How to Conduct a Competitive Audit

Review your competition to uncover how you can stand out from the crowd.

Wendy Ruyle 4.15.2019

Every so often you need to check in with your competition to see where you stand in the marketplace. If you don’t benchmark your customers’ alternative options, you can’t improve your offerings or the way you market them.

If you are in the process of rebranding, this step is essential to understanding how you can differentiate. Use these steps to uncover how you can stand out from the crowd.

Who are your competitors?

The first step in a competitive audit is to figure out who are the other likely choices for your customers. Some of these you’ll know off hand because you know your marketplace. But don’t stop at the expected options. Do a Google search for your offerings in your area. See what comes up. Take a look at industry directories. Consider competitors that aren’t in your backyard. Are there national firms that do business in your city? International? Take it one step further and ask your customers if they weren’t able to work with you, who would they choose. You’ll end up with a list that you might not have predicted.

What materials can you get?

Once you have your list, gather any collateral you can get. Visit trade shows, join mailing lists, or ask your customers if they are willing to share. Digital content is the easiest to access—websites, downloadable materials, social media, and guest authorships on industry blogs or business publications.

How are they handling the basics?

Take a look at each competitor. What is the first impression you get? Do they seem legitimate? Are they inspiring? Do their materials feel up-to-date? Set aside your biases based on where you work and ask yourself: do you have the urge to buy or engage?

What is their name? Is it distinctive? Is it close to your name? What does their logo look like? Are they using a wordmark, a symbol, or a combination? Are there any elements that look like your brand? What color palette are they using? What other visual elements or photo styles do they use?

What kind of messaging are they using? Look at taglines, headlines, and calls to action. Do they have a distinctive tone of voice or personality? Or is it all corporate-speak?

How easy is it to find the answers to customers’ questions? Is there a simple flow through websites and brochures?

As you look at your marketplace as a whole, are any of your competitors’ brands close to yours? Are a lot of them using blue? Do you see squares or circles over and over again? If you see some patterns showing up you may want to make a shift to your own brand.

What are they doing better?

Once you’ve looked at the basics, dig a little deeper. What are they doing better than you? What can you learn from them? Do they have a better product or service? Perhaps you need to work on operations or R&D to improve.

Do they have a bigger purpose? Are they stating an emotional reason to choose their company? All things being equal, customers are going to choose the brand that stands for something they believe in. Think about your bigger purpose. If you don’t have one, get your team together to agree on a rallying cry, then use it internally and externally.

Do they have a unique process or way of describing what they do? Understanding your competitors’ offerings can help you see what you do differently. You can then use that knowledge to inform your own message.

What kind of content are they producing? Do they have a blog? Are they creating think pieces or white papers or other tools? Are they engaged on social media? In what platforms? What is the tone of voice and quality of what they are sharing? How is their email marketing designed? Is it effective? Does it make you want to click? Think about what kind of content you could produce and the best channels in which to deliver it.

How are they showing examples of their work? Do they have case studies? Do they include any information about the problem they solved? Do they have testimonials? Videos? Collect your own work samples and tell your story in a more compelling way.

How are they showcasing their company culture? Do they have photos and bios of staff? Do they highlight team activities or giving back to the community? Does it feel like a place you’d like to work? Uncover what makes your own workplace engaging and share the best of your culture with your customers and potential employees.

What can you do about it?

You may end up with a long list of things you’d like to change after going through this process. Develop some strategies and tactics to address the issues you’ve found. Maybe you need a full rebrand or perhaps you just need to tweak a few areas of your website or to add a few sales tools. Make sure you are realistic about what your team can accomplish. Putting a plan in place will keep you accountable.

Whatever you decide to change, make sure you aren’t just copying your neighbor’s homework. Being true to your own brand and culture will ensure your efforts are authentic. And your customers will respond to that.

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