The majority of businesses limit their data gathering and subsequent marketing strategies based solely on their own organization’s movements. But, to paraphrase Sun Tzu, if you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.
Competitive intelligence is the act of monitoring the competition in your niche or industry and making business decisions based on the gathered data. WhatRunsWhere is a clever app that tracks over 150,000 online advertising agencies, keeping track of online advertisements and how they perform. The secret of competitive intelligence is that a campaign doesn’t need to be run on your own advertisements. Your competitors can do the trial and error while you reap the benefit with smart use of data.
We talked to What Runs Where’s Director of Marketing Jenny Duong about gathering competitive intelligence for developing business strategies.
For those who have never heard the term, can you briefly describe what competitive intelligence is?
Simply put, competitive intelligence allows you to make better and smarter decisions by learning from your competitors and surrounding business environment through data collection and analysis. Businesses can identify trends or untapped gaps in the market and forecast their competitor’s next move using competitive intelligence. With the amount of data available in today’s digital world, you can leverage the efforts of others and build upon their success. Ultimately, this saves you time and resources since you’re also able to avoid making the mistakes they’ve already made.
What are some methods a business can use to identify who their main competitors are in their industry?
There are numerous ways a business can identify their main competitors beyond the obvious Google search. But to identify almost all of your major competitors in any industry in this way can be time consuming and cumbersome. You can’t get all the data that you need on Google alone. On WhatRunsWhere, discovering competitors in any niche is as simple as completing a search for relevant keywords. So for example, if you’re an advertiser in the diet and weight loss niche, you can look up competitors in the same niche by searching for their ads using the keyword “diet.”
The Category search with WhatRunsWhere Enterprise even allows you to do a scan of specific industries to find competing advertisers by niche. With competitive intelligence data, businesses can clearly identify new leads and business opportunities not yet tapped by competitors. Knowing the ad strategies, including which ads worked best for your competitors’ campaigns, can help you benchmark for future success by leveraging their failures.
Once they’ve identified the competition, what are some tools a business can use to monitor their competition’s online activities?
Competitive intelligence tools are incredibly helpful for monitoring your competition’s activities because they do all the hard labor for you. WhatRunsWhere crawls the web daily for desktop, mobile and in-app display ads to deliver deep competitive insights, providing you with a complete understanding of the display ad landscape. Paying attention to the competition’s ad strategies across all the essential channels and screens gives you an understanding of not only your competition’s hierarchical order, but also where you stand in the market.
Other simple ways to monitor the competition’s online activities is by setting up Google Alerts to get notification for media intelligence – for example, your competition’s mention in a blog or news article. Of course, social media is another great way to identify and keep tabs on competitors because you can tap into the conversations of your target market. On Twitter, for example, you can look up trending topics or hashtags that include key industry words and see who is participating in the conversation. There are also competitive intelligence tools available for tracking the general media activities of your competitors as well. Tools like Meltwater and Owler help you benchmark your overall business strategy based on the competition’s moves.
Competitive intelligence analysis can provide insights into opportunities in a market. What are some signals to watch out for, and how can they be translated into reliable marketing insights?
Competitive intelligence tools can seem overwhelming because of the extensive data they provide. The key is to be aware of what to look for so that you know not only when changes happen, but also how they affect the ad landscape. To do this successfully, you need a tool that tracks trends and changes.
One of the key signals I would recommend watching out for is changes in geographic markets. Keeping an eye on the locations of where your competitors are advertising, for example, can help you:
- Target untapped markets that your competitors may have missed
- Reach new audiences that you previously overlooked, or
- Pull out of markets that don’t seem to be working well for your competitor.
Another key signal is the length of campaigns:
- When looking at creatives run by competitors, WhatRunsWhere tells you when the ad was first and last seen and for how long it ran. If it ran for a day, than the design likely wasn’t effective enough to continue running. But if it ran for quite some time, then the ad likely performed well. Take a leaf out of the competition’s creatives design and improve upon it for your own ads.
- To make this process even easier, WhatRunsWhere allows you to track specific domains so that you are instantly notified when new ads are released by your competitors.
- Other key areas that can signal change in your competitors’ activity lie in their publisher and network use.
Let’s say your competitor has been using huffingtonpost.com for the past two months and suddenly, this publisher no longer appears as their traffic source. It could signal that this publisher is not effective for your niche. You can immediately adjust your campaign or reallocate resources so that you are not spending dollars on an ineffective publisher.
Being proactive in looking for these signals will allow businesses to capitalize on opportunities in real time. You can save you’re A/B testing times and budget, make smarter decisions and boost your ROI.
What are some sources for competitive intelligence that might surprise some people, or that many overlook?
Since creatives are really one of the only front-facing elements of campaigns, it’s easy for businesses to overlook what goes on behind the scenes of these ads. BUT this is the most valuable information companies need to leverage for better decision making. Competitive intelligence tools provide businesses with more transparency into the unseen elements of competitors’ digital strategies. When you go beyond the layer of creatives, you get a deeper understanding of competitor and industry trends. Then you can start leveraging data for your campaigns and major business decisions.
For example, WhatRunsWhere uncovered eHarmony as a top advertiser on the network Taboola, with some of their campaigns running for almost two years. As a business in the dating niche, this is the kind of competitive intelligence you can leverage. If you are not currently running ads through Taboola, it could be an opportunity to look into. Taking this a step further, if you research Taboola you’ll find it’s one of the biggest content discovery networks out there for native advertising. Are your competitors using it? If they are, then why aren’t you?
