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Using Open Source Intelligence to Analyze the Competition

Using Open Source Intelligence to Analyze the Competition Competitive Intelligence


8 quick ways competitive intelligence will improve your business

Understanding your competition is an important tool for growing your business. Competitive analysis helps differentiate your strategy, offerings, and content from the competition.  

1. Identify market gaps that you can fill

2. Determine how your market likes to be served; dislikes as well

3. Identify differentiated methods to attract prospects & serve your customers

4. Isolate, develop, and promote your unique value proposition

5. Detect your areas of strengths and weaknesses versus the competition

6. Analyze market reaction to your marketing strategy

7. Determine your market position

8. Get to know your customers and see them from different perspectives

The majority of companies are weak at analyzing the competition

I’d give the majority of companies a poor grade at analyzing the competition. There are many different strategies and tools analyze your competition. However, the Internet is the single most important tool for competitive intelligence. You can collect “Open Source” competitive intelligence to plan a robust competitive strategy.

Open Source Competitive Intelligence is ethically and legally gathering information from public sources

In this post, I’ll discuss 4 different Open Source Competitive Intelligence categories.

1. Communications Intelligence

2. Technical Intelligence

3. Financial Intelligence

4. Human Intelligence.

It is extremely important to remain within ethical and legal limits. This is why I must stress “Open Source” (Publicly Available).  Remember, even though it’s legal, there can be negative market consequences if you are caught. Read this oldie, but goodie from CBS News

Before we begin, write down your 3-5 most relevant competitors. Relevant because depending on your strategy, you might avoid some competitors. As an example, going after smaller or local competitors might be your best strategy.

Let’s walk through the 4 steps to conducting competitive intelligence. 

 1. Communications Intelligence is gathering and analyzing publicly available marketing, communications, and sales resources.

Examples: Advertisements, Content, Downloadable Brochures, Website, Social Media, etc. 

The first place to start is your competitor’s website. Figure out their target audience. Can you develop Customer Persona’s based on the information they provide? Are they targeting a specific demographic or psychographic? Do they have a mission / vision statement? What do these statements say about their customers and targeted prospects? Do they have downloadable customer brochures? Collect as much relevant information as possible.

If they have one, analyze the content of their blog. Who are they targeting? What is their content strategy? Are they teaching, selling, and/or providing value to their customers? You get the idea. Write down some of the themes and try to determine your competition's intent.

Now, move over to their social media accounts. Conduct a quick social media audit. What social media sites are they using to reach prospects and customers? What are they saying? How are their prospects and customers responding? Check the comments section. See if your competition is actually engaging or responding to comments.  

Follow your competitors on social media. By following them, you can stay informed on their actions. Use social listening to see what they are saying about their company or the market. Plus, if they are curating content, maybe you’ll learn more about the industry and gather thought leadership. If they have a newsletter, why not sign up for it?

Last, use Moat to analyze their online advertising. Moat allows you to see what and where they are advertising.

2. Financial Intelligence is information gathered from analysis of publicly available financial history.

Examples: SEC filings, news of deals, investor presentations, annual reports, and other financial documents.

Want to know your competition’s business strategy? Follow the Cash!

If your competition is private, this exercise is harder and you’ll need to do a little more digging. You can still find tons of information on social media. Companies love to boast about new deals and provide company news.

Conduct a search using your competitor’s name and also #companyname. Hashtags can uncover posts made by employees and partners. These posts might not come scrutinized from the marketing / communications department. 

If your competition is public, you’ll still want to do the social media audit as described above. Then move to the Investor Relations section. Download any Annual Report and Analyst Presentations. If they have recorded earnings calls, listen to those too. Recordings provide more context than downloadable presentations.

Conduct an analysis of their “say / do” ratio. Look at the information you gathered during Communications Intelligence. Compare that information to their financials. Sometimes what a company announces publically is aspirational. While following the cash, investments, show actual strategy and tactics. Or, they do this because they know YOU are listening. They are trying to throw the competition off.

