Shopping the competition: Analyzing the other guy is good marketing

Competitive analysis is good for business, yet I find that many small businesses are hesitant to really go and shop the competition. A thorough analysis can help find previously undiscovered opportunities for your business, and it also can provide more insight into how you’re doing.

I’m not sure why, but I think some owners may equate competitive analysis with spying. That simply isn’t the case. Good marketing should include competitive analyses. Business owners should know who their competitors are, and for what customer needs and preferences they are competing.

The questions involved in a competitive analysis are fairly simple. What are the similarities and differences between their products/services and yours? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of their products and services? How do their prices compare to yours? How are they doing overall? How do you plan to compete? How are you uniquely suited to compete with them?

Getting the answers can prove to be a bit more difficult. That is why shopping the competition becomes a very good idea. Checking out the competition is much easier when they have a storefront. A good “shop” includes checking out their prices, their displays, their customer service, and their products.

Websites have also made shopping the competition much easier. Just about everyone has a website, and they are filled with a lot of information. If you haven’t surfed your competition in awhile, you might want to check soon. They may be offering new products or services, they might have changed their prices, or they might have a new purchasing model that is leaving you behind.

Another easy way to shop is if the company is public. Annual reports are public documents and usually can be requested online. This is a very simple way to see how they are doing and what kind of year they had.

A strong competitive analysis is valuable for your business and will only help you keep your business moving forward. Just remember, while you are shopping the competition, you want to shop them through a customer’s viewpoint. Understanding them as the customers do makes all the difference.

Don’t be shy about finding out what the competition is doing. A strong competitive analysis is an integral part of any marketing plan. In addition, shopping the competition on a regular basis will help you stay one step ahead.

Christina Trombley is director of the UW-Green Bay Small Business Development Center. The center is part of the UW-Extension's Small Business Development Center Network.