All marketers want to stake out a unique position in their industries, but, according to Lawson Abinanti, few succeed. “There’s so much me-too marketing out there.”
Part of the problem is that few companies take the time to formally analyze their competitors’ marketing to see where there’s room for position that will truly stand out. That’s where the process called competitive mapping comes in.
As Principal, Messages That Matter, Abinanti instructs clients how to break down their competitors’ positioning to get a good view of their industry’s marketing landscape. We asked him to explain how to undertake a competitive mapping project so you can find unclaimed territory for your own marketing efforts:
-> Step #1. Isolate direct competitors
To help define a unique marketing position, you don’t necessarily want to analyze every company in your industry -- just your direct competitors. “It would be the hated enemies, the companies that you go head to head with in the battles out on the sales front,” Abinanti says.
Although it can be informative to look at a wide swath of companies in your industry, including those who are much bigger or much smaller than you, don’t spend too much time analyzing their marketing positions because they’re not the ones you’ll be regularly competing against.
-> Step #2. Collect competitors’ marketing materials
Once you identify your main competitors, start gathering their marketing materials.
The most important items to collect are competitors’ print advertisements, either from general business publications or trade magazines. Print ads are the best place to start, because they often contain the company’s most up-to-date marketing position and represent their biggest expenditure.
In addition to print ads, you’ll also want to analyze positioning found in their:
o Web sites
o Press releases
o Brochures and product datasheets
o Email marketing
The goal is to look for consistency across those various marketing channels that will help you pinpoint their key marketing themes. Analyzing those different sources often reveals a lack of consistency among your competitors’ marketing messages and positioning, which can help you stake out a more coherent message of your own.
-> Step #3. Assemble your analysis team
Schedule a group brainstorming session to analyze competitors’ marketing materials. In these meetings, the more the merrier, since different people’s insights and understanding of the marketplace can help clarify what customer problem your competitors are trying to solve and the key benefits they’re pitching.
The types of people who typically participate in competitive mapping sessions include:
o Product marketers
o Corporate marketers
o Corporate management
o Sales staff
“You want to actively involve all of them, even if that means you’re herding cats,” Abinanti says.
-> Step #4. Distill marketing into competitive positions
Determining a positioning statement from a collection of marketing materials requires careful observation and analysis of different elements to find what Abinanti calls, “the big idea” -- the theme of an ad or the core benefit or characteristic a competitor is trying to convey.
For a print ad, examine elements such as:
- Headlines and taglines. These are often distillations of a company’s positioning statement.
- Ad copy. You’re looking for the declarative statement that addresses a customer’s major problem, or defines that company’s key characteristic. You should also track words or phrases that echo the company’s tagline.
- Any words in bold, underlined or otherwise called out.
After observing those elements, you must decide what the company’s primary position is. Is it marketing itself on the promise of improved performance? Reliability or customer service? Value? High ROI? Expertise in a certain area?
For example, Abinanti recently analyzed marketing positions in the enterprise corporate performance management software market and found companies positioning themselves in terms of benefits that include better business performance and enabling more confident business decisions.
-> Step #5. Map competitive positions
After identifying competitors’ marketing positions, you need to create a map of the competitive landscape to help you visualize where competitors have staked out territory -- and where openings might exist that you can exploit.
Start by logging the results in a table, placing the names of the companies in column headings and then assigning the different marketing positions to rows. Type an “X” underneath each company next to the primary message (or messages) of their ad statement.
Next, turn that table into a graphic. Abinanti has a team member build an Excel application that turns tables into star-shaped charts that plot competitors’ names along or between different legs representing each marketing position statement (see creative samples below). You can also build a chart manually in PowerPoint.
If you find that each competitor is using a unique marketing concept and, therefore, no clear groupings are emerging, consider combining similar ideas into a single concept to see if a pattern exists. For example, in Abinanti’s analysis of the enterprise CPM market he combined concepts such as predictable performance and better business performance to group companies.
-> Step #6. Target concepts outlined in the map
A good competitive map will show you where competitors are clustered and which marketing concepts are most commonly employed. From there, it’s back to brainstorming (preferably with the same team who performed the competitive analysis) to determine your own company’s marketing position that will stand out from the crowd.
“When you’re developing a positioning statement, you really good shoot the gun anywhere. This process helps you shoot the gun at a target,” Abinanti says. Useful links related to this article
Creative samples of competitive maps:
Messages That Matter