Let me give you a theoretical example: 

“We are continuing to invest heavily in Product Line X to drive innovation and sales. Product Line X is a key to our growth.” 

This could be a true statement. Yet, their financials show investments into Product Line X are increasing by 15% Y/Y or Q/Q. While investments in Product Line Y jumped by 35% in the same period. Why? Can you figure it out? Are they setting up their competition to react towards Product X, but overlook Product Y? “Follow the Cash” and let it tell you where they are really investing AND divesting.

3. Technical Intelligence is information gathered from analysis of publicly available technical and product information.

Examples: technical papers, white papers, patents or patent applications, product specs, etc.

To begin gathering technical intelligence stay on your competitor’s website. Look at their product pages. Can you download any technical information on their products or services? How are their products, services, and offerings technically different from yours? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

If you cannot find anything on their website, try using your search engine of choice. Enter in their product title with terms like “Specifications,” “Instructions,” “White paper,” etc. Also, if you include .ppt or .pdf in your search, the results will narrow down to those specific file types.

Patents aren’t just your Legal Team’s responsibility. Patents and Patent Applications can be valuable to the marketing team as well.  Patents and Patent Applications are a little more advanced. You can use The US Patent and Trademark Office to run initial searches.

4. Human Intelligence is information gathered from a person on the ground.

Examples: information revealed through conversations with customers, field marketing, sales reps, customer success (service), etc. 

During the sales process, customers and prospects often reveal competitive information. They express likes, dislikes, needed improvements, and other information.

Develop a way to collect, analyze, and distribute this Human (Field) Intelligence. This can be a great way to stay connected with the field. It will help you understand your customers, and/or to enhance your strategy / product offering.

Gather, categorize, and analyze your Competitive Intelligence

Once you’ve gathered this information, you’ll need to organize and analyze it. List out your competitor’s strengths, weaknesses, and your opportunities by intelligence category. Combine it into a competitive intelligence package. 

Hopefully this post helps. Come back next week for a deeper discussion on Step 4 – Voice of Customer or sign up for my newsletter to receive it in your email. Feel free to provide feedback, what do I need to clarify or go deeper on? Is there anything you’d or change? Share this post with your friends and networks if it’s helped. I look forward to hearing from you!

Stewart Swayze

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3 Rocking Hypotheses to Target Customers & Create Killer MVPs

3 Rocking Hypotheses to Target Customers & Create Killer MVPs Minimum Viable Product

This post is part of a series, 12 Steps to Begin Developing and Executing a Basic Digital Marketing Strategy."

3 Rocking Hypotheses to Target Customers & Create Killer MVPs

Develop a set of hypotheses to test your assumptions before you build an extravagant solution. This will help you determine market fit for your product or service with reduced upfront cost. In this step, don't get extremely deep. This is a quick way to create hypotheses based on your assumption, ideas, & experience. 

You’ve made some initial observations. You’ve done a little research. You've defined the customer challenge. You think you know the answer... Now you can develop a few hypotheses. Your set of hypotheses can be different, but I’ve proposed 3 below to help get you started.

Hypothesis #1 – Define your target customer.

A. Customer Base –  If you don’t have any current customers, move to B in this section.  If you already have a customer base, deep dive into their data. Who are your best and worst customers, why? List their defining characteristics and interests. Write out customer personas … aka descriptions of those customers

B. What are the market demographics – What is their Age, Location, Income Level, Industry, Occupation, Ethnicity, etc.

C. What are the market psychographics – What are the defining Attitudes, Values, Beliefs, Interest, Hobbies, etc.

D. Who is the competition – Keep this simple. Who is their target customer? Who are they overlooking? Is the overlooked customer a viable target? (More in my next post)

E. Combine this information and write out a basic customer description. It’s OK to have several customer descriptions. We’ll go into that in a later post on Customer Personas.

Hypothesis # 2 – Define your customer wants, needs, desires, and nice to haves.

A. Write out what you believe are your customer needs. Be as specific as possible. What's that one thing they truly need? What's the one customer need, if solved, will get you a spot at the table? For example, when you prepare to go to work, you need something to cover you from the waist down.

