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So you want to do a competitive analysis. You know you can communicate better if you focus on areas you can win, so what are those areas?

If you’re a B2B IT provider, one of the best things you can do is provide thought leadership. It increases the value of your brand, greasing the skids for sales.

So how do you know what to talk about?

Well, you start with knowing what you’re good at. What processes or points of view do you bring to the industry that give you an advantage? Maybe you have

  • A process that nobody else has (or maybe they do, but they just don’t talk about it). 
  • A hiring process that helps you bring in the best people. 
  • A culture that values curiosity and allows you to spend more time on each client project.

If there’s anything special about you, you can focus.

The next step is to compare yourself with your competition, so you know where you stack up in the minds of your clients. And this is surprisingly easy.

Just look at what your competition is saying.

One oft-overlooked aspect of research is just looking at what your competition is publicly saying, and interpreting it.

What are the strengths and weaknesses in their communication, and what are the strengths and weaknesses within their organization that are demonstrated in their communication?

A competitive/competitor analysis can tell you a lot. Let’s take a look at how to build one.

But first, some info:

  • Project stats: 
    • Cost: It takes a pro 8-12 hours to do one of these. I’d triple that for someone without much experience. 
    • Quality/deliverable: between 25 and 35 pages (with supporting documents). 
    • Time: Allow 2-3 weeks in most cases.
  • Talent: If you can, get someone who’s served as a competent creative director and/or content strategist. The CD will be good at finding style opportunities, while the strategist will be able to see patterns that indicate strategy (or lack thereof).
  • What you get: a clear picture of where you should be competing.

From the Top: Executive Summary

People don’t use reports that are hard to read. So the important stuff is in the front. If an executive has read the report, they should be able to look at the executive summary to get the high points and have his memory refreshed.

Summarize not just what competitors are doing but also where they’re falling short. This isn’t just observation, but conclusions. Not just the “what are they doing,” but “why do we think they’re doing it, and how are they probably doing it?”

And what does all this say about where we should compete?

Target Audience Analysis

You waste money if you don’t know who you’re talking to. In war, you concentrate your forces. In marketing, you concentrate on your central audience member. Anything else wastes your resources.

Parts:

  • Demographics: this is the language of media. If you end up buying ads, this can help.
  • How they think: this helps you understand their cognitive process. This can be harder to nail down in detail since engineers (for instance) don’t all have the same personality.
  • Their situation: this tells you the kinds of problems they need to solve.
  • An example person or “Meet Maria” (e.g. Alex the Architect). This paints a made-up picture of the person you’re aiming your communication at. It helps content creators because it gives them a clear idea of communication style since they now have a picture in their minds of who we’re talking to.

Don’t get hung up on perfection here (or anywhere else in this document). The point is to get moving. But get moving in a way that coordinates everything you already know and what we can find out in just a few hours of competitive analysis.

Once you get moving, you can measure results and update your strategy. But don’t let perfectionism in research or analysis paralysis slow you down.

Competitor Content Review

I used to hate it in school when they’d tell you (find everything you can about the topic). This is vague, and it’s overkill. Research can be a time suck if you don’t think before you research.

No need to read their whole website and any whitepapers they publish. No need to go back 10 years in their social media history.

Keep it simple.

  • Website homepage and any links that seem interesting and compelling (hint: there probably won’t be any).
  • Social: look at the last 10-20 posts.
    • LinkedIn
    • Twitter
    • Maybe Instagram or one other social channel.

This is where you find the insights that make for a killer strategy. 

  • What are their social media strategies, content quality, and engagement tactics?
  • Are they projecting competence and real expertise? Do they have a point of view? Are they believable, or could someone who doesn’t know the industry do just as good of a job creating their content?
  • Do they seem like someone our target audience would want to do business with?

Now that we’ve taken stock of how they look to the world, let’s look at the fun part: our advantages.

Strategy Advantages

We’re not at your strategy yet. This is just where you list things you could win if you wanted to…and if your persona cared about them.

I did this recently for a client. Here are 3 of their advantages:

  • Voice/writing: Their competition had a lot of good, thought-leadership-ready content, but they hid their genius under a veneer of corporate-sounding jargon and vague references to general benefits. Like a boxer who can throw a powerful punch, but knows slapping is more politically correct. Lots of substance, but no knockout power.
  • Ethos: Aristotle taught us that our worthiness (our credibility) works very hard for us when talking to an audience. Proverbs says “A good name is better than riches.” We saw a lot of do-gooder language about the environment and social causes that lacked conviction or any sense of genuineness. This is a huge advantage if we take it.
  • “Ditch pharma…for now”. I found that there were a few competitors who spoke intelligently about pharma (a segment of my client’s business, but not a crucial one). I knew my client was good in some areas, but they didn’t have much internal leadership relating to pharma. So I recommended that we ignore pharma for now and put our efforts in places where we could win.

Remember, this is about thought leadership; teaching people to think like you, so when they need IT, you’re the only one who they’ll really trust. After all, you think like them, because you taught them how to think about IT…what’s important and what’s not.

That’s why we’re not interested in “using humor” for the sake of being different. You use humor because you can reliably recreate it week to week. And because it resonates with your target audience.

Which brings us to the next section: how do we downselect our strengths down to only the ones that matter to the audience (our persona, above)?

Strategic Application

So we know your advantages and where you can win. Now, let’s use the audience persona to tell us how we can help them. In other words, where is the overlap between their conscious needs and our advantages?

Because why would we talk about anything else?

The goal is to make you stand apart from the competition. Not by lame claims about how you “stand apart.” In communication, you show, don’t tell.

Choose an advantage and spell it out with a creative brief. You tell them what you offer, who it’s for (your persona), why it matters to them, and why they should believe it.

Note: if I’m doing this for a client, I try to give them a few choices (like 3). This way, they can make their own decision.

A Thought-Leading Messaging Strategy for IT

Remember, thought leadership is just teaching the market to think like you. You bring your unique strength (point of view or process that represents your point of view), and you talk about it obsessively, like some people talk about CrossFit and their pronouns.

Congrats. You just created a thought-leading messaging strategy, based on a competitor analysis, for your IT prospects that will enrich your relationship with existing clients and grow your prospects to love you and eventually use you.