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How to benchmark the competition

In our personal lives, we’ve always been compared with our peers; the first to walk, the highest exam score, how many minors (in my case… majors) we had on our driving tests, and so on.

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Without this comparative, we are only looking inwardly at ourselves and missing opportunities for development. By using these benchmarks, we are measuring ourselves against our peers. It gauges our successes as well as highlighting areas we need to work harder at if we are to achieve our objectives.

So, as professionals, why is it that we rarely measure ourselves up against our peers and competitors on business KPIs and other critical success factors?

Once upon a time, it was difficult to obtain data on how competitor campaigns performed without corporate espionage. Benchmarking was based on PR activities, turnover and our own perceptions of our business and brand positioning. In today’s digital world, there is a myriad of data and methods available so access is no longer an excuse, however what can be difficult is knowing where to start.

To get you going, here are five steps to help you start your benchmarking journey.


1. Begin by setting clear objectives
Decide what you want to achieve and set a goal; to demonstrate success, you need something to aim for. Of course these will need to be SMART, with a focus on ensuring that they are measurable. You can’t benchmark against something you can’t measure. For example, these can be to become a top three organic search result for specific keywords within six months, or to improve website unique visitors by 20% within this quarter.

2. Identify your sources of data
Start with your own data. Take information such as website visits and email open rates as well as ‘soft’ metrics such as Net Promoter Scores and social sentiment. These will form your baseline.

Keep it consistent. Select organisations who have been collating data for benchmarking reports regularly – different companies focus on different areas, for example our What Works Where Report has been released annually since 2011 looking at how different B2B industries and departments are approaching digital communications, and HubSpot pulls together data from over 7,000 customers’ inbound activities.

Don’t forget about looking at your competitor’s results too. Google’s benchmarking tool will help you rank yourself in your industry, but there are also other competitive intelligence tools available such as SimilarWeb to help you deep-dive into specific competitor’s digital efforts.

3. Identify common metrics between you and your peers
What metrics are you using to gauge your successes? You won’t be able to benchmark against everything, so you need to select some that will be comparable against publicly available information.

Using your data sources in the step above, you will be able to identify which of these will support your objectives. Traditional campaign metrics such as Google rank position, email open and click through rates, and website visitors are generally easily accessible and consistent throughout the industry.

For soft metrics, these can vary depending on the area of analysis and by report but it is important to select the reports and analytics that you will be able to compare and gain valuable insights from. If you aim to increase positive customer sentiment, for example, it would be sensible to adopt measurement using the Net Promoter scoring method as it is a standardised approach many organisations use.

4. Set regular intervals for measurement and analysis

It depends on your activities and what benchmarks you’re looking at, but it could be once a week to once a year where you need to review your position. For example: traditional campaign activities may need reviewing once a week or once a month to enable you to make changes to exceed your industry average (or to catch up!), whereas for the soft metrics it could be once a quarter or once a year. It’s up to you to determine what’s appropriate for the benchmark and for your business.

5. Stick at it and adjust accordingly

Benchmarking isn’t difficult – although it does take commitment. However, the insights you’ll gain will be priceless in helping to grow your business and set yourself above your peers.

So get stuck in and take your first steps with our digital communication benchmarking quiz to see how your rate against your peers!

An updated version of this blog can be found here.

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