Competitor Analysis Strategies from the Art of War

by in Strategy

Here’s the nightmare scenario. Your competition has just launched a new website, and it’s good. Really good. Not only does it look amazing, it looks likes it is capturing a lot of attention. You can practically see this new website stealing your customers out from under you. You’ve been completely blindsided!

Let’s face it: This is a pretty desperate situation. Now, instead, imagine you’re in the opposite role and you’ve just out maneuvered your competitor. What would that mean for your business? Wouldn’t you rather be in that position? If you want to make sure your company is always positioned to outshine the competition, you need to make sure your online presence is better than your competitors’ in every way.

The Benefits of Online Competitor Analysis

Although everyone agrees on the value of using competitor analysis in general business, fewer companies are familiar with online competitor analysis. This particular method is helpful because it provides insight into your customers’ online decision-making processes.

Your website is very often the first impression your prospective customers will have of your business. People rarely go into stores anymore to talk to salespeople; they go shopping online to look around and compare. A recent study by Fleishman-Hillard Digital Influence found that 89% of consumers use the Internet to find information on products, services or companies prior to making a purchase decision. And another study by the Corporate Executive Board found that the average B2B buyer is 57% through the purchase decision before engaging a supplier sales rep. Prospective customers generally open up multiple tabs in their Internet browser and compare your website side by side with those of your closest competitors. The first impression of your company, products and services is visceral and is formed within the first split second. That impression is very hard to change and, if it isn’t favorable, your prospects will close your website tab and move on. And that’s it. You just lost a potential customer!

5 Competitor Strategies from The Art of War

Doing an online competitive analysis will help you judge your competitors from your customers’ perspective. Website competitor analysis is the identification of competitors followed by the objective and systematic ranking of their online presence based on a comprehensive set of criteria. Interestingly, the reasoning behind this method hasn’t changed for thousands of years—Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War, discussed these same themes in his famous text.

Here are the five major steps for conducting a competitor analysis.

1. Learn Who Your True Competitors Are

Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster

Many companies assume they know who their competition is, which isn’t surprising if they have been in business for a long time. However, this can be a dangerous assumption. Traditionally, the competition is defined from the company perspective, not from the perspective of your customers. Your customers, however, will ultimately determine who your true competitors are, not your strategy team. Conducting a competitor analysis through the eyes of your customers will ensure that you are benchmarking yourself correctly.

2. Determine Your Competition’s Strategy

What is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy

Even though the level of competition online has continued to increase since the advent of the digital age, one of the things in your company’s favor is that your competition is constantly broadcasting their marketing strategy on their website. For example, if lead generation is the goal of their website, you will see lots of offers for gated content “locked” behind forms. If they are using a content marketing strategy; you’ll likely see a well-trafficked blog with sharable content. Nothing is secret anymore. From the language they use to attract their target markets (or buyer personas) to the way they expect visitors to flow through their website, it is all out in the open for anyone to see. In essence, you get to experience how prospects move through the buyer’s journey. This can give you powerful insight into how your competitors are positioning themselves as well as where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

3. Study What Works and What Doesn’t

The opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself

Not only can you get a view into their business operations, you can also evaluate what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. Your more successful competitors have already figured out what works best, and your less successful competitors can provide you with useful examples of what not to do. For instance, you can measure the engagement of the content on your competitors’ blog based on the number of social media shares each article has. You might then come up with your own topics based on what worked and what didn’t work for your competitor, but do it even better.

Free Worksheet   Competitor Analysis Worksheet  See how your website ranks against the competition  DOWNLOAD

If your competitors have spent a lot of money optimizing their strategy and development, so much the better! You can reap the benefits of those investments for free with competitor analysis. Cameron Herold, founder of three $100 million+ companies (including 1-800-GOT-JUNK), and author of Double Double, used this strategy to grow his companies rapidly. He explains his strategy: “To figure out how to do each of the projects that we’d need to grow, I would use R&D, which stood for Rip Off & Duplicate. So many great companies have already figured it all out; I’d just figure out who they were and do what they’d done before me.”

4. Position Yourself to Outperform Your Competitors Online

Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy's purpose

Once you know who your competitors are, what their strategy is, and what they are doing well or poorly, you can craft a winning website redesign strategy to blow them out of the water. This is the ultimate goal of competitor analysis—to give your own website a strategic roadmap to success. At Intechnic, we take the Rip Off & Duplicate strategy one step further — “Rip Off, Duplicate and Improve.” Instead of simply copying successful ideas, we dissect them to understand not just that they work well, but also why they work well. Then, we customize them to our own business needs. We look at this as a chance for us to create a better strategic plan based on our knowledge of what works.

5. Beat Your Competitors Before They Beat You

Use the highest intelligence of the army for the purposes of spying, and thereby achieve great results

Competitive analysis is a two-way street, and what could benefit your company could also work against you. As mentioned above, a company’s entire website strategy is on display for anyone to assess—and that goes for your website, too. By doing a competitor analysis, you will position yourself to dominate your competitors before they have a chance to get ahead. One of the dangers of not doing a competitive analysis is that if you aren’t actively assessing your competitions’ actions, you can be sure that at least one of your competitors will find an opportunity to outdo you. If you go through this exercise, however, you’ll learn more about how your competitors think and be able to respond to their tactics proactively.

Getting Started with Competitive Analysis

Competitive analysis should be conducted periodically to determine whether your company’s competitive position has changed—for good or ill. If it has been awhile since your last competitive analysis—or if you have never done one, now is the perfect time to get started.

Free Worksheet   Competitor Analysis Worksheet  See how your website ranks against the competition  DOWNLOAD

Now that you understand why you need to do a website competitor analysis, the next step is to actually do it. If you’re ready to get started, read “How to Do Website Competitive Analysis to Beat Your Competitors Online”. After you have finished evaluating your competitors, turn a critical eye on your own website to gain insight into how well your website stacks up.