We already instinctively look over our shoulders to see what the competition is doing. Refining this approach, by regularly conducting a competitive analysis, turns this reactive action into a proactive data source fundamental to marketing strategy.

But it can be hard to decide exactly what you’re looking for. That’s where competitive insights come in.

In this comprehensive guide, we’re going to break down what exactly competitive insights are, and what you need to know before searching for them. You’ll also find the six key forms of competitive insights to consistently track and use to improve your overall business strategy.

Table of contents:

What are competitive insights?

Competitive insights are pieces of information, or data points, that highlight how your competitors do business and can relate to your competition’s marketing, sales, positioning and other areas. Choosing which competitive insights to focus on guides your overall strategy, so it’s important to first understand what information you need to push your strategy forward.

What to consider before drawing competitive insights

Before you start collecting competitive insights, you need to have considered the following four factors.

Who are your competitors?

This is a simple, yet crucial part of drawing competitive insights. Before you begin any kind of competitive analysis, you need to identify who exactly your competitors are. This means understanding what industry you operate in, and which other companies are specifically working in your area locally, nationally and/or globally.

What are the different aspects of competitive analysis?

Understand the different parts of a thorough competitive analysis and, if relevant, which areas you’re hoping to focus on.

Some of the common examples of focuses within competitive analysis include:

  • Products or features
  • Target audiences
  • Pricing models
  • Marketing strategies
  • Social media strategies
  • Logistics or operations
  • USPs and differentiators
  • Positioning
  • Brand reputation
  • Strengths and weaknesses

If you’re not sure who your target market is, you may want to put more focus on a competitive analysis that uncovers your competitor’s audiences. Or, if you’re launching a new product, you’ll likely need more data on your competition’s products or features, and their pricing models.

Defining your goals ahead of time is vital, as this will then determine which competitive insights you need to collect.

Defining your goals to draw insights

Competitor mapping allows you to accurately identify your competitors and visualize your overall competitive landscape.

Successfully mapping your competitors will help you better define which factors are important in your sector. This will tell you which competitive insights to prioritize when conducting your analysis.

A comparison table allows you to define both your insight focuses (columns) and your competition (rows). You can then evaluate the performance of all of your key competitors against both your company and each other.An example of a competitor comparison chart

Sharing competitive insights

Finally, you need to know how you’ll present and share your insights. This also involves understanding how you’ll collect your data in the first place.

Several competitor analysis tools are designed to help you acquire data, and visualize the results. Sprout Social includes competitive reports that are ideal for tracking your competition’s social media performance. Sprout also enables you to benchmark your growth against the average social performance of your competition and offers detailed analytics that can inform your future social strategies.

Sprout Social’s competitive analysis report focused on Instagram shows audience growth and activity overview

Other tools that can help you collect and share your insights include Semrush, Google Alerts and Similar Web. Make sure you’ve defined your goals and insight focuses first, so you can decide which tool is best for your company’s needs. All these tools help you collect data, which can then be used to draw competitive insights that can guide how you set and achieve your goals.

6 marketing competitor insights to consider for your business strategy

The following areas represent six essential competitive insights that can inform strategy changes for almost any business including market share analysis, brand perception and reputation, and marketing channels and tactics. Each of these insights can be applied to several different forms of market analysis, ensuring you have the competitive data necessary to transform how your business markets, sells and is perceived by its customer base.

Listicle showing 6 marketing competitor insights to consider for a brands's business strategy including market share analysis and target audience.

1. Market share analysis

Not all of your competitors are created equally. While some may be massive corporations operating globally, others may be smaller businesses with far less influence and a smaller customer base.

One of the best ways to learn the significance of each of your competitors is by gathering market share insights. Market share essentially informs how big a competitor is and what percentage of sales or influence they command in your overall market.

Market share can be applied to several different areas, including:

  • Units: The portion of a market’s total units sold by an individual company.
  • Revenue: The portion of a market’s total revenue commanded by an individual company.
  • Share of voice: Relating to brand visibility, particularly across digital marketing channels.
Screenshot of Sprout Social’s conversation overview metrics analysis functionality

In Sprout, you can view market share based on several social-focused benchmarks, including:

  • Engagement: How many people engage with your competitor’s content.
  • Sentiment: How positive or negative these engagements are.
  • Impressions: How far your competitor’s content has reached.

Collecting market share insights helps you better define your overall position in your wider market. This way, you can identify the limitations of your goals in the short-term, and see what your next stage of growth looks like.

It also shows you which companies are notably successful in your sector, narrowing down the list of companies you should be watching closely.

2. Competitor positioning

Competitor positioning analyzes the influence and size of your competitors from a different angle. Specifically, it can help you learn how to build your brand and its identity.

Instead of just looking at the sheer market size of other businesses, competitor positioning enables you to assess how different brands are messaging their products, i.e. how they communicate their uniqueness and attain their customer base.

This is a useful insight when analyzing your competitor’s target markets, and how they market themselves and their products. A good example is the video game console market and its three biggest companies—Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo—which differentiate their products through positioning and product design.

Nintendo of America Instagram advert for Mario Wonder

Nintendo uniquely positions itself by adopting a more family-friendly brand and prioritizes inclusivity over performance. Meanwhile, Sony often positions its console by emphasizing its industry-leading technical capabilities. Microsoft did this in the past but has gone in a different direction with its GamePass service, providing a more cost-effective solution whilst maintaining its technical prowess. Uncovering these positioning insights helps marketers find niches in an overall market, which can be crucial in product or feature design.

