Nearly every film aficionado can cite various lines and scenes from The Godfather. One of the most famous lines from the trilogy occurs in the second installment when Michael Corleone recounts one of the lessons he learned from his father, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

The origins of this philosophical maxim actually actually dates back 2,600 years to 6th century BCE China. The instruction to “keep your enemies close” is one of the truths disseminated by the esteemed Chinese General Sun Zi in The Art of War, a military treatise embraced in eastern and western societies for everything from military strategy, to business tactics, to legal practices. Sun Zi’s original precept is longer than the one in The Godfather:

“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

Businesses seeking to learn from their competitors should not simply copy what they do. Merely mimicking their marketing programs and business practices is a passive imitation that will prove short-lived and ineffective. Rather, successful businesses are leaders and not followers. As Sun Zi argued and Michael Corleone contend, individuals and organizations can learn much when they study their competitors (aka “enemies”). Understanding what your competitors provides valuable market analysis and insights into trends.

The following are 5 of 10 things that competitors can teach small businesses. Watch for Part II of this blog post for the final five things.

1. Digital Engagement

Responsive websites are the norm today. They must display seamlessly across all types of devices and browsers. Do your competitors haveresponsive websites? Do you? If you are behind on this front, then you need to catch up. 

And when it comes to buyer and customer engagement, do your competitors offer multiple digital engagement channels? Or just traditional phone and email support? A growing majority of companies offer live web chat, and not just static chat but proactive, predictive live chat. With hosted solutions like Davinci Live Web Chat, small businesses can offer the same experiences to buyers and customers as their larger counterparts. Other digital engagement solutions such as real-time content personalization and offers as well as online self-service capabilities also provide small businesses with a low entry point. 

Here are the takeaways. If your competitors aren’t offering digital engagement, then you have a chance to leapfrog them. If they are doing so, you need to catch up—and soon. The imperative is undeniable: companies offering digital engagement options to their buyers and customers have a definitive competitive advantage. 

2. Website Traffic

There are a growing number of applications that allow companies to see what personas and visitors are hitting competitor websites—and how they are getting there. Audienti and SimilarWeb are two applications that provide this type of intelligence. There are some SEO tools such as Open Site Explorer from Moz and SEMrush that give companies the ability to see which websites are referring the most traffic to competitor websites. In addition to creating a list of websites to target for backlinks, businesses can concurrently gain insights into what keywords are generating the most traffic for competitors. 

3. Search

There are a number of tools that enable companies to discover how often visitors are getting to your competitor’s websites. Some of the tools to investigate include: 

Searchmetrics that drills down into images, videos, news, etc.

SEMrush that includes details such as mobile friendliness and search performance

Ahref’s Organic Traffic that provides insights on keywords that are not bringing traffic to competitor domains (that you could use)

Ispionage that pinpoints PPC keywords as well as instances where your brand name is being used by a competitor

Horizon that enables companies to see how they compare in terms of traffic as compared to their competitors

SEOmonitor Competition Insight that looks at keywords and location (helps companies understand website performance against competitors at regional levels)

Others such as SpyFu, Compete, and Hitwise from Experian that show competitor organic and paid search results 

Leveraging the intelligence gathered about competitors, businesses can optimize their organic and paid search efforts to generate more traffic, and moreover the kind of traffic that will produce measureable results (viz., leads, opportunities, and sales). 

4. Content Marketing

Understanding your audience is an essential building block to content marketing. Organizations that fail to develop buyer and customer personas and journey maps for each one put themselves at a disadvantage directly out of the gate. All too often, businesses focus their content creation efforts on one segment of the funnel and moreover on only a portion of the personas who make or influence decisions. 

In the case of competitive research, analysis of what content your competitors are creating and what their campaigns look like can identify holes in your campaign and content strategies. Alternatively, this competitive analysis can pinpoint gaps in competitor strategies and execution that can be exposed (missed opportunities that a business can leverage). Businesses can also discover what content is producing the best results for competitors and develop content strategies to tap similar veins of interest. Content curation tools such as Curata, Trap.It, Feedly, Scoop.It, among others provide organizations with a quick view of what is trending in particular market spaces—including what content competitors are producing. 

5. Social Media

Just as it important to understand what your competitors are doing on their websites, it is also important to know what they are doing on social networks. Getting the scoop on what rivals are doing on social networks and what content is resonating enables businesses to determine whether it is most effective to post photos or videos, what types of captions to include, and when to post videos and photos. They can also see what competitor social posts are performing the best and use this data to come up with their own high-performing posts. 

There are some social “snooping” tools that companies can use to uncover information on their competitors; these include: 

RivalIQ gathers data and content from any social network channel and allows users to track and consolidate it to compare how their social media activities compare to that of competitors.

Social Bakers sends notifications when competitors outperform you on social media. Specifically, by understanding how competitors are spending money, businesses can optimize their ad spend and reach a larger social audience.

Fanpage Karma tracks social media presence of competitors daily and provides information such as the best time to post, best topics, and best types of posts.

The following are 10 things companies can find out about competitors and their use of social media: 

1. The social networks they use

2. How they position themselves

3. Types of visuals they use

4. Frequency of their posting activities

5. What they post

6. What trends they are talking about

7. What others are saying about them

8. Social plugins they use

9. The groups they join

10. Where they publish content 

We’re interested to find out how you keep your “enemies” close. Post your ideas in the comments section below. 

Competing as a small business is never an easy undertaking. Davinci Virtual has worked with thousands of small businesses to help them compete like big businesses by leveraging our broad portfolio of services. For help in tackling your business needs, call us, email us, or chat with us today.