With so much information flying around on the Internet, you’d think it would be easy to keep up with everything that’s going on in your market and amongst your competitors. But it’s more a matter of knowing what information is important in understanding how well you match up. Being able to focus on which networks, content and metrics will help you beat the competition is the name of the game in this age of real-time information.
John Clark, CEO of RivalIQ, a competitive intelligence platform provider, joins Brent Leary to share his thoughts on how to approach CI (competitive intelligence) in today’s environment along with some best practices for making the most of the information at your fingertips.
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Small Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
John Clark: My first software company actually started when I was 17. I have continued through a variety of industries to take us to what is today, Rival IQ, where we focus on helping marketers within companies and agencies extract competitive insights out of their market landscape.
Small Business Trends: What is competitive intelligence today and how does it compare to a few years ago?
John Clark: There are so many more channels of activity for the typical marketer to have to deal with. There is a tremendous amount of activity, it is a non stop flow of information. The reality is there is a ton of information that you can gleam from the market, but at the same time it is easy to become essentially obsessed with it as well.
So we talk a lot about how you would be a fool not to watch what your competitors are doing, but you would be a fool to obsess about it.
The trick is having systems in place and those can be manual or automated to essentially gather this information and when it is valuable for you to see what is going on with your competitors.
Small Business Trends: What are some of the main things a company should be looking to do when trying to understand what is the competitive landscape around them?
John Clark: People should spend their energy understanding who the players in their market are. So we talk about building your market landscape or your competitive landscape. It is really understanding who are the companies that are either directly competitive to you or are tangentially competitive to you in a way that you think that you can learn from their behavior. I would characterize the latter as aspirational targets. People you think are really doing well in the market you can learn from them.
So those are the three types of companies that would be important to assemble. It is important just to know who those are and then there is the Web or online presence that you can explore. There is a whole variety of social channels that are important to be evaluating. There are a variety of other metrics like SEO base metrics, that are important to be identified that are certainly the big groups that are important to gather information on and be watching on a periodic basis.
Small Business Trends: What kind of things can you find out, or what you should be finding out, in order to understand what is going on in the industry you are in?
John Clark: From our prospective, important things to do as you setup a competitive landscape are have the list of people that you think are valuable that you can learn from and you can inform your strategy from. Then you want to start doing some base lining or bench marking which would be going and looking at how they cross all of the various marketing channels and how they describe themselves.
The positioning is a perfect example. We spend a decent amount of energy on how to talk about your business and how do your competitors talk about their business and how they compare.
If you go and pull descriptions from ten different competitor websites and line them up against each other, or the title text or how they describe themselves on say Twitter or Facebook, and you look at them side by side, you are going to discover a common things that you want to make sure you get in to your own description as well.
Making sure that you have assembled the competitive metrics, which is essentially for your industry, then look at who’s present on what channels. Look at Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn, and ask yourself, “Am I on those channels and are my competitors on those channels?”
The final thing would be looking at the effectiveness or the engagement on those various channels. What are people doing and are they effective? Because you can certainly be present on Facebook, but being present on Facebook and having deep engagement with your customer base are two very different things.
Small Business Trends: Lets say you are in this certain industry and you have a list of competitors and you can look across the different social networks and how you compare to them, but you dig deeper to see the industry is really heavily using Facebook. How can I get up to speed or use Facebook and look at each individual but also look at the overall industry and how it’s doing?
John Clark: Exactly. Not just the overall industry, but the trick on engagement is to go and figure out who is doing the best. Because this is where some of the learning is coming from. Whether it’s SEO or engagements or what-not, as you dig in, see who is being the most effective. Dig into what are they doing, are they posting videos or doing contests or promotions, or are they doing something that seems to resonate with a customer that is common to my customer – and decide if that is something that might be worth experimenting with.
This is where some of the learning comes from. You are not going to change your strategy day in and day out based on this information, but are you evolving your strategy. If you identify things that are working for other folks it is something to evaluate. It may be something that you want to make a part of your tactics.
Our product is always evolving so we are adding more and more to it. But one of the things that we present to people is where it has seen significant moves and changes in the market. So that you can figure out where to go dig deeper for insights.
That’s the value of using technology. Because the reality is, everything that I have described, given enough time and energy, can go by hand and be gathered in spreadsheets to assemble it. It is very tedious, very hard and tough to maintain, but it is accessible. If you have something that is on an ongoing 24 x 7 basis, then you are able to go quickly look at the results to see where there have been significant movements.
I would say that people are starting to seek tools to essentially manage this chaotic, rapidly changing amount of information. Because they realize they can learn from it, but they don’t know how to manage it. That is really the problem that we are trying to solve at Rival IQ.
Small Business Trends: What is the difference between generic social listening and what you guys do with competitive intelligence?
John Clark: There is definitely some overlap. I’d say that we have approached the market from a slightly different way that goes back to that premise that – you don‘t want to obsess about your competitors, but you don’t want to ignore them either. If you accept that as a valuable premise, our goal is to make it easier for you to build up that market landscape or that competitive landscape of people that you want to watch and learn from.
Then focus that filter on companies looking at a bunch of different metrics, not just social. Social is important, but also SEO related metrics, Web based metrics and how they are changing meta data and title tags and things like that that effect search. So it is a related but slightly different task.
Small Business Trends: Where can people learn more?
John Clark: RivalIQ.com
This interview on competitive intelligence is part of the One on One interview series with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication.