Writer Charles Caleb Colton once famously said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, which is as true of bridal trends as it is in business. Although copyright laws exist to prevent businesses from simply stealing intellectual property and ideas, there are plenty of perfectly legal ways to draw inspiration and learn from the successes and failures of competitors… Saving you time, money, and the frustration of trial and error:
1. Subscribe to competitors’ newsletters
Sign up to competitors’ newsletters and take note of how often they’re sending, the tone of their communications and how they’re engaging their audience; are they running giveaways, offering free trials, holding exclusive member-only events, or making case studies out of successful clients? You can also create an RSS feed (Really Simple Syndication) using a feed reader that will aggregate information from any RSS enabled website and send it direct to your inbox. This means each time competitors update their website or blog, you’ll receive a notification, saving you from visiting all your competitors’ individual websites to keep updated.
2. Rival – then exceed – competitors’ customer support
As online business information bureau Red Flag Alert says, telling customers to leave a message or write an email and you’ll return their call within 24 hours is no longer enough for today’s instant gratification-seeking consumers who want answers, like, yesterday. If your major competitor commits to responding to enquiries within 24 hours, promise to do it 12, or take it a step further and offer real-time support with a live chat feature on your website.
3. Test competitors’ concepts
UX Research and Design Blog UserTesting encourages businesses to review their competitors’ concepts before investing in similar ideas: “If your competitor comes out with a new product, feature, or app, test their concept before you try to compete. No design is perfect when it gets launched, and their new concept is going to have issues”. Download the app, take advantage of free trial periods or buy the product and review it’s functionality, features and benefits before paying to create or order your own. Establish what they’ve done well and replicate it, then improve on what they’ve done poorly. Likewise with social media; if they’ve run an Instagram giveaway around a particular product and not a single person enters, you’ll know this concept is likely a flop.
4. Read competitors’ reviews
Trawling through competitors’ product and service reviews on their websites, as well as other wedding vendor websites, Easy Weddings’ Discussions, and across social media will reveal what makes your competitors’ customers happy, and what you could offer that would make them happy, which competitors currently aren’t. Do customers want plus-size weddings dresses, vegan cakes, or non-floral bouquets? If there’s a gap in the market that competitors aren’t filling, you’ve got yourself an opportunity, so productise customer reviews and you might just entice some frustrated brides over to your brand.
5. Setup Google Alerts
Setting up an RSS feed is great for spying on competitors you know and follow, but what about discovering up and coming businesses, or monitoring key influencers? Creating a Google Alert is perfect for finding new kids on the block and keeping your finger on the pulse of all things relative to your industry, niche and customers. Simply type in your keywords or phrase, customise your settings and watch the blog posts, videos, news and discussions come flooding into your Gmail inbox – similar to an RSS feed. Want to know if people are talking about your business? Create a Google Alert for your exact business name and find out where it’s popping up on the World Wide Web.
6. Leverage social media
Creating private Twitter lists allows you to keep an eye on all your competitors’ Tweets in one single feed (without them knowing), so by secretly adding your top 10 competitors – or even non-competitive multinational brands that you admire – you can monitor their giveaway strategy, general language and tone, product releases and even public conversations they’re having with customers. Facebook is also a great tool for learning how to successfully – or unsuccessfully – respond to negative feedback in a public forum. As kissmetrics points out, conversations on Facebook are neatly displayed in a single update stream (unlike Twitter), making it easy to follow competitors’ criticism and response from complaint to resolution.
7. Investigate backlinks
Social relationship platform Hootsuite suggests keeping an eye on competitors using backlink monitoring. A backlink occurs when a blog or website links to content on another site, directly affecting both sites’ search engine ranking. The more backlinks there are on other people’s sites pointing back to yours, the more popular Google deems your website to be, and the higher it ranks in search results. By monitoring your competitors’ backlinks using online tools and gadgets, you can keep abreast of who’s talking about your competitors, what they’re saying, and what cross promotional opportunities might be ripe for pursuing. While it’s important to note that some backlinks are a result of existing partnerships, some bloggers may not have included you in their Top 10 Wedding Photo Booth Suppliers simply because they didn’t know you existed! Let them know you’d love to be considered for their list (in amongst your competitors), and offer to return the favour by including them in a blog post on your own website to build your backlink network.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, competition in business can actually be a good thing, and without it, industries get comfortable in the mediocrity of the status quo. Competition leads to innovation and it forces businesses to focus on (and better cater for) their immediate target market… a far more economical approach than trying to market to every bride with a pulse!
However you keep an eye on competitors, whether it’s mystery shopping stores or anonymous help line chats, try incorporating some of the digital tools above to create a comprehensive competitor watch strategy and strive to not only (ethically) imitate, but also innovate to ensure your business remains relevant and unique in today’s thriving wedding industry.