It doesn’t matter how niche a product or service you offer. There are probably other companies that do the same thing. Competition is a normal part of business–and it’s what drives innovation.

Digging into your competitor’s approach through a marketing competitor analysis is critical to putting together or updating your brand’s marketing strategy. It is the key to your business’s future success because when you look more closely into your competitors’ marketing, you learn from their successes and mistakes. And this informs your marketing game plan.

In this article, you’ll see why a marketing competitive analysis is important and get expert tips on conducting one.

What is competitor analysis in marketing?

Marketing competitor analysis is the process of researching and analyzing your competitors’ marketing strategies and tactics to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

Look at the four Ps of marketing—product, price, place and promotion—these are four essential factors in marketing a product or service. Analyzing this gives you a competitive edge. Once you know more about your competitors’ methods, you can avoid their pitfalls and take advantage of missed opportunities to optimize your marketing.

A callout card that says, "Marketing competitor analysis is the process of researching and analyzing your competitors’ marketing strategies and tactics to identify their strengths and weaknesses."

But who exactly are your competitors? A competitor is any business that could pull market share away from your organization now or in the future.

There are two main types of competitors: direct and indirect. Direct competitors actively compete with you for the same customers, such as a similar business in your local area. Indirect competitors are those in the same category as you but sell different products or services and target a different market.

For example, if you run a B2B CRM software company that sells to small and medium-sized businesses, a CRM for enterprise clients would be your indirect competitor.

For a marketing competitor analysis, you should focus on your direct competitors.

How to analyze marketing competitors

To analyze your competitor’s marketing strategy, you need to gather as much competitive intelligence as possible about their marketing, from web and social media to field marketing. Fortunately, there are competitive intelligence tools to make this process much easier. You’ll also need to establish criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of their efforts.

What are the steps for a marketing competitor analysis?

While you were likely already familiar with the concept of a marketing competitor analysis, you might not know exactly how to put one together from scratch. Plus, with so much data available, you might find it tough to know where to start or where to focus.

Here’s a step by step process to get you started.

1. Determine your competitors

To find your direct competitors, turn to search engines, social media and customer insights to learn who’s competing against you. Search for keywords related to your product or service and see what other businesses rank for them.

For example, a Google search for “makeup brands” highlights a few of the world’s leading makeup companies.

A screenshot of a Google search for makeup brands.

Also follow social media hashtags related to your product or service. For example, if you run a home office furniture company, you might follow hashtags like #ergonomicchair or #homeoffice.

A screenshot of an Instagram post featuring a picture of a green desk chair and a green standing desk.

You could also survey and ask your customers what other brands they considered when making a similar purchase.

2. Research their content strategy

Once you have a shortlist of competitors, look at their online content. Consider these five key factors when evaluating your competitor’s content strategy:

  • Content type: Do they have a blog? Are they running paid social ads or posting organic social content? Publishing whitepapers/ebooks? Creating engaging videos? Podcasts? Take stock of the different kinds of content they’re producing.

Use tools like Meta’s Ad Library to see your competitors’ ads. Continuing with the furniture brand example, we can see that one brand, Autonomous, is currently promoting its bulk order promotion and an ErgoChair deal.

Knowing what types of discounts and products your competitors heavily promote is extremely helpful for your sales, marketing or product development strategies.

A screenshot of Autonomous’ current active Meta ads, as shown in the Meta Ad Library.

  • Total amount of content: If they have a blog, see how many posts have they published. Checking out how much content they’ve developed in total could help you set expectations or benchmarks for your content.
  • Publishing frequency: Are they publishing new content weekly, monthly or less often? Posting more frequently than your competitors could help you engage your audience better.
  • Quality: Is their content accurate, well-researched and polished? If not, this is a clear area where your brand can pull ahead.
  • Calls-to-action (CTAs): What’s their sales pitch? What unique selling propositions (USPs) do they include in the content? Use their approach as a guide—or try something entirely different to differentiate your brand. For example, scheduling software Calendly has a section on its homepage highlighting a few USPs, like its granular availability tools and easily shareable and embeddable scheduling link.

When it comes to competitor analysis, these USPs serve as a benchmark and inspiration for product development as they highlight features users expect from a scheduling tool. This will enable you to optimize your offer to compete.

A screenshot of Calendly’s homepage featuring its unique selling propositions.

3. Monitor their social media reach

According to The Sprout Social Index ™ 2023, 68% of consumers follow brands on social to stay informed about new products or services. Look closely at your biggest competitors’ social presence and see how you compare and where to improve.

When conducting a social media competitive analysis, consider the following factors:

  • Audience size: Your competitors’ follower count may indicate your biggest competition.
  • Engagement: How many likes and comments does your competitor’s content get. If they’re getting a lot of attention, try to understand why.
  • Hashtags: What hashtags are your competitors using? How many people are tagging your competitors in posts? These factors help you better understand your competitors’ overall discoverability and level of brand awareness.
  • Top posts: Track competitor posts performing the best. Make a note of any patterns or themes and use this information to improve your content.

FYI: Sprout Social’s Listening and Competitive Analysis features make tracking these data points a breeze.

An image of Sprout Social's stats by profile feature.

4. Keep an eye on their online presence

Conduct keyword research to see what keywords your competitors use and rank highly for, and find new opportunities for your content. News mentions tell you about how your competitors are doing in the media and provide data for sentiment analysis (i.e., how the public feels about their brand).

Sprout’s Competitive Analysis Listening tool offers a side-by-side competitor comparison of metrics like average positive sentiment. Sprout’s Listening insights also show you trends, topics and posts in your industry, all filterable by sentiment.

A screenshot of Sprout Social’s competitive analysis features such as total engagements, total unique authors, total potential impressions, and average positive sentiment.

Online reviews also give you insight into brand sentiment. Google Alerts will keep you in the loop about your competitors’ new content, news mentions and website changes. And ofcourse, our Spike Alerts help you monitor and respond to significant increases in mentions or keywords related to your brand or industry.

5. Evaluate their website for affiliations and events

Looking into the events your competitors attend or sponsor offers insight into their target audience, brand values and personality. Sponsoring an important cause also helps a brand foster a more positive reputation, so researching competitor events and affiliations will tell you more about what your target audience cares about, which you can use to your benefit in your marketing strategy.

For example, consulting firm Accenture sponsoring AfroTech, an annual conference for Black tech professionals, highlights their commitment to inclusion and diversity.

A screenshot from Accenture’s “Accenture at AfroTech 2023” webpage.

6. Consider working with a market research firm

If all this research and analysis sounds daunting, outsource the work to a market research firm. They will gather and analyze competitor data about your competitors’ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). Plus, since they’re not a part of your company, they often gather more neutral, unbiased findings.

7. Summarize findings and determine next steps

You’ve collected all this data, but what does it all mean? Once you’ve completed your research, break down your marketing competitor analysis into actionable takeaways that your key stakeholders can easily understand. Summarize the key findings and most interesting points, and use charts, graphs and other visual aids to make the data more digestible. Form your next steps based on the insights you gather.

Benefits of a marketing competitor analysis

Even if your competitors don’t change, your general market will. From evolving consumer behavior to new technological developments, your business must be aware of, and ready to, adapt to these shifts.

Plus, with the right tools for competitor analysis, you can quickly collect, refine and incorporate this data into your marketing strategy. For example, adding Sprout’s marketing toolkit makes competitive analysis less daunting and more automated.

Here are a few more ways regular competitor analysis marketing helps you stay agile and ahead of the curve.

Optimize product placement

Look at how your competitors position their products compared to yours. Analyze their messaging, branding and packaging to see how your products or services compare and what you can do better. Also, look at the channels they use to distribute their products, such as retail stores, online marketplaces or direct-to-consumer sales. If there are any channels they don’t use effectively, this could be an opportunity for your brand to shine.

Determine product outlook

Monitoring your competitors’ product releases and updates may uncover areas where they are falling behind. Fill in these gaps to better position your brand. Analyzing your competitors’ marketing strategies helps you anticipate upcoming product launches or promotions that could impact your sales.

Establish benchmarks

Comparing your competitors’ marketing metrics, such as website traffic, social media engagement and conversion rates, allows you to set competitive benchmarks for improvement. Competitor analysis also often reveals industry best practices to incorporate into your marketing strategy.

Gain a competitive edge with marketing competitor analysis

A marketing competitor analysis is valuable for any business that wants to stay competitive and grow its market share. Keep an eye on your competitors to identify new growth opportunities, benchmark your performance and adapt to changes in the market.

Try Sprout free for 30 days and use our competitive analysis reports to get a leg up on your competition.