In a highly competitive market, the need for competitive intelligence is obvious. Market research is the core of any strategic business plan. Knowing what works for your competitors is the surest way to confirm your own ideas for marketing, and to weed out time-consuming plans destined to fall flat.
Content marketing is no exception. You can use the same tactics to develop your content that you use when you launch a new product or service. Competitive analysis gives you the opportunity to see what resonates with customers in your space and improve on those successes to make your business stand out.
Make sense of buzzword advice.
One thing I’ve noticed about content marketers is the repetition of industry buzzwords and platitudes about blog writing. Be authentic. Engage your customers. Write amazing content. You don’t hear a lot about the mechanics of doing all that. I’m going to show you the nuts and bolts of how to get it done. Let’s start with some examples:
Be authentic. Develop a voice and tone for your business that fits your company culture and speaks the same language as your customers. You can’t build your brand on lies. It worked gangbusters for tobacco companies in the past, but today it won’t fly. Consumers have access to too much information. Build your brand and business persona on the best elements of your business — your unique selling proposition.
Engage your customers. Not as easy as it sounds. This basic advice leads businesses to do some horribly cringe-worthy social media. The key is to engage customers in the right way, not to insert a sales pitch into their conversations, but to ask questions, re-tweet what’s important to them, respond to their comments and questions and offer to help out if they are having a problem. Stay out of emotional topics, but do join on in celebratory causes where appropriate.
You also want to find the right people to engage, and competitive analysis can help you do it. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Write amazing content. And there you have it — the magic answer to content marketing. You write amazing content, everybody shares it and your business grows. Only there are some inherent questions nobody talks about:
- What’s amazing content? What does that even mean?
- Who is producing this content? Can your employees write that well?
- How will they know what to write about?
- Do you need to hire a professional writer?
- How often should I publish?
- How long should my content be?
Wondering where competitive intelligence fits in?
Write what works.
If you’re relatively new to blogging — or you’ve been blogging for a while and nobody’s reading, a competitive content audit will show your weak areas. Somebody in your industry is doing the right thing — gaining audience, attracting traffic and engaging customers. Comparing competitor sites and social media efforts to yours gives you useful information about what people talk about in your industry, what they share and what sparks the most complaints.
Using your blog as a forum to answer questions people commonly ask in detail is a great way to attract readers — targeted readers who are searching for specific information. It’s also a great way to establish yourself as an industry leader. With a competitor audit, you’ll find out where people talking about your industry hang out and whether they respond better to written content, video, graphics, audio or some combination. You can determine how often your competitors post new content, how long the most popular content is and what kind of comments they add when sharing. All fodder for a great blogging strategy.
Delve into the research.
Guess what? You don’t have to do all the competitive intelligence work, because one of the questions most frequently asked by content marketers and bloggers is: “What kind of content is most effective?” Moz and BuzzSumo analyzed a million articles to find the answers. Now, I’d like to see a study based on business blogs only — excluding the most natural shares like news, politics and goofy Buzzfeed clickbait. Just sayin’.
But you can still get some pretty useful stuff from their findings. People are more inclined to share lengthy, well-researched articles, how-to, why and list posts.
Be different. Be bold!
Once you know what your competitors are doing, the trick is to do it better. Instead of tackling the same subject from the same angle, use comments on their blog posts to understand what leaders in your industry left out and address that. Find a new way to address a common topic. Write a step-by-step guide or a comprehensive how-to that addresses a really sticky issue — like how to write better blog posts.
Don’t be afraid to write about new ideas. Everybody sees things differently, and the way you approach a problem might be different from the way others look at it. This math problem keeps popping up in my Facebook feed, and it perfectly illustrates how looking at a problem differently can provide the answer.
You may be able to explain things in a way your customers are able to understand better than your competitor. One mistake people make when they are trying to be authoritative is using big, intellectual words and dense copy. In this post about writing blog posts, Neil Patel, one of the most highly-regarded marketers on the planet, says he writes at about a fourth-grade level. He also says he writes an insane amount of words every week — but I personally wouldn’t shoot for that. He probably has some kind of writing superpower.
I write on an eighth-grade level. Sentences are longer and more complex, I use bigger words and I don’t chop paragraphs up quite so much. It’s not as easy to skim. I should probably work on that — without dumbing it down.
Hire a professional, or not?
I’m on the fence about this one. Writing is a specific skill, and not everyone can write. Writing engaging blog posts — and knowing what to write about isn’t easy. Good writers can be expensive, and inexpensive writers are not always effective. That’s probably why most content gets no traction. It’s mediocre.
On the other hand, if you or someone on your staff is a really good writer who understands the industry better than a freelance writer ever could and can offer insights and insider information a freelancer does not have access to, they might be better than a professional writer. A hybrid approach is to hire a writer you like and trust, and give them information they can work with, as opposed to letting them figure it out on their own — which is what most clients do.
Build readership as you build authority.
Your end goal is to build audience, and with a new blog, it’s not easy. One of the fastest ways to get your name out there is to write for established industry blogs. Every blog scrambles to find unique, quality content. If you can produce it, they will publish it. The more recognizable your name is, the more people will trust you. You’ll also get a link back to your website, which is great search engine optomization. But that’s a topic for another post.
Now, about engagement…
You can’t just plant it out there and expect people to come to your blog and stand in awe of your greatness and then tell all their friends. Nope. You have to get out there and spread the word. Your competitive intelligence revealed where the most active users in your industry are — now use that information. Connect to people. Don’t push your blog posts. Just be friendly. Interested people will click your profile and click through to your blog, will retweet your latest posts and will welcome natural input into conversations about something related you recently published.
Approach it in the same way you would a friendly conversation: “Oh, I just wrote about that subject on my blog. Here’s a tip” Later in the conversation, ask if they’d like a link to the post. People are more likely to say yes if you join the conversation and ask first, instead of disrupting the conversation to foist a link on them without introduction or permission.
Joining the conversation opens the door to future interaction. The next time they have a question, they’ll come looking for you. That’s a pretty good definition of social media and content marketing.
Put it all together.
Making your blog irresistible takes a combo approach. You start by developing a competitive edge — using what resonates with people who talk about your industry. Then find a new approach to over-worked topics or address questions no one else does, write a title that will really sell it and then promote your little heart out via an email list and social media in an engaging and non-aggressive manner.
Repeat the whole process consistently, because very few blogs will be an overnight success. Don’t get discouraged. Content marketing works. It’s just a longer game.