ‘pay now’ button?
Pre-2000, brand loyalty just happened. If a consumer liked your product, they became loyal. It was not something brands had to really think about. Unfortunately, (or fortunately for some!) the world wide web has completely changed this. Brands NEED to know their customers because if they don’t, another brand will. A relationship with a consumer is no longer a casual one, where you talk to them – and they rarely talk back. Consumers are high maintenance and brands who understand and action this, will succeed over their rivals.
In this report, we delve into how brands can quickly and simply understand their competitive set, the benefits of it and most importantly, how they can use these insights to remain number one in their consumers’ minds. We’ll also look at simple marketing tactics brands can use to get to know their consumers better; from who they are, to what they want and importantly – their loyalty index.
Read on to discover our five most cutting edge competitive insights available in the market today, and how you can use this information to unlock opportunities and give you a competitive advantage.
1. Intimacy, Listening, and Discovery
Learn who your consumers are beyond a demographic level, understand where they are in the purchase cycle, in particular who you are up against, listen to what they need and want, and discover unexplored opportunities to increase engagement and loyalty.
There’s knowing your customers and then there’s knowing your customers, and in this highly competitive world, it’s recommended that you know as much as you can about them!
Looking at the audiences that you share with a competitor enables you to identify a portion of your competitor’s audience who are more inclined to make the switch over to you. From here, you can learn what really makes them tick.
These insights can help you “conquest” audiences with whom you already have a connection.
Here’s an old, yet classic example: When McDonalds introduced their specialty McCafe coffee line, they began by closely analysing people who ate at McDonalds and drank Starbucks coffee. McDonalds mimicked some of Starbucks’ marketing messages, and even started adding Wi-Fi to some locations to encourage lounging, which was a key draw for Starbucks customers.
A cup of McCafe coffee was strategically priced at a slightly lower cost than Starbucks (but not too much lower so it wouldn’t be perceived and cheap donutshop coffee) – note that chart.
Sure many dedicated Starbucks customers were still willing to pay a ‘premium’ for their beloved Starbucks.
However, the convenience of ordering a McCafe Mocha with their McMuffin was enough to pry a sizable market share away from Starbucks.
Smaller Audience, Bigger Opportunity
In some cases, finding your unknown audiences can give you a competitive advantage. In this example, we look at the top index and reach Mosaic Segment Groups for those accessing Domino’s and Pizza Hut online. When you look at reach, both Domino’s and Pizza Hut are attracting the same segment groups.
Tip: Discover your unique audiences outside your bread and butter; you will be surprised what you learn.
Knowledgeable Success (well educated family & couple households in suburban areas), Independence & Careers (apartment dwelling young and maturing professionals and students) and Middle Australia (mixed family forms living on the outskirts of metro areas) are the core audiences for both Domino’s and Pizza Hut, equating to almost 40% of the total reach. But these audiences are the ‘bread and butter’. The gold is discovering unique, valuable audiences that your competitor doesn’t have, and build on those.
Dominos attracts Exclusive Environs and Knowledgeable Success which are affluent, well-educated middle aged families, whereas Pizza Hut appeals to Traditionally Grey and Middle Australia, lower income blue collar families and the elderly.
The below charts looks at the highest indexing Mosaic segments by both brands, and from this we can see that the top 3 are again very similar. But when you look a bit deeper, you start to see new and unique audiences for each brand. Both attract very different audiences.
2. Channel and Clickstream Insights
How many of your customers are coming from your competitors site, or how many are going there? Which channels are delivering the largest amount of consumer traffic to your website? Where are you losing potential customers?
“Channel” and “clickstream” insights provide valuable competitive information and are not utilised enough. Knowing where your customers come from before visiting your website and where they go afterwards can provide key insights into your true competition.
Analysing Clickstream and Channels on your own website provides you one side of the story. The other side, is to run a Clickstream report off your competitors site so that you can identify key differences in behaviour and pinpoint the exact time to intercept customers in their journey. There are two ways of analysing “before” and “after” website behaviour:
- Channels: What are the leading channels driving traffic to your website? Channels such as social media, email, multimedia, websites, blogs, search, etc.
- Clickstream: “Upstream” (sites visited prior to visiting your website) and “Downstream” (sites visited after your websites) can highlight notable and very valuable patterns.
Following is an example from the US on what Nike discovered when doing a competitive analysis.
Let’s say Nike benchmarks their traffic against four major sports apparel brands and notices that Under Armour gets significant traffic bumps in the beginning of each week.
Nike may decide to investigate whether particular channels are driving this fluctuation – in other words, what percentage of Under Armour’s overall traffic is coming from social media, email or search engines during this jump?
As you see in the chart below (based on real email click data*), the percentage of Under Armour’s traffic coming from email shoots up significantly each Monday, sometimes by over 350%. This is due to Under Armour sending very successful email blasts every Monday morning, where they often promote huge flash sales or highlight a single, exciting new product release. The Nike email marketing team can use this discovery to improve their own newsletters, which me be less successful because they promoted too many products at once.