But positioning isn’t limited to a product-defined approach. It also involves a brand’s marketing strategies, social media engagement, visual design, tone of voice and several other factors. Gathering these insights can reveal how your competitors differentiate from each other, which can better inform your business’s ideal position in the market.

3. Target audiences

Target audiences reveal a variety of attributes or socioeconomic factors currently singled out by other companies in your sector. These might include age, gender, income bracket, hobbies and interests and other traits. These factors will also differ substantially depending on whether you’re a B2B or B2C company.

Target audience insights can be invaluable data for your marketing strategies. For starters, a better understanding of your competitor’s target markets helps you define your target personas, and create outbound and inbound marketing campaigns that cater to them specifically.

These insights also determine how your company is positioned and how you can uniquely appeal to your target personas to garner a larger market share. Or, they might surface a target audience you hadn’t considered before, revealing a new opportunity to expand your brand’s reach.

4. Brand perception and reputation

Insights relating to a brand’s perception and reputation are similar to analyzing competitive positioning. The main difference is that instead of analyzing from the perspective of the company itself and its marketing efforts, you’re analyzing how its target market reacts.

Famous car brands are a great example of how important perception and reputation can be. All cars perform the same basic function and are expensive investments. However, their brand’s perception and reputation help them to create and maintain their market niche.

Mercedes-Benz, for example, is perceived as a luxury, reliable brand with both legacy and forward-thinking design, which is supported by its positioning. Meanwhile, Tesla is also a luxury brand but is perceived differently due to its relative newness as a company and its focus on electric vehicles (EVs) and advanced technology.

Mercedes Benz Instagram reel advert that shows audience engagement and interaction

Brand perception has historically been a tricky data point to track. Online reviews represent a good starting point, but with the right tools marketers can delve deeper into a company’s reputation through sentiment analysis. Sentiment analysis is an AI-driven technique where businesses can assess whether customer reactions are positive or negative.

By using Sprout, you can track sentiment responses and your competitor’s trends to evaluate how their brand is perceived by the public. You can then use these insights to review how positively your brand is perceived by comparison.

Sprout Social’s sentiment analysis features gives you insights on brand sentiment by showing you brand sentiment summary and trends

These insights can inform how significantly reputation-building should be prioritized in your upcoming strategies.  Social performance has proven to be the ideal place for marketers to analyze sentiments, as it’s a digital channel that relies on engagements, comments and shares.

As one of Sprout’s leading competitive analysis tools, social media sentiment analysis can be performed across all of today’s leading social platforms. Sprout allows you to track your own sentiment analysis, and then compare this with your competition to collect further insights.

5. Product and service offerings

The prior insights primarily focused on marketing strategies and brand positioning. However, gathering insights on your competition’s products and services garners more specific data on individual product performance.

A competitive product analysis can help you understand how individual products are marketed and sold by your competition. This is a reliable way of uncovering unique selling points (USPs), brand positioning tactics and the features present in successful products within your target market.

This particular area of competitive insights also involves understanding pricing models. By reviewing how each of your competition’s services is packaged, priced and marketed, you can develop a pricing model that allows you to effectively compete with them.

You must gather product insights regularly, particularly on prototypes or newly launched products and services. Google Alerts is a useful way of tracking content updates in your particular niche; by setting a few alerts and checking them regularly you can remain up-to-date with product launches as they happen.

6. Marketing channels and tactics

You should also be collecting data on how your competitors use different marketing channels and tactics.

Omnichannel digital marketing remains the leading approach, and the different tactics and channels used by your competition will likely be changing on a regular basis.

The best way to collect accurate insights on your competitor’s channels is through competitive monitoring. A comprehensive competitive monitoring approach helps you keep track of what your competitors are doing on social media, across emails, in their content and through other marketing channels.

Sprout Social’s social media monitoring functionality that gives you metrics on various KPIs like performance, conversations, demographics and more

These insights can help determine how you should differentiate your marketing strategies. It can also reveal which channels have been most successful; for example, your competitors might be extremely active on LinkedIn or Instagram. This can help you determine which platforms should be the primary focus of your marketing investment moving forward.

Final step: Conduct a SWOT analysis

Once you’ve gathered all of the above insights, you need to find a way to visualize them clearly. A reliable way to do this is by doing a SWOT analysis.

SWOT is an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. As a marketing framework, SWOT comprises four sections, often presented in a grid. It can be used to visualize your company’s standing in the market, as well as the market presence of your competitors.

To complete a SWOT analysis, take all of your insights on a single company and apply them to each section. If they’re doing something well, add the insight to strengths, if they’re doing something poorly, add it to weaknesses. If there’s an external market factor that they benefit from positively, add it to opportunities, and if there are external concerns that could harm them, then add this to threats.

An example of a simple SWOT analysis for Apple, created by Reve Chat

Once completed, a SWOT chart should outline the ways your competitor is succeeding, as well as the areas where they could improve. You can then apply this to a SWOT analysis of your brand to better understand how you compare to your competition.

If you’re comfortable conducting a SWOT analysis, consider creating more complicated marketing frameworks to display your insights. Two other common frameworks that can help with competitive analysis include PESTLE (which stands for political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental) and Porter’s 5 Forces.

Use the right tools to start gathering your competitive insights

Competitive insights, when used effectively, will inform and direct your marketing approaches and overall business strategies.

But these insights will only realize their full potential if you’re able to appropriately visualize, analyze and apply the data. Unleashing the true power of competitive insights demands that you find the right tools for the job.

Learn more about how Sprout will help you leverage and automate your insights to further your competitive analysis.