An Adaptive Approach to Competitive Benchmarking

Let's face it, every business likes to stay on top of the competition. In fact, we need to because there are things they do better and vice versa. Competition is a necessity of business; without it, you're going to get comfortable and complacent. In the words of HHH (for those of you who are avid WWE fans like me), you either "adapt or perish."


Adaption vs. adoption.
An adaptive business is one that will thrive – look at LEGO, a fairly old-fashioned business that has bounced back from a billion dollar debt in 2004 to being estimated at a worth of more than $14.6 billion today. Why has it worked for them? Their turn-around can be attributed to adapting; they have been able to adapt their brand by listening to their customers, exploiting their weaknesses and engaging across a mix of marketing channels. How can you make adaption work for you?  

Honestly, I take issue with what “adapting" has come to mean in our industry, we need to modify the perspective to be truly successful. Be careful, adaption shouldn't be confused with adoption. Too often, I see clients more concerned with what their competition is doing than with how they are performing. We receive many calls from prospects asking "are we doing well?" in reference to other organizations in their vertical. There is a time and a place for that type of analysis, and I'll get to that in a bit, but bottom line: if you are truly looking to improve your results, that shouldn't be your first concern.


95% of your investment isn’t helping your ROI.
I recently wrote an article for Ebiquity’s quarterly marketing magazine, Response, that highlights the lack of balance across investments and the areas of opportunity available for an organization to improve their ROI (read it here).
Think of it this way – you are paying to reach and acquire customers, you are paying to maintain and modify your owned channels and quite frankly, you are not getting as much as you can from any of it. Regardless of your competition, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in your own backyard to focus on.
So, let's take an introspective approach; there are some questions you should ask yourself to help pinpoint your organizations weak points:
  • Do you trust your data?
  • Are people in your organization getting the right information in a timely manner about the customer journey?
  • Are you deriving insights from the story within the data?
  • Are you using those insights to adjust your approach, investments and general experience?
If you have answered "no," "I'm not sure," or have broken into cold sweats in response to any of these questions, then you are probably in need of some internal reflection before you start worrying about your competition.
With that in mind, here are your next steps, broken out by each question above:
  • Invest in an audit of your untrusted data sources with a focus on the business needs.
  • Learn about the needs of your stakeholders and put a governance process in place that ultimately arms them with the right information to do their jobs. This doesn't have to be a Utopian data automation plan; just focus on getting the data out there.
  • Spend some time analyzing the data or invest in expertise to come in and do that for you; there are plenty of needles in this haystack if you spend some time looking at the data.
  • Go through the ideation process to come up with hypotheses for your under-performing investments or channels. Use the developed hypotheses to test new approaches in a controlled environment, whether that is an Adwords test, an A/B test on your website, or another tactic.  
Benchmarking is an idea-generation strategy, not lead-generation.
Bringing this back full-circle, it is the ideation process where competitive benchmarking actually makes sense. You are staring at data that shows you are leaving money on the table and it's time to come up with ideas for how to improve. By looking at your competition and the ads, content, and general approach they are taking to ideally convert the same people you're trying to convert is a great way to evaluate your own approach.
Don’t get too caught up in this, though. For one, those efforts might be under-performing and they may be looking at you for ideas at the same time. Keep in mind that when your boss comes in and says "Hey, we need to be more like competitor X because they are doing it better," it is really just an opinion like any other theory. Base your hypotheses off of actual measurements, ideally your own. It’s ok to generate ideas based upon your competition's approach in areas that you are underperforming, but don't just adopt it without testing it.
Picasso was right.
Picasso once said, "Good artists copy, great artists steal."  He was pretty much right on; you should pinpoint an approach that’s working for your competitor(s) and then do it better. Don't just copy what others are doing, utilize the groundwork they’ve laid and then optimize it for your own organization. Our industry is evolving every day and you have ample opportunity to advance how you interact with your customers. Focus on what you can control and leave the competitive benchmarking for the ideation phase as you evolve your underperforming investments.
Have you encountered a failed adaption/adoption?
Share your thoughts below! If you would like more information on competitive benchmarking, reach out to us and we can help you on the right path to adapting your approach. 


By Bill Bruno
About the Author:

Bill Bruno is the CEO - North America, Ebiquity.

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