Succeeding in retail (especially against giant marketplaces like Amazon and eBay) has to start with knowing your competitive advantages – the foundation of your marketing that answers four important questions about your business:
- What single problem do your products solve really well for people?
- Who are the people that are the best fit (and are going to pay) for your products?
- What’s the unique hook that will drive people to your products over your competition?
- What are the buyer objections you’ll be facing?
I’m going to ask of you something now that may feel a bit daunting…
I’d like for you not to just guess at what the answers to those four questions are.
I do understand that you probably don’t have access to a vault of data that is going to provide you the answers, but you do need substantial research to help validate and guide the intuitions you have about your market.
That’s what we’re going to get into today. I’m going to share several methods to doing your own market research that you can do in a two-hour sitting at your favorite coffee shop.
First, open up a Google doc and make a list of your top competitors. For each one, you’re going to be collecting notes by using the following research tactics.
Find out how your competitors position themselves
A competitor’s choices in their own messaging and sales copy can be very insightful for how they view the market and what’s important to the customer. Whether or not they do a good job of that is not really the point. This whole process is more about understanding how to differentiate yourself and pin pointing where the gaps are that you can fill for your customers.
Look through some of these specific places to see how your competitors position their offerings:
- The top headline of their home page (often where you’ll find their positioning statement)
- The company description on their Facebook page
- The sales copy around their products
- The meta descriptions for their home page, about page and sales page
- Customer reviews that they’ve chosen to feature on their sales page or home page – they would be smart to pick the ones that fit their messaging
- Press releases – look for a “press” page on their site, where they feature articles written about their company. There’s a good chance there are quotes from the CEO/founders of the company about what makes their product so great. Read the comments in the article and see if there’s anything worth noting from people that have used their product before? If they don’t have a press page, they may have a “as seen/featured in…” section on their home page or sales page that lists noteable publications or blogs that you could do a Google search with (search: “Company name + publication”). Bonus points if you can find a press release about any VC funding they’ve raised. That is guaranteed to have some good nuggets of info about what they are prioritizing for growth.
What is this showing you?
In all of this, scrutinize their word choice. A lot of these areas require major intentionality in order to fit the most impact into just one phrase or sentence. This should tell you what has made it through their filters as the most important things to know about their products and what they do for customers.
Look for any mentions of specific outcomes or customer pain points (ex: “finally, clothes that look flattering on pregnant moms”)? Do they mention a particular feature or benefit of their products (ex: “one-of-a-kind”)? Do they mention a particular customer segment (ex: “the next generation of working women”)?
If they appear to be doing a poor job at positioning themselves (certainly not unlikely), then you’ll have a pretty good idea of how to take advantage and plant your flag accordingly.
Search for user reviews
Depending on how big of a company you’re competing with, you could find a lot of customer reviews with a simple Google search. Here are some queries to consider and what to look for.
- “[Competitor name] review” – a lot of bloggers will write articles about their experience with a particular product in their industry. Look for these or review sites that have multiple customer reviews.
- “[Competitor A] vs. [Competitor B]” – people are always wanting to compare two products and find which one suits them the best. Search for people’s write ups or reviews about their experience with multiple competitors or your business and your competitors.
- Amazon product reviews – Amazon, the ultimate “frienemy” of retailers can be very valuable research tool. Find your competitor’s products that compete with yours and scroll down to the user reviews section.
What you’re going to find is a treasure trove of both positive and negative things said about your competition (and likely your business as well). Don’t let yourself get disheartened or overconfident by any of it. This is in no way a full representation of how customers feel about you or your competitors. It’s a small sample size and should be treated as such. Use it only as fodder for what is important to your target customers and ways you can improve how you talk about your own product to them.
Observe the community at large
One of my favorite ways to do market research is to camp out on sites like Quora.com and look through as many topics and questions as possible on the industry I’m researching.
You’ll discover new things at every turn – what questions and pain points the people you serve are talking about, where people are being referred to as a solution to their problem, what advice they are getting, etc. It’s extremely insightful to peer in on these conversations.
Quora even has an FAQ page for every category on the site. This is one of my favorite features, because it quickly shows me what topics/questions are the most talked about in that particular industry.
For example, here is the Topic FAQ page for the Fitness category:
This is a list of the most helpful topics curated by the Quora community and is a really good reflection of the most common problems and questions that people have about the industry you serve.
This isn’t the only way to do your market research, but it’s certainly enough to gain a better understanding of how to differentiate yourself in a way that gets your customer’s attention.