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Outflank Your Competition by Finding
Social Media White Space

By Jim Arnold
Chief Marketing Officer at MetricsBoard

Competitive benchmark studies can be used for a variety of strategic reasons. Traditionally, they have been most closely associated with comparing pricing, rating quality satisfaction, and evaluating the speeds and feeds of competitive products.

One form of benchmarking that is grossly underutilized is the marketing performance benchmark. It focuses on measuring a company's marketing effectiveness and operational performance level compared to its competitors. This type of study allows you to:

  • Evaluate the maturity level of go-to-market strategies
  • Determine usage rates of best-in-class marketing best practices
  • Measure a company's overall operational effectiveness

Because in essence it gives them a report card, many marketing departments may shy away from doing such an evaluation. But the insight that is gained is invaluable. It is a marketing metrics tool that can give you the strategic intelligence you need to get a jump on your competition.

Open the Kimono

Performance benchmarks require you to do an operational self-evaluation against your competition. If conducted in the right way, they can deliver a tremendous amount of process improvement information, strategic insight, and tangible business value. Benchmarks should become a fundamental element of your metrics plan and conducted at least once a year.

Know the Competitive Landscape

Not to be confused with brand awareness studies, value proposition conjoint analysis, or other types of market research, a performance benchmark is used to better understand your competitors' strategies, tactics, and quality of execution—and how you compare to their use of best practices. The insight you gain can give you guidance on how to:

  • Be different: do things better than your competitors when you are head to head in the same social media channel
  • Outperform: develop ways to outmaneuver and pursue unique go-to-market strategies—data collected over time can also allow you to monitor your progress and determine if you are catching up, maintaining, or surpassing your competition
  • Dominate white space: identify options available to select a different social media channel to use that can allow you to dominate unused white space without being in direct competition

View It as a Chess Game

Having a good understanding of the competitive landscape can allow you to uncover white space and to pursue unique and creative ways to outflank others in your industry. Think of it as a chess game, and if you play it the right way, it will allow you to stand out, dominate, and ultimately win—even in cases where you cannot match them dollar for dollar in the size of their budget.

Making the right moves—at the right time and with the right creativity and innovation—will always out-trump size. Just ask Apple a few years back—right before they hit the iPod gravy train. Or ask Dell, as they were an early adopter of Twitter and now dominate that space.

There are many ways to gain competitive intelligence. Evaluate your competitors' websites, leverage free web 2.0 tools, and evaluate blogosphere discussion strings, just to name a few. Figure out where the social media white space is. The valuable insight you gain can help you determine your level of marketing maturity, modify your go-to-market strategies, and take a new tact that can help you leapfrog your competition.

It's all about being smarter. Knowing how you stack up against your competitors can give you a huge strategic advantage.

Jim Arnold

Jim Arnold is a marketing executive, consultant, and co-founder of MetricsBoard with more than 25 years experience in marketing, advertising, and strategic planning. He has held executive-level positions with American Airlines, Compaq, EDS, IBM, and other Fortune 500 companies. Jim has also held leadership positions with Y&R and McCann-Erickson, where he led the development of several award-winning brand campaigns. He has been a speaker for CMO Executive Summit Conferences, Forbes magazine, AMA, and other organizations. Jim is a winner of the ITSMA Gold Excellence "Sharpening Brand & Competitive Differentiation" marketing award, and he has earned honors from the BMA, AMA, and AAF-ADDY Awards.