FOUND Friday

A weekly Google Hangout dedicated to discussing content marketing, search marketing, SEO and more.


Topic: The Art of Spycraft – Competitor Marketing and Intelligence.

In this episode, we talk about the importance of competitor intelligence and how to use it to guide your strategic content marketing decisions.

Ray Grieselhuber, Founder & CEO at GinzaMetrics

Erin O’Brien, COO at GinzaMetrics


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Erin: Hey, everyone. Welcome to FOUND Friday, the first in the month of March for 2015. As we’re coming to the end of the first quarter, it’s a time that I usually like to check in against my initial yearly goals, objectives, and some of the predictions that we make. One of the things that we talked about at the end of last year is the importance of knowing your industry and its landscape at a variety of levels. One of the most important things that a company tracks is its competitive landscape and its place in the market.


I want to start out by talking about why knowing your competitors is important. Too often, I think people will place too much importance on what competitors are doing, so tracking your every move and trying to react to every single release or feature update. Other times, I think too little importance is placed on it, focusing only on their own product and messaging and getting a little bit of tunnel vision. Both of those are dangerous.


Ray, what’s your take on a good mix of what I want to call competitor mindfulness?


Ray: If you talk to any sort of security expert in a traditional competitive setting where there are a lot of different types of risk, the first thing they’re going to tell you is situational awareness is the first priority. That means things like paying attention to your environment, identifying who your threats are, understanding what your mission is, and having backup plans for anything. All of these are really critical for staying alive over the long term.


In a lot of ways, this is true for marketing, as well. It’s easy to get bogged down to different day-to-day activities that you’re focused on, but if you’re not paying attention to the market as a whole, then there’s a good chance you’re going to get caught off guard eventually.


I believe strongly that paying attention to your environment is really important. From there you actually have to enable yourself with the right tools to decide what you’re going to do in response to all the different competitors that are out there.


Erin: When we talk about starting to pay attention, let’s go over a little bit about what makes up some good competitor intelligence. I think that there are some core elements that really can inform a lot of product marketing, PR, advertising, etc. efforts that don’t require a ton of resources to gather and are kind of a good basis. I’ll break it down into a few areas:


  1. Who are the players?


  1. What are they talking about?


  1. Who are they talking to?


  1. Is that actually working?


Let’s address each one of those things. We’ll start off with who are the players. That’s something that we actually addressed and released – we did last week called Competitor Discovery. What was really awesome about that release is that it’s getting at the core problem that a lot of people have, which is that you can track competitors that you know about but what about the ones that you don’t know about?


Ray: That was actually one of the areas that we saw lacking in all the different tools that are available – technology that enables you to discover both your competitors which people naturally think but actually in many ways, more importantly, the tools to discover competing content. Competing content is one of those things that we’ll talk more about in the show today but it’s something that can be taking a way lot of your market share without you even realizing it.


So, we’ve built these tools that enable you to discover both. Once you do that, you can start looking at the market quite differently than you were able to before and you can see things on a much more granular level than you’re able to before using these tools.


Erin: What we’re really talking about is – who are the players – getting this group of people or group of brands or products or features or things together that users or audience members might pay attention to or might look to instead of looking to you which is the ultimate goal. You want them to look to you, you want them to purchase your goods, services, products, etc. The thing is that people really need to remember competitor landscape and these players is a constantly shifting ecosystem. If you look at snapshot of it today and you look at it six months from now, it may not be the exact thing. The day that you may have from 2013 is probably not still the complete relevant picture. So you really want to make sure you stick on top of that.


From the standpoint of the second item which is what are they talking about, we’re asking a couple of things here. What are the core things we’re focusing on as a brand in the market? What offerings or products and services are similar to yours? And how are they messaging those things?


A lot of these can be gathered using the Competitor Discovery tool, the thing that we did last week, because it highlights the overlaps with your specific market. And other things that are useful to track in this area are keyword and topic performance. It’s like what you’re saying, Ray. This is literally the exact stuff that they are competing with you for. That’s important across search and social from a content and topic perspective because it directly points to the marketing content that they’re creating and distributing to capture your audience.


Ray: Yeah. This is definitely one of the areas we’re most excited about. It provides you with the combined view of both search and social data, and it’s very much focused on both discovery and new insights versus just monitoring stuff that you thought was important before, which may be important but it could be only a very small portion of the bigger picture.


