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Your Competitors are Ahead of You. Here’s How to Catch Them!

Samantha Winchell
Apr 8, 2014 7:00:00 AM  |  Samantha Winchell

shutterstock_130097864How to Develop an Action Plan that will Set your Company Ahead of Competitors

Do you ever feel like your competitors are always one step ahead of you, and you’re stuck in an endless game of catch up? Chances are, this is a familiar feeling (and if it’s not, lucky you!). Though a little competition is healthy, it’s never good to consistently come up as the bottom rung in the ever-growing inbound ladder. So how can you advance your climb to the top? 

Well, first things first, you need to determine who your actual competitors are!

Find the Right Competitors to Your Brand

Completing this step strategically is essential in getting a good feel for where your company stands in the competitive market. A common mistake made by companies is only comparing your brand with what I like to call, “aspirational competitors.” Yes, I would love to be leaps and bounds ahead of Google, but let’s be honest; I’m not competing with Google. 

It’s important that you be realistic with expectations. Of course, as you do grow, you have the opportunity to reevaluate your competitive sphere and add or drop as needed. Until then, I recommend only focusing your efforts on 2-3 competitors at a time so you can really dig down into the details. Here are a few types of competitors you will likely encounter within your competitive space:

Startup Stan – This is an up-and-comer within your industry. They’re growing quickly, and are often times highly-respected as thought leaders. Typically, this competitor excels in creativity, and often strays from the traditional.

Keeping-Up Kate – This is the company you’ve been compared to for years (or months depending on your industry). Usually, you’ve heard this brand’s name coming straight from your prospect’s mouths. Consumers are actively comparing your company with this brand throughout the top and middle sections of the sales funnel. Depending on what month of the year it is, either one of you could be ahead. You’re neck and neck.

Long-standing Luke – This company is a couple levels ahead of yours. Typically, they’ve had long-standing sway within the industry and are really known for the strides they took in the past. They’ve shown that they are reliable and consumers know that there won’t be any surprises along the way.

Determine Strengths and Weaknesses

Once you’ve narrowed your list down to 3 or 4 competitors you’re in a better position to dive deep and uncover what makes them tick. Perform a competitive analysis to define the strengths and weaknesses of each company, (including your own).

To identify your company’s own strengths and weaknesses, download our full Inbound Competitive Analysis Workbook. This will show you how you rank against competitors in important areas such as your website, blog, social media and more.

Target Areas for Improvement

Example scenarios and areas to target:

  1. You find that both you and your competitor have a weakness in social media; if you begin ramping up efforts in an area where your competitor is lacking, you may be able to get a jump-start.
  2. On the other hand, you might also find that you’re neck-and-neck in a particular category; perhaps with some added effort or fine-tuning you could leap-frog over your competitor.
  3. The last scenario, and probably hardest to overcome, is that you’ve found your competitor to be leaps and bounds ahead of you in a certain area. At this point, you have to determine whether to call it a loss, or to put the pedal to the metal and ramp up what you’re doing so you can get ahead.

No matter which situation you find yourself in, having a clearly defined set of standards will help direct your efforts effectively. Often times, when faced with direct competition, companies begin enlisting their employees to tick off bullet points from a mile-long goal list. This is both OVERWHELMING and ineffective. Chances are your competition is doing something similar, and it’s very unlikely that you’ll gain an advantage.

Instead, focus on one or two areas where your company can really improve. By doing so, all your employees can work together to move the needle in these areas. I know, it’s cheesy, but teamwork and a strong understanding of goals across the board will really help your company improve, and propel your upward climb.

Establish Actionable Goals & Steps for Improvement

Now that you’ve organized strengths and weaknesses, and formed the basis for improvement, it’s time to brainstorm ideas and form short- and long-term goals. Keep in mind, the more structure you put in place at the beginning of a project, the smoother it will flow, so don’t forget to include important details such as timelines, budgets, resources, tools, and the who-what-when-where-&-why.

