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Five steps to benchmarking the competition

By Nicolas Pergola

How good is ‘good’ when it comes to marketing performance? Maybe your social media marketing strategy is bringing results, but should it be driving more engagement? You think your email click-through rate seems low, but it’s around the average for your industry. So, what is good?

One way to answer that question is to look at past performance and that of competitors, which make sense. Comparing your marketing activity against a number of competitors using a set collection of standard measurements will give you a fair indication on what’s working and what needs improvement.

Competitive benchmarking not only looks at the metrics, but at the strategy that led to the results. By knowing how you compare and identify best practices to achieve specific metrics, you can determine how to meet objectives.

Start with who you admire and benchmark against companies achieving results that you want. Expand your interest beyond direct competitors. If there are companies you think hit the mark, reach out.

Short of resorting to corporate espionage, it used to be difficult to obtain data on how competitor campaigns performed. We used to have to benchmark based on PR, turnover and our own perceptions of our business and brand positioning. Today, we have the opposite problem. There’s so much data out there we don’t always know where to begin.

Here are five steps to help you start your competitive benchmarking journey.

1. Set clear objectives

Why benchmark now? What do you want to achieve? What are your goals? Of course, these will need to be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely), with a focus on ensuring that they are measurable. You can’t benchmark against something you can’t measure. For example, objectives can be to become a top three organic search result for specific keywords within six months, or improve website unique visitors by 20% within the quarter.

2. Identify data sources

Start with your own data. Take information such as website visits and email open rates as well as ‘perception’ metrics such as Net Promoter Scores and social sentiment to form a baseline.

Look at your competitor’s data, too. For short to mid-term planning, benchmark against your closest competitors. For long-term planning, look also at the best in your industry. Insight about how they do what they do can help you achieve their level of success in the future.

Data like SEO metrics and website’s performance is public and easy to find. Use competitive intelligence tools available such as SimilarWeb to help you deep-dive into a specific competitor’s digital efforts. Social media metrics can be found using a range of social media tools such as Sprout Social.

For harder to mine competitor data, look for organisations who have been collating data for benchmarking reports regularly. Different companies focus research on different areas, for example, Omobono’s What Works Where Report has been released annually since 2011 and it looks at how different B2B industries and departments are approaching digital communications. On another front, HubSpot, which pulls together data from their customers’ inbound activities, can provide useful information.

3. Identify common metrics

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 the data sources identified above, you will be able to determine which 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.

‘Perception’ metrics 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 to gain valuable insights. 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 intervals for measurement

Depending on your activities and what benchmarks you’re looking at, you could revisit competitive benchmarking every week or once a year. For example: traditional campaign activities may need weekly or monthly reviews to enable you to make changes to exceed your industry average (or to catch up!), whereas the soft metrics could be helpful once a quarter or annually.

5. Repeat with agility

Benchmarking isn’t difficult – although it does take commitment. As you make it part of your routines, the insights you get and the changes you make will help you reach your goals.

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