Here's something we've heard all too often:
Ignore your competitors!
Don't be a busybody and copy others. Want to be a copycat ke?
Don't be such a jerk lah. Why do you want to follow other people?
And you know what? I'm hereby declaring that this is the wrong way of looking at it.
Learning is not plagiarizing
Learning from your competitors doesn't mean that you're cramping their style and copying every single thing they do. You're actually going to copy the principles and adapt them to your own brand.
A huge part of branding is about differentiating your brand from others. To do that, you have to know what they're doing. If you don't know what they're doing, what's stopping you from becoming just another cookie-cutter brand?
In fact, you can't afford to not study your competitors. A thorough research will very likely reveal a gap in the market - an angle or potential that hasn't been capitalised on before.
So it's important to know what they're doing right, what they're doing wrong, and what they haven't done. If you want to save time, money, and energy in moving your business forward, then learning from your competitors should be part of your strategy.
Who are your competitors?
Your competitors can be divided into two categories:
- Direct competitors: People or businesses who provide similar products/services, uphold similar qualities and charge similar prices.
- Indirect competitors: People or businesses who provide alternative products/services. They could uphold similar or different qualities, and charge similar or different prices.
It makes sense to study your direct competitors, but why indirect ones? Indirect competitors are still in the same industry, so they could still be targeting markets that you are also targeting. For example, a vegan restaurant might be an indirect competitor of a normal restaurant. The vegan dishes are an alternative to normal, non-vegan dishes.
Make a list of your competitors (direct and indirect). Aim for at least 3-5 of each category, but the more the merrier! The best way to study them is through their social media profiles. Social media is casual and customer-centric, so it's advisable to study them there to know exactly how they appeal to customers.
For this article, I'm focusing only on Instagram, but you can apply it to other platforms too. You should compile their Instagram accounts, as well as their other platforms like websites and Facebook. That will make it easier for you to monitor them regularly.
Now, what to study?
1. Photography style and quality
Photography has always been an integral part of marketing. If I had to rate the critical elements, this would be at the top of the list. (Well, it already is)
People remember images easily, especially if they have managed to make an impact. Social media is all about images.
There are many photography styles that your competitors could be using. They are (but not limited to):
- Muted (or vintage)
- High contrast
- Black and white
Try scrolling through their profile and see the style that they consistently use. A consistent style is soothing to the eyes and makes a brand look streamlined.
You will want to copy this "consistent style" principle, but you don't have to copy the style itself. Is there a different style you can use to best showcase your brand personality and products? If the photos of other brands all look similar and then along came you with your unique style, it'd make a great impression.
Another important aspect is photography quality. The best competitors have beautiful photos, no doubt about it. They have good lighting, good angles and most importantly, they exude professionalism.
Nothing screams unprofessional than taking photos of your products on your flowery bedsheets in a dark room. A good camera is important, yes, but the intention you put into getting a nice photo will show the most. Pick the best lighting (natural, morning light) and background.
There are tons of websites that can teach you how to DIY your own photoshoot, so never say you're not capable! It's easier than you think.
2. Captions and hashtags
Brands must have a well-defined voice. It needs to show a personality, preferably one that people like and can relate to.
The best way to use this "voice" is through the captions. You will face your fiercest competition from brands that have great captions. Their voice isn't stiff and annoying. Customers will actually respond to these brands based on their captions.
How long are your competitors' captions? Is the length dependent on the subject matter? We've found that there is no reason why you shouldn't write long captions if they're relevant. It's important to clearly explain anything that needs explaining. Otherwise, you run the risk of communicating the wrong message.
If your competitors indulge in lazy grammar or emotional rants, it's a principle you shouldn't copy. Some customers might like or are indifferent to that approach, but becoming a household brand requires a different one. Always strive to present a professional face because it's classier, more sustainable, and will open more doors for collaboration.
Note the hashtags that your competitors are using as well. How many do they include per post? Don't hijack theirs. Instead, try to come up with your own and make them easy to remember. And never cheapen your own brand by using a hashtag like #sayajualmurah!
3. Subject matter of photos
What is the subject matter of your competitors' photos? This is the easiest way to study your them and gain insight into what makes them successful (or not successful). It's usually a combination of these things:
- Products/services only
- Products/services and other items related to the "theme"
- Brand items like packaging and business cards
- Other unrelated items
- The business owner
- Brand employees
- Customers and products
- Customer testimonials
- Influencers or sponsored parties
Each of the subject matter has its own pros and cons, so it's critical to analyze your competitors' combos. Are those working for them? You can follow their combos or create your own. It certainly depends on the brand goals and personality that you want to pursue.
I've found that the most successful and well-known brands have photos that show a certain lifestyle, not just the products alone. Their photos say that "this could be you". People are inspired to buy the products because they want that lifestyle. Think Adidas and Rolex.
4. Frequency of posts
This requires a little bit more effort to study, but is still worth it because it could directly affect your sales. Analyze the frequency of your competitors' Instagram posts from at least a month back. What's the average in a day? You can also do this automatically using IFTTT, but it will only track future posts and not previous ones.
One? Two? Three? A number starting with 0. ? I've always advocated for at least one post a day to remain visible in Instagram's fast-moving feed. But because I'm focusing on our Diving Into Branding newsletter for now, I've decided to reduce ours to just a few per week.
It's up to you. If your competitor's posting multiple times a day, you can take the playing hard-to-get route by posting only once a day. If it makes sense for your brand goals, why not? But don't sacrifice quality for quantity. All your photos have to contribute into making you appear like a great brand.
5. Interactions with audience
How you interact and engage existing and potential customers is also part of your branding. If the way you interact is friendly and helpful, then you'll be that kind of brand. And if you're more aloof and mysterious, that's how people will categorize you.
How are your competitors behaving with their own audience? You can spot patterns by looking particularly at the comments and captions. Are they:
- Responding to comments?
- Answering questions?
- Responding to criticism?
- Mentioning and tagging their customers in their posts?
- Asking for feedback and suggestions?
Another method is by going through their tagged photos. Do they thank their audience for tagging them, or responding in any other way? A friendly and warm brand would go out of their way to comment on those tagged photos, while those that go for a 'premium' feel would not necessarily do so.
But no matter how what kind of personality you want to project, don't neglect customer service! Your customers are what makes your brand sustainable, so if the customers don't feel appreciated, it'll hurt your sales.
Competition is great. It forces you to create a better brand than what we have in the market. When you are focused on staying ahead of your competitors and making customers happy, you will never stagnate. 10, 15 years from now, you will still be here! So don't be intimidated or frustrated by the competition. They will be your best help after all.
Who are your closest competitors?