B. Write out what you believe are your customer wants and desires. Again, as specific as possible. This is an add-on to their need. It’s essential, but not required. So continuing with the example above, I need something to cover me. I want cotton based material because I work in a hot environment. I desire to have brown as a color because I work outside in a dirty environment.

C. Write out your customer’s “nice to haves.” Building from the previous examples, I need something to cover me from the waist down. I want cotton. I desire a brown color because it helps to hide the dirt and dust. I’m a carpenter. It would be nice to have some extra pockets to hold nails, screws, and my pencil. It would be nice to have an extra strap that can hold my hammer. AH HA!

Hypothesis # 3 – Create a minimum viable product (MVP) that will match your customer's needs.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the example MVP might look something like the world famous “cargo pants.” Or would it?

Now, refer to the information gathered during "Defining Your Customer’s Challenge." Package it along side your HYP 1 + HYP 2, and develop a minimum viable product (HYP 3) to test at a later date. 

This is a modular approach. Don't test anything yet, that will come in Step 4 when we test through "Voice of Customer." With each step we'll continue to refine. Taking too much time is our enemy. But, we don't want to build a red polka dotted Ferrari when your customer will only pay for a blue Ford Focus.

Hopefully this post helps. Come back next week for a deeper discussion on Step 3 – Using Open Source Competitive Intelligence to Analyze the Competition. Sign up for my newsletter. Don’t forget to provide feedback, what do I need to clarify? What would you add or change? Also, don’t be scared! Share this post with your friends and networks. I look forward to hearing from you!

Stewart Swayze

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Defining a Market or Customer Problem

Defining a Market or Customer Problem


Defining a Market or Customer Problem

In my post the "12 Steps to Begin Developing and Executing a Basic Digital Marketing Strategy" I provided a high level overview. In this post, I’ll go deeper into Step 1 – Defining a Market or Customer Problem.

What problem or challenges are you trying to solve? Even if you have an existing business, dive deep, understand, and define the problem your customers are facing. Take a step back and look at it from all angles. 

Let’s lay out a couple of rules before we begin. I know … rules suck! But, they will help you in the long run.  

  1. Customer / market are interchangeable. If you see "customer" challenge, you can insert "market."

  2. You need a laser focus on the customer. Define the problem from their perspective. Avoid any perspective strictly based on your products and services.

Develop several alternative perspectives of the customer

Look at the their challenges from different angles. Let’s examine customer problem that’s been around for years – a dirty home. You’d think this customer problem has a simple solution, “Start a cleaning service company.” Yet, if you change perspectives and look at it from all angles, there’s much more to it. There’s even an emotional aspect. By viewing and defining a problem from all angles, you could end up disrupting the market. Or, at the least differentiating your business in an established market. Differentiating yourself from the competition is always your goal. Disrupting an established market is nothing less than awesome. 

Case in point, have you ever heard of Alfred? It all started with a mess, limited time, and an emotional / behavioral response. Long story short, the two co-founders met at Harvard Business School. They worked long and crazy hours (The Reason). Their chores would pile up causing a mess (The Problem). Jessica Beck's (Co-Founder) apartment was so messy that she wouldn’t invite her friend Marcela Sapone (CEO) over (The Emotion/Behavior). Enough was enough. They hired someone off Craigslist to do their daily chores and split the cost (The Solution).

Don’t forget the human side your customer problems -Emotion and Behavior

The Alfred Founders defined the problem, knew why it existed, and understood the human response. Yes, they solved for their own problem first. But, other people in their building started asking for the same service. Ah ha! They realized there was a larger market. Today, for $99 / month, you can hire an “Alfred” to run errands, do laundry, chores, etc. Alfred has raised $12.5 million from investors. You can read their story on Business Insider.

This example showed two individuals starting out to solve their own problem. These founders went through the same process outlined above. They defined the problem and looked at it from all angles. These angles included the human, emotional, and behavioral characteristics. 

When you begin to define your problem, keep asking yourself … what else? 