To get an idea of what this looks like, I’ll use an example from our Competitive Analysis Workbook:         

Improve our Company's Blog       

Frequency

We will boost posting frequency to 4 X Per Week. In order to do this, we will need 1 post from each department every week. Obligations will be evenly divided among employees, and Sarah, David, Charles and Glen will be responsible for managing authors within their department, editing posts and flowing a draft into HubSpot by 1:00pm on the Thursday prior.

To aid content flow, Julie will be creating a monthly editorial calendar assigning topics, authors, due dates and resources. Julie will also proof HubSpot drafts, format posts, and schedule them to go out the following week.

In the event that a post is late, or the specified author is unable to write the assigned post, they are to report to Julie, who will reassign the post to another author.

Our goal is to increase web traffic by 15% by June 30th.

Quality

As specified above, we have put into place a system for checks and balances for the management of blog posts. We will incorporate a trial period of 3 months of assigning quality check roles.

Sarah, David, Charles and Glen are each responsible for fact-checking blog posts within their department and copy-editing posts.

Julie will be the 3rd pair of eyes on posts before they are published. She will proof posts for grammatical issues and make sure that they are within branding.

Authors are given the ability to discuss posts with their department managers for any questions or comments regarding their blog posts. 2 hours weekly will be devoted to open-office hours for questions or comments.

Sarah, David, Charles, Glen and Julie will inform employees of their availability each month – This will be specified on the editorial calendar, which all employees will have access to on the Google Drive.

Participation

In order to increase participation, we will begin crafting content that better appeals to our buyer personas.

We will create:

  • 1 infographic each month
  • 1 Video each quarter
  • 2 customer satisfaction surveys each quarter

We will also increase our interactions within the comments section. Each post author is in charge of monitoring comments and responding/encouraging conversation when appropriate.

By doing so, we will increase participation by 15% by June 30th.

By completing the above activities, our goal is to gain 150 new subscribers by June 30th. Within this grouping, our goal is to generate 50 new leads, and 30 qualified leads 

 

As you’re constructing goals, keep in mind that they are often subject to change. However, creating goals will clearly define a guideline of expectations for you and employees. Share goals with your employees and leave room for feedback. Everyone needs to be on the same page, and work towards the same goals in order to achieve success, which is exactly why an action plan can be very helpful. 

Make an Action Plan

If you’ve spent a good deal of time on your goals, chances are you’ve already had a good start on making an action plan. The purpose of an action plan is to detail how work efforts will follow through on achieving the set goals in mind.

Mimicking your goals, your action plan should be very thorough and detailed. Depending on your team, this may involve creating individual to-do lists or calendars. Going back to the blog example, you may need to create an editorial calendar including a month’s worth of blog post topics, who they’re assigned to, when they’re due, the key terms designated, and perhaps even images and/or elements to include.

Similar action plans should be set in place for other inbound efforts. Ensure they are designed in a way that will help all your employees work towards the same end-goals effectively.

Track Efforts and Revisit the Drawing Board

A final, and crucial step of climbing that ladder, is to continually track efforts. Because goals are typically number-based, you should be recording whether or not efforts are gaining traction and improving your company’s reach. The last thing you want is to be so caught up in beating your competitor that you don’t realize when something is negatively affecting your efforts.

As you create your action plan, insert checkpoints to track campaign effectiveness. Are you on track to reach your goals? Is there anything that could be improved upon to more easily reach your goals?

Don’t be afraid to adjust or even remove plans that are not working for your brand. As always, marketing is a trial and error process, so even if something seems like it would definitely work for your company, it might not always be the case.

Do you have any other pointers for companies in need? Leave a comment below with your competition-busting strategy ideas (unless, of course, you think your competition will use it!

 [Image Source: ShutterStock]

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Samantha Winchell

This post was written by Samantha Winchell

Samantha Winchell is an SEO Strategist and avid blog content writer at New Breed Marketing. She is at the forefront of search trends at our organization and helps to optimize all the content that we produce, both for our clients as well as for our internal marketing programs.

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