Erin: That small portion of the bigger picture thing is really important. I’m going to illustrate that in second if I can possibly do the screen share. What I want to talk about in terms of this “who” situation… We’re always talking about this identification portion, not just for the competitors but who they’re going after and, in some cases, a competitor does not have to have the exact same target market as you to be a viable thing to track. So in many cases, there are edge competitors who can still make a significant impact on your revenue.


Let me see if can do screen share here. Here we go.


You should be able to see here this idea that there are competitors of various sizes all around your marketplace and similar to the bubbly aspect that I put in here, they may move in and out of your content and bran sphere. You can see that sometimes – as I’m highlighting down in the lower quadrant area is that a large competitor that only has some overlap may actually be more important than a small competitor that has complete overlap with your brand. There are always different potential edge cases.


Ray: This is actually great visualization in my opinion because it’s really easy to focus only on your own brand and maybe that direct competitors are paying attention, too. But the truth is, competitive threats can come from a lot of different angles. Being able to see that and understand that and identify things far sooner than you were able to before is going to be really critical.


Erin: It’s also difficult because a lot of times we get questions and I know that people approach us from the marketing and automation analytics platform perspective saying, “How do I prioritize this?” I think that that’s a really good question moving forward for the space. How do you really prioritize competitors?


In our initial release for Competitor Discovery, there are things like findability score that we believe will help you prioritize findability score – their findability versus yours for the keywords, topics, and content that you really care about. That’s one potential way to try to make a first stab at it.


I would say that because this is not a completely automatable process and that there’s always going to be some human element necessary to really take a look at this. The onus is on every brand to take a look at this landscape and once a month, once a quarter, however often you really can and feel is necessary, actually go through. Look at some of the content that’s been surfaced that is similar to your own and we’ll provide you a list. Look at some of that similar content and see, is this actually relevant? Okay, if no, let’s go ahead and cross it off. Don’t rely 100% on the tool and try to track 100 competitors you’re going to look at.


Ray: Yeah, definitely. It’s not really about tracking. Tracking is important obviously for a lot of reasons but there are day-to-day insights that can pop up that we’re providing to you as part of this tool or something that the market can change very quickly, the content that’s out there can change very quickly as well. It’s pretty important to have both mindsets. One that’s a tracking mindset and the other one that’s more like the discovery mindset where you’re looking for new things.


It’s not even surely a competitive situation that we’re talking about here. A lot of times, there could be content that pops up on your radar through these tools that can inspire you to create [9:24 inaudible].


Erin: I think I may have lost Ray. Ray, if you’re there, you seem a little frozen.


What you’re saying about this daily aspect of checking in and discovery about content and understanding that – that dovetails into this last point of what is somebody doing that’s actually working. I think that there are a number of ways to check in on what somebody is doing is working and why that is important. As Ray has mentioned, there’s this whole huge portion of something that’s not just tracking. It’s really best practices and learning about what kinds of messaging, what kinds of outreach, what kinds of channels and marketing tactics are really resonating with your target audience.


The organic ways are usually really good indicators because they’re not always indicative of just spending a ton on ad budgets. What are some of those? There’s findability score, ranking trends, social audience landscapes. The Competitor Discovery information around projected monthly traffic to compare to your own is a really good place to take a look.


One thing that I actually don’t think people pay attention to enough that’s really a great thing to look at is this top performing topics and keywords for your competitors combined with the top keywords that you are starting to decline in. What these are, these are the topics and keywords that you care about that your competitor is gaining the most traction in compared with the topics and keywords that you’re losing traction in. Do you really think about what that means for you? Stuff that you care about, somebody else is gaining a lot of ground which means they either just released a bunch of really good stuff, really good content, and they’re getting found for it or spending a lot of money on it, and that people are no longer really listening to and resonating with what you’re doing in that area. I think that that’s where we’re headed with that.


It looks like we might have lost Ray. One of the things that he and I talk about a lot is why search data is so useful inside of a competitive context. There is literally no other way to accurately measure predictive performance.


It looks like he’s back.


Ray: I’m back.


Erin: I just finished off talking about topic and keyword performance, increase in keywords or competitors, and top declining keywords for you. One of the things that you and I talk about a lot is that search data is super useful for a competitor context because there’s not another great way to accurately measure that predictive performance of your content.