Clickstream data identifies common places visitors go—and the top terms they search for—before and after hitting a website. Looking at your competitor’s clickstream behaviour can help you intercept their customers earlier. Looking at your own “upstream” and “downstream” data can also help you devise ways to bring visitors back after they’ve left. Here are some examples of how Nike could use clickstream data to their advantage:
Looking “upstream” allows you to identify sites that drive more or less traffic to your website than your competitors. For example, Nike may realise they get more traffic than any other sports apparel brands from an affiliate site like Foot Locker; this prompts them to double down on their investment in that partnership. Or perhaps they see that Adidas gets a lot of affiliate traffic from Lids, so they reach out to Lids about carrying more of their athletic hats.
Let’s say Nike notices that Under Armour drives a lot of traffic from Hulu.com. After investigating, they discover that Under Armour has launched a big ad campaign on Hulu, and (perhaps unknown to Under Armour) a high percentage of upstream traffic is coming from visitors who have watched the show “The League.” Nike may decide to invest in more advertising on Hulu to capture some of this market opportunity, and could even negotiate a contract where 50% of their advertisements will be served during “The League.”
3. The Next Generation of Traffic Benchmarking
Getting the most amount of traffic is great, but are you getting the right kind of traffic? What’s really causing those spikes and dips? It’s time to understand your traffic within your industry and against a more relevant set of competitors.
There are plenty of analytics tools out there for measuring your basic marketing KPIs. Here are a few staples you may already be tracking:
Tracking these core analytics can be helpful, but they are usually observed in a vacuum, which means they can be difficult to effectively interpret. Marketers may find themselves wondering things like…
Clearer answers can be found when you narrow the focus of your benchmarking.
More Relevant Insights with Visit Share
Rather than only measuring your traffic over time, you can create competitive benchmarks by tracking visit share within your industry. For example, looking at some of the biggest fashion retailers in Australia – The Iconic could compare itself to the whole Apparel and Accessories category to get a benchmark of where it sits overall. But to get even stronger insights, The Iconic can then compare its visits share to a select competitive set group* listed below. The total Competitive Set – Asos, Cotton On, Rebel Sport, Boohoo, Ezibuy, Surfstitch, Uniqlo, Forever New, and Country Road.
However, for the below chart, we’ll only look at those who have seen strong shift year to date. When looking at the competitive set performance over time, it highlights a few issues that The Iconic should consider. Firstly, visits to The Iconic seem to taper off at the start and the end of the year. This behaviour is not replicated with the other brands, in fact they see increased traffic over those times. Knowing what these brands are doing over the summer months can help The Iconic build its traffic back up over that period.
Analysing your competitors’ performance over the year also provides insights into those brands who need to be watched. For example, both Ezibuy and Uniqlo ended November with a greater share than when they started the year. Whilst it’s only slight, they are stealing share so it should be monitored to prevent any surprises.
Reaching the Right People
As discussed earlier on in the report, engaging with the right audience is key to gaining an edge on your competitors. The same holds true about your traffic.
Let’s say your company sets out to reach more high income consumers, so you adjust your marketing strategy and website design to resonate with higher end audiences. Perhaps your new brand messaging is less accessible to a broader audience, so your overall traffic drops in the following months.
However, with an advanced insights tool, you see that your percentage of visits from higher-income consumers has increased significantly. What would have appeared like a failed rebrand on the surface actually reflects a success in meeting your business goal.
Similar rules apply when comparing yourself to the competition. Understanding the composition of your competitor’s traffic can provide an even more nuanced perspective of “success.” Let’s take a look at the types of visitors coming to two brands, as well as their shared traffic over the course of a month:
So, which brand is a bigger “success”?
Of course it depends on the brand’s objectives. Brand A gets more traffic, however if they is trying to connect with a younger audience, then Brand B has a serious leg up with this demographic. Not only do they get more reach but they also over-index for the younger audience segment. This leaves Brand A with a few options:
Audience: Look closely at Brand B’s audience. What are their demographics, their incomes, their locations and their attitudes? What is their propensity to buy? Who are they and what do they care about?
Channels: What are the sources of Brand B’s traffic (see section 2)? Perhaps Brand B gets a lot of referral traffic from YouTube, so Brand A decides to start investing more in video content. What are the common interests of Brand A and Brand B consumers? Determine where else (outside of the predictable) that these consumers will be found, and target them there in a less competitive space.
Media opportunities: Where does Brand B’s audience consume content? Perhaps Brand A will try advertising on Buzzfeed, to see if they can reach this younger audience.
Find middle ground: Who is their shared audience? It may be easier to go after people who have engaged with both brands, rather than poaching an otherwise loyal audience from their competitor. Perhaps Brand A can sponsor NPR content, which their shared audience enjoys.
Reconsider: Brand A is already very successfully reaching Generation X and more middle aged consumers. Maybe they reconsider and double down on their own bread-and-butter audience. Just because your competitor attracts a certain audience, doesn’t mean you should too.
Another strategy, of course, is for Brand A to take a look behind the curtain of Brand B’s search strategy. What keywords are their audiences searching for? How is this impacting the age segments they attract to their website? How can Search assist a brand to have competitive edge?