Another source of competitive intelligence that might surprise people is the information businesses can leverage from analyzing complementary competitors – that is, businesses that aren’t direct competitors but are still trying to gain the attention of your target audience. For example, airline brands aren’t direct competitors of hotel brands, but they are both vying for the attention of travelers. So how can they learn from each other? If airline brands are successfully reaching their target market, hotel brands can think outside the box and incorporate elements of their complementary competitors’ approach to make their strategy more effective. In doing so, hotel brands are adapting a successful strategy for their target audience AND differentiating themselves from doing what their direct competitors are doing. WhatRunsWhere allows users to discover both direct and complementary competitors by searching for key industry words and uncovering all brands with ads related to them; ultimately providing a comprehensive collection of a business’s environment and extremely valuable knowledge that can be used for smarter decision making.
What are some useful predictive metrics, and how can a business model its strategies based on this data?
One of the major benefits of competitive intelligence is being able to use the data to identify trends and patterns among competitors and the industry overall. With WhatRunsWhere, you can monitor the following metrics to predict your competitors’ next moves and improve your strategy accordingly.
First, you can track competition’s ad strategy over time in order to monitor their campaign patterns and cycles to learn what is and is not working in their strategy.
- Looking at the length of their campaigns can indicate success or failure. If specific creatives have been running for a long period of time, it is likely because they are converting. On the other hand, if creatives have been running for a short period of time, then they likely aren’t doing well.
- Both cases demonstrate what is working in your niche, so by understanding the elements of each, you can adjust your creatives accordingly to produce ones that will convert.
Tracking changes in publishers can also help predict your competitors’ next move.
- For example, if your competitor has been using a publisher that generally targets males and then switches to females, this could predict a change in their demographic.
- You can also predict a change in publisher strategy by looking at their breakdown of direct buys vs. network buys.
- Finally, businesses can predict changes in strategy by looking at the categories of publishers being used. If personal blogs were being used for months and now they are no longer a top category, this may indicate an ineffective category for your niche and a change in your competitors’ strategy.
Monitoring the use of banner vs. text vs. hybrids ads in your competitors’ strategies can also help predict their strategies.
- By understanding what ad types your competitors prefer to use in desktop, mobile and in-app, you’ll know where they focus and where they may have less influence for you to infiltrate.
- For example, if they’ve been using text ads in the mobile space for a long period of time, you can predict that it’s been successful and they will continue to do so. Leveraging this knowledge, you can build effective text ads for mobile, BUT you can also test banner ads in this space to see if you can gain traction and get ahead of your competitors.
Another metric that can predict changes in competitive strategies involves their testing activities; that is, testing new geographies, ad spaces, creatives etc. to break into a new market.
For example, look for changes in the geographic locations their ads have been seen in or new ads appearing in the mobile and in-app space that were previously only seen in the desktop space.
- As soon as you notice these changes, track how long they last as they are likely testing a new opportunity.
- If they last for a long period of time, then they were likely a success and you can predict their campaigns will continue in this direction. Conversely, if they don’t last long, then you’ll know they were not a success and you’ll have saved the time and money by letting your competitor test it out for you.
Another element of an ad campaign businesses should monitor to predict competitor changes are landing pages. This is a key part of display ad strategies because it’s where the conversion happens.
- WhatRunsWhere allows you to track your competitors’ landing pages so that you can identify elements of success and apply them to your design
- Again, you can use this metric to predict changes in competitive strategy by seeing what they are split testing, what is appearing for longer periods of time, etc.
- Finally, by analyzing WhatRunsWhere’s “Top Ads,” you can easily identify trends and patterns in various niches that can help you predict your competitors’ next move, and will also help you create a strategy that incorporates successful trends.
What would be the top five metrics to measure using competitive intelligence to yield maximum results?
WhatRunsWhere is constantly analyzing industry display advertising strategies to identify top trends, successes and failures. Below are the some of the top metrics we rely on for measuring data using our tool.
Share of Voice
This is a value given to each company derived from the prevalence of their presence of their display advertising campaigns across their competitive display advertising landscape. The higher the Share of Voice value, the “louder” the advertiser’s “voice” is in the vertical they share with the advertiser you have searched. This metric is extremely useful when comparing competitors in a niche as you can determine which one is “loudest” and (if it’s not your company) learn from their strategies.
WhatRunsWhere uses an algorithm to determine which ads in our database have been performing the best over the course of our data collecting history. Sorting your search results by Adstrength™ allows you to focus on the best performing content, which provides you with a better view of top ad creatives. There is a number assigned to the relative AdStrength of a creative, which appears as a point value located beneath the ad. This is an essential metric when tracking your competitors as you can learn how to adjust your creatives by looking at those with the highest and lowest ad strengths.
Prevalence is a key performance indicator that gives WhatRunsWhere users insight into the level of an advertiser’s presence on a specific publisher using a proprietary algorithm that integrates key identifiers of a successful placement. The prevalence score is an important metric as it helps take the guesswork out of uncovering where your competitors are finding success.
The duration is a metric that simply determines the length of the campaign. WhatRunsWhere tells you the first day an ad was seen and the last day it was seen. This is important when measuring the success of campaigns because it can indicate success or failure. If an ad has a higher duration, it is likely converting; whereas if an ad has a low duration, it is likely not doing well.
Share of Category
This is a value given to each company derived from the presence of their display advertising campaigns across publishers which fall under the listed category. The higher the Share of Category value, the “louder” the advertiser’s “voice” is across the publishers in the category that they share with the advertiser you have searched. Similar to Share of Voice, this metric helps businesses understand their success in a category and learn from those who are doing better.
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