Go deeper. Challenge your assumptions. Remember back in elementary school when they first taught you to construct questions? I believe it was the 5W’s and 1H. Who, what, when, where, why, and how? Use these. They are your best friends. Every time there’s answer to “What?” ask yourself “Why?” Then switch angles. Look at the human and behavioral sides. What human emotions and behaviors are surrounding the problem? Why? Always remember to be as specific as possible. By eliminating generalities, you’ll be able to focus. Focus allows you to narrow down generalities and define the specific problem. A narrowed and specific focus leads you to the correct target market.

Define the challenge to include - size, concentration, location, etc.

Spend a little time understand the problem or challenge from a broader market perspective. How big is the customer pain point? Is it a small niche group with a lot of potential value or a large diverse group? Fragmented or consolidated? Where does it exist? Dispersed or concentrated? This step can be difficult. Finding available and free data can be a limiting factor. Use Google and find proxies if needed. Since we are just trying to develop a basic plan, proxies can work for now. Define the problem from a market perspective. Write it down, refine, and finalize. It doesn’t matter if you plan to serve a local or international market. You’ll need to answer these questions.

Note - If you’re a startup trying to secure funding, you’ll need deeper quantitative analysis. Consider buying market data. VC due diligence will require solid market analysis. Do as much as possible with data hacking and proxies until you understand the exact data required for your market analysis.  

Don't be afraid to step away and use your friends, family, or network

As different perspectives develop, ask them to review each perspective with you. Ask them for alternative perspectives. What did you miss? What can you expand upon? Refine as needed, but avoid analysis paralysis. Get a solid draft. As we progress through each step, we’ll continue to refine based on new information and data.

The wrap up

Define your challenge from the customer’s perspective. Include human and behavioral context. Expand your analysis to understand the broader market – size, concentration, location, etc. Don’t be afraid to use friends, family, and colleagues. Find alternative perspectives and refine your definition of your customer challenge. Next week I’ll go deeper into Step 2 – Developing Hypotheses to Refine Your Target Customer and Create an MVP.

Hopefully this post helps. Don’t forget to provide feedback. What do I need to clarify or go deeper on? What would you add or change? Also, don’t be scared! Share this post with your friends and networks. I look forward to hearing from you! 

Stewart Swayze

 

 

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12 Steps to Begin Developing and Executing a Basic Digital Marketing Strategy

Steps to begin developing and executing a basic digital marketing strategy

12 Steps to Begin Developing and Executing a Basic Digital Marketing Strategy”

I sat there thinking … I need to grow my freelance consulting business. How the hell do I get the word out? Tell people I’m open for business? As I began developing and executing my marketing strategy, it came to me. There are businesses out with the same challenge. As I build my strategy, why wouldn’t I share it? Why not be transparent, share, gain feedback, and in the mean time … potentially help them out too. Not to mention, there are plenty of experts out there. I’d love to hear from them too.

So, here we go! This is my first iteration of “12 Steps to Begin Developing and Executing a Basic Digital Marketing Strategy” on a limited or even no budget. If this helps one person, then I’ll consider my first "value add" blog a success!

1.  Define the Problem – What problem or challenges are you trying to solve? Even if it’s an existing industry or business, dive deep, understand, and define the problem your customers are facing. Take a step back and look at it from all angles. Example: House Cleaning – Most people would say, the problem is my customers want a clean house. True. What else? Keep asking yourself, what else? Safe, fast, reliable, eco-friendly, etc.

2.  Develop a Set of Hypotheses – Hypothesis #1 – Define your target customer. Hypothesis # 2 – Define your customer wants, needs, desires, and nice to haves. Hypothesis # 3 – Create a minimum viable product that will match your customers needs. Move to step 3 and test those hypotheses.

3.  Analyze the competition - What services are they selling, how are they marketing it, what's their value prop, what are their strengths, and what are their weaknesses?