Ray: I wasn’t sure for a minute there if the connection was on my end or Google, but I was actually saying the same thing. Search data is really the only source of data that marketers have in order to go to measure how much traffic you can get. You can use it to determine up front before you even create your content, what your audience is even looking for, and you can create a highly optimized content that’s going to be findable before you do it.


One of the things that we still see our customers and even other marketers that we talk to on a regular basis struggle with is, if you’re not experienced in using this data, it can be kind of hard to use. It’s a little bit technical. People tend to not pay attention to it as a data source. Our goal is to provide tools that enable you to use it and make it much easier to actually start working into your daily operations.


Erin: We talk about this a lot in terms of product design and feature development, but also in terms of the overall messaging that we try to get out for the industry at large, which is regardless of how seemingly technical SEO started out as a general practice, the information gleaned as really something that every person, regardless of your place within a brand but especially in marketing, could grasp. Because what we’re really talking about is keywords, topics, and messaging that are resonating with your brand. What are people looking for with regards to your specific place in the universe?


If you’re Nike, maybe it’s running shoes or basketball, athletic ware, or workout equipment whatever that thing is. But what are the specific phrases and terms and topics that people are actually searching for when they find you? How are they doing that? Why not use those terms and topics when you’re talking about things? Imagine if you knew that not just for you but for your competitor landscape, too. What’s working for them? What are they talking about in search and in social? How are those topics relevant so then you can actually glean and garner all the best pieces from everyone?


Ray: Absolutely. It’s one of those things that really important. It’s actually more than important. It’s one of the only tools that you have. So being able to use it is really important. But people are easily scared off by it because it seems a little technical. It’s not hard to work with. Our job is to help you use it more effectively. We’re pretty excited about it.


Erin: One of the things I think is always funny, too, when we talk about this competitor landscape situation – and not just competitor but any sort of tracking analytics, deep dive analysis of anything – is a lot of people are stuck in this tracking mentality for their own brand and barely have time for competitors. You want to know why? Because they’re doing it manually still.


How many times do we hear people tell us that what they’re using is spreadsheets, that they’re paying somebody a full-time salary to sit and type in? Imagine how much better it would be if you pay that person to actually analyze the data than to surf around and collect it?


Ray: Absolutely. It’s shocking to me, actually. Really, it shouldn’t be that shocking I guess, because there haven’t been tools for it. It’s not an easy problem to solve when you’re stuck in building this technology. The fact that the market just hasn’t been there for people, it’s understandable. But it definitely is the reason that people are so focused on only a few competitors and kind of in this tracking mentality.


Erin: I don’t know. I’ll agree from a competitive standpoint. The tools haven’t been there previously, which is part of the reason why our release is such a big deal. They’re like understanding your own stuff and your own keywords and your own topics, what’s happening with your own marketing across the board.


I call shenanigans on somebody still manually doing that for very long because there has been tools to look at that stuff and I still meet people on a regular basis where I’m like, “Oh, yeah. We do this and this,” and I’ll meet them, they’ll ask what we do, and I’ll tell them.


They’re like, “Oh, we’re doing that already.”


I was like, “Oh, really? What are you using?”


“Account manager Bob over here is literally filling out a spreadsheet every day.”


You know who’s really bad for this? Agencies.


Ray: Yeah, totally.


Erin: All their clients will want a different format.


Look, (1) there’s an API and (2) there’s an exportable CSV or Excel file and you can throw that thing into any format you want. That’s a simple cut and paste. But saying that the reason you’re not going to use a tool is because that exports not into whatever this format that your every individual client wants, I really do call shenanigans on that kind of behavior.


Ray: Yeah, I agree.


Erin: I’ve worked in agencies and I know what it’s like to have to bend to multiple client wishes and whims especially when it comes to things like reporting. I think this is also the onus a little bit on the client end. If you want to reduce overhead, consider whether or not you really need everything to be in your own proprietary format or if there is another way to get that information that’s standardized across your agency that you don’t have to have them pay the overhead of an account manager to look into.


Ray: That sounds like a whole other call. I’ve been in enough agency pitch sessions where one of the things that they always promote as a unique differentiator for themselves is they’ve got this super advanced reporting and amazing templates and everything else, and agencies may have a hard time closing business if they say, “We use standard reports.”


