Any startup founder or a business person of any kind is going to be intimately familiar with market research. Before you founded your company, you and your team likely spent hours pouring over competitors, market size numbers, statistics, and whitepapers in your industry. You came to a conclusion about the potential for your product to exploit the market opportunity – now you’ve got a great pitch deck, maybe an awesome product – but what’s next?

The good news is all that market research doesn’t magically become useless. In fact, market research is equally useful in a marketing context. Much as you used your competitor’s info to guide your product MVP, you can do the same for your marketing MVP.  In fact, you probably should have done this kind of research prior to funding your company. But that’s beside the point.

Your Competitor Targeting List

Let’s assume you have your ducks in a row; come up with a list of 10-15 competitors that either mirror your product OR mirror the target customer exactly. Add to your list an additional 10 prominent companies; the only commonality needs to be that they address the same pain point for the same type of customer. For example, we sell marketing services to startups; our entire marketing strategy is based on mirroring Hubspot, a software platform for marketing, that is catered to startups.
If you’re aware of a more prominent company that has significant marketing efforts, but is not a direct competitor, focus in on that company. If you’re new to the game, a few sites of great use:

  • Owler (for larger companies)
  • AlternativeTo or G2Crowd (for tech companies) or the suggestions in the App Store/Play Store for mobile.
  • DiscoverOrg for general industry data (pharma, defense etc)
  • CrunchBase Pro – our personal preference, and the gold standard if you are selling into tech companies.

  • The pros should go straight to an SEO research tool; you can check who shares an audience (via google) with these companies, as well as who advertises against them – this enables you to see the actual competitors in terms of marketing. We will get into this more in the next chapter.
  • The expert-level marketers will visit the sites of the competitors and see who remarkets to them.  Ever browse for someone weird product or say something to Alexa and see it in your morning Twitter feed the next day? You can actually use this phenomenon to find out what your competitors are doing and what they “think” of you as a consumer. We will get into this in greater depth in later chapters.

A great tool for finding competitor ads; many others out there for raw search.

Now you have a pretty basic starting list – but the more data the better. For even better results, repeat this exercise for each customer persona or target market need you are addressing. Note – if you have a multi-sided marketplace or product; ex : B2E or B2B2C, you MUST repeat this process for the different personas.

Filtering The List

Great – so you now have around 20 companies to do marketing research on. Yes, if this were a course you could do them all – but once you hear what you’re going to have to do for each (In Chapter 2) I’ll bet you might cut down.  Here are the steps to filter this list down to a more manageable 6-8 competitors:

1. Remove any companies formed in the last 3 years.

New companies haven’t done much marketing or testing; looking at their data isn’t go to yield anything of use. I would equally remove any companies that aren’t “successful” in your industry – i.e they wouldn’t be able to get funding with their numbers.

2. Remove any companies whose traffic is decreasing.

If a company’s traffic is decreasing, they are doing something wrong. Don’t mirror them.

You can check this on an SEO research tool like Spyfu.

3. Remove any companies that have recently added technology

This is something you can check with many browser extensions – > if a company you are following has added marketing software recently, they might be changing strategies – meaning their data is going to be unreliable.

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