4.  Conduct Voice of Customer (VOC) – Develop a few questions to gain VOC from your customers and test your hypotheses. The best way to find out what your customer needs is to simply ask them. Step outside your door or go to social media and ask some potential customers questions. Then listen, don’t sell. Clarify, dig as deep as they allow without annoying them. Ask “what if” questions to find out if you have a viable MVP. Ask them why they aren’t currently using a product or service like yours? What would they need in order to purchase? Focus on their needs, but listen for their wants and desire too. Analyze what you hear and divide it up into the 3 categories – What do your customers absolutely need? What else do they want? What is a nice to have?

5.  Develop Outcomes – Based on the above, develop customer-desired outcomes. An outcome is the measurable result a customer will experience when they purchase. Will they see a 15% increase in productivity? 10% reduction in operating expense? It’s the total value and experience you provide. If we use the cleaning service example above, it’s not just a clean house. It’s the full experience that provides value to your client. What if you not only provided a clean house, but you also provided a one-time free home organization assessment? That would be fairly easy to do, just link up with a local home organization consultant. They’d probably say yes to it because then you get them in front of more clients. Free for you, free for your customer, added value and a differentiated experience. Understanding, marketing, and selling based on customer outcomes will set you apart from your competition. Once you develop those outcomes, design your offering and value prop as a full experience.

6.  Create Customer Personas Understand your resource, product, and service limitations. Use your information from above and define your target customer. Be specific. Don’t try and service the entire market if you are just starting out. Find a solid niche. Prepare to target and serve them very well. If you succeed here, your business will continue to grow and expand into larger markets with more offerings.  

7.  Website - Create a simple and free website. About Section, Services Section, Blog (with email sign up / opt-in), and Contact Page. Use a company like Squarespace, Wix, or Weebly. They have easy to use template and are fairly intuitive. There are also many different strategies for setting up your website, I won't go into those. In general make your sections fun, show some personality, talk about your customer's challenges, maybe some relevant, fun, or creative statistics, talk about the outcomes your customers seek, and how plan to surpass them.

8.  Create ContentUse the info you gathered in 1-4 above to create valuable content on your website. Show some personality, talk about your customer's challenges, maybe some relevant, fun, or creative statistics, talk about the outcomes your customers seek, and how plan to surpass them.

9.  Social Media - Connect your blog to Facebook & LinkedIn plus, any other social media sites where you can target your audience. Create valuable content they will enjoy consuming. Leverage sites that have existing traffic. Some examples would be YouTube videos, writing articles on your industry, providing advice, sharing infographics, and retweeting a great link to an awesome article. In its simplest form, you create and share content that your target audience (prospects & customers) finds valuable and wants to consume (valuable is the key word). By providing content to your audience, they become aware of your company, products / services and begin coming to you (inbound marketing). This will take some sweat equity, but for the most part, it will be free. Now, content strategy is a completely different topic, but think of it this way - 30% of what you share should be content you create (videos, pictures, infographics, etc). 60% should be content you gather from other sources that is valuable to your audience, and 10% is calls to action ... trying to promote / sell your actual product and / or service offering. There are other ratios out there, but that one can get you started.

10.  Email / Newsletter Sign up with MailChimp or a service like it. They have free packages. Use your email opt-in to provide a your value-added content via a newsletter or email marketing. You can even add coupons or other offerings too. Don’t spam or sell your customers info!

11.  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - I'd only research this only a little bit, but assuming this is only a local service for now, I'd focus on keywords (Google Keyword Planner) and Local SEO techniques. SEO continues to be important, but keep it simple at first, build, and learn. Then apply the more advanced techniques as you go. 

12.  Use Your Network - Turn all of your friends & family into your word of mouth marketers! I'm sure they want to see you succeed! Oh, remember all of those customers you spoke with in the beginning? If you get their email addresses or contact info, you can always send them a simple, quick message that says, "Hello, we're listened to you and are open for business." Provide your contact info and website.

Provide me your thoughts and feedback. What did I miss? Each step is linked to deeper information. The more we discuss, engage, and interact … the better these steps can get. If this helped you, share it with your friends and network. Feel free to sign up to my newsletter for more valuable articles.

Stewart 

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