Erin: Not standard though. You can have your own proprietary report as an agency. I’m saying that clients themselves – they don’t need to make it look like their own stuff all the time. I just wonder if the data is the same data regardless and you can get the information, do you really need to paint it orange and rearrange things slightly like move page three to page six. Seriously? What’s really the equivalent of thousands of dollars a month? Something like that.


Ray: Vanity is a hell of a topic.


Erin: We do that, too. We do provide software as a service, we’re a SaaS platform. White labeling is a really easy thing and that’s why we allow you to do it yourself. We don’t have to go in and do it for you so we don’t have to charge you for it. It’s just baked into the platform that you can mess around and change the stuff up, “But we want all of our grass to be purple now or we want to change it around.” We do get those requests in and we get by them. It’s just how do you really want to spend your money?


I’ve been at Dallas all week this week and I’m getting ready to head back today. I’ll tell you some of the conversations that have been kind of enlightening being back in a really fledgling startup community because where the Bay Area has a lot of growth and advancement in terms of conversations around how people spend marketing dollars and when people make marketing hires and how people invest in marketing technology is, these conversations around things like marketing data, competitor landscapes, understanding their market and getting this information is – what we’re talking about is an investment in understanding things that can help propel your market forward. While anything that’s not free sounds like a really big deal, it really is always a trade-off. Where are you willing to spend the money? Where are you willing to make the investment? How is it going to pay you back in the future?


That’s one of the things that I always try to remind people. Is this actually a revenue-generating product or platform for you? I tell people to ask that across everything that they do. Things like accounting software or whatever. How much time is it saving you? Is it enough to free up enough hours for you to work on your own product development more? Whatever the thing that you’re talking about buying is, you have to put it back in trade-offs of how much time is it saving you and what is your time worth?


Ray: It’s a really good mindset. Actually, we talk about this a lot. Everything, every tool, every sort of thing you adopt should be additive. They may on the surface look more like cost savings or time savings. If those are helping you as an individual or as a company focused back on earning more money then it’s also an additive solution. Time-saving solutions are huge and it’s one of those things that can really be a good investment in your business.


Erin: That moves beyond the startup mentality. I always feel like that that mentality should be around regardless of how large your organization gets. I don’t think that there’s a time that your organization gets so big that it can buy things that are completely unnecessary, hire people who don’t need to be there, or use tools and products that don’t serve a purpose or additive. It doesn’t mean that you can’t. You may actually have the physical capability to do something like that but it doesn’t mean that you should. Because every dollar that is spent should be making two or should be preventing the loss of another one. I think that that goes in, too.


One of the things that I want to talk about the next time we meet is how to use this kind of data to help prevent some of the churn that you see in your market or for your products. One of the conversations that I’ve been having the most frequently is using marketing drivers to attract people before you’re ready or before you know what they really want or how you can really help them or ready to support them is actually more harmful than waiting until you’re ready. You may feel like you need to do it now, now, now, but you really don’t if you’re not ready and if you don’t know how to bring these people through the life cycle and keep them around because once you’ve attracted someone then disappointed them or churned them out, it’s five times harder to get them back again. So just wait.


Ray: Yeah, absolutely.


Erin: That’s the only advice I have. Just wait. I don’t have a fancier, better recommendation. “Wait” is the recommendation. With that, we’re going to wait until next week to talk about this churn situation and why understanding some of these really good marketing intelligence things are important before you actually turn on the marketing faucet. I always call it the marketing faucet because that’s literally what happens a lot of times. You’ll start doing all this marketing things and sometimes you’ll end up with this flood of stuff, whether good or bad. While everybody is like, “Yay! A million page views. Woo-hoo! Five thousand leads!” Who’s going to handle those leads?


Ray: Exactly.


Erin: What’s going to happen? You and I talked about this when I first joined. My first week with you, you were like, “Hey, let’s do all the things, all the stuff,” and I was like, “Oh my God! We will do all the things and all the stuff. Then we’ll have all the people to do it.” It’s always fun.


We will catch up with everybody next week. The show notes will always be posted to the GinzaMetrics blog along with my really fun graphic that looks super professional. A copy of this is also always put in the GinzaMetrics resources section as well as on YouTube/GinzaMetrics.


Until next time. Thanks, Ray.


Ray: Thank you.


Erin: Bye.


Ray: Bye.

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