4. Super-Powered Search
If there is one area of digital that is underrated, it’s Search. The depth of insight and data you can get from running a search intelligence report is, and should be, incredibly valuable to brands. From what search terms to use, to what your consumers want, who they are, and to the most important, who is using Search to steal your consumers before they even make it to your website – search data.
Most marketers already use keyword tools to do several important things:
• Track their own keyword rankings
• Track the keyword rankings of their competitors
• Identify valuable keywords to improve performance on AdWords
The savviest marketers and analysts can also dig deeper into the nuances of ranking:
Paid vs. Organic Keywords: For each keyword driving traffic to your competitor, what percentage of that traffic is paid vs. organic? In other words, what keywords are they bidding on, and which terms are driving them free traffic, organically?
Branded vs. Unbranded Keywords: Besides ranking for their actual brand name and products, what “unbranded” terms do your competitors rank for? This can be especially useful in identifying content opportunities (for example, if a bank’s competitor ranks organically for “mortgage rate” the bank might create a free mortgage rate calculator).
Who is Searching?
Analysing keyword rankings and search behaviour is extremely important for driving traffic, but the most cutting-edge way to gain an edge on your competition (who is inevitably using similar search-based tactics) is to understand exactly who is conducting what searches.
For example, a sports nutrition brand found that both men and women are equally as likely to search for protein-related products. By comparing male and female search behaviours, they were able to tailor their SEM strategy and messaging to better convert each audience. Keep reading to learn how.
Tip: It’s crucial to look at a full year of search performance for keywords so that you take into account seasonality (for example, sleeveless dresses rank higher in September through to April as Australia warms up for Spring and Summer) – only then can you see patterns more clearly, and implement the correct terms, at a pivotal moment.
Once you identify your target audience and the keywords you want to go after, it helps to bundle relevant search terms. This way you can start slicing and dicing that “search bundle” in relation to the audience segment you’re going after.
For example, the nutrition company can look at a portfolio of protein-related search queries and identify which terms women versus men are more likely to search for, then use these insights to tailor unique messaging, content, mobile and keyword strategies for their male vs. female audiences.
Tip: Play with keyword string variations, and look for opportunities to rank for the queries your competitors fail to. A travel brand may see a competitor who flies similar routes is ranking well for “flights to Brisbane,” but not “flights from Brisbane” — look for these kinds of untapped variations.
As you see in the chart, men and women have significantly different behaviour in terms of how they search for protein products. Women show a much stronger interest in learning about foods that are high in protein. 65% of the top 20 searches for ‘protein’ involved recipes or learning which food has the highest amount. There was only a small interest in protein powders. Men on the other hand, are significantly more likely to search for protein powders, in particular ones that assist with bodybuilding. Understanding how they search for a particular term is vital, with some of the above terms being searched 100% off a mobile device.
5. Mobile Insights
Mobile devices are used very differently to desktops, so it’s important to analyse competitive insights by device.
For all the buzz we hear about mobile, it’s important to put it in context. Mobile strategy should never exist in a bubble—it should be integrate across your search, clickstream and traffic analytics. Mobile is simply another layer through which to understand how your audience is searching, arriving and engaging with your brand.
It’s also important to remember that in most industries mobile represents the “doorway” into discovery, but clicks aren’t often immediately profitable. In many cases, mobile engagement offers the opportunity to start a conversation. Especially with younger audiences, it’s often where their customer journey begins.
Tip: Mobile consumers are often looking to support their path to purchase or ask a question—not necessarily to buy. Common mobile searches include:
• Coupons or discounts
• “How to” searches
• Reviews & returns policies
• Locational, “things to do” or “near me”
• Calculators, counters and tools
• Research on high-cost items (i.e. a car)
Using Mobile to Engage Millennials
Let’s say the make-up brand Arbonne is looking to increase engagement with Millennials. One approach is to connect with young consumers earlier in their customer journey, where most e-commerce searches begin: on mobile devices.
In their research, Arbonne discovers that Urban Decay has a similar traffic volume, but a larger percentage of Millennials in their audience. Although Arbonne ranks higher for desktop visits and traffic, Urban Decay ranks higher for mobile engagement. So Arbonne investigates the keyword terms that Urban Decay ranks for, analysing several different angles:
1) Millennial Behaviour: What beauty and make-up terms are Millennials searching for that drive traffic to Urban Decay?
2) Organic Ranking: What unpaid keywords is Urban Decay ranking for? These terms offer helpful clues for creating content or resources that answers consumer’s questions, whether it’s make-up tutorials or interactive experiences.
3) Mobile: Identifying the terms that drive traffic to Urban Decay via mobile provides insight into the topics consumers are curious about early in their discovery phase.
4) By Channel: Social media is one of the most powerful channels for engaging with younger consumers, and can drive proportionately more mobile traffic to brands who invest in networks like Instagram or Snapchat.
Perhaps Arbonne discovers that Urban Decay ranks very well for “eyeliner” amongst Millennial women — and the vast majority of these searches originate on mobile. So Arbonne decides to create a collection of eyeliner tutorials and how-to’s that have been optimise for mobile, and boosts this content with paid promotion targeted specifically to mobile audiences.