In the pre-digital age a marketer would have given their right arm for a trickle of insight into competitor behaviour. Fortunately, for modern marketers operating in the competitive digital marketplace, it is possible to take note of everything happening in the industry. Using sophisticated software and online intelligence tools it’s relatively easy to compare activities with those of competitors.

Benchmarking the competition provides insight into what a company is doing, what works, and sometimes more importantly, what doesn’t work. Therefore it enables you to think about adopting successful practices or avoiding ineffective ones. Most importantly, you are able to gain insights into what your customers are responsive to and what they are not.

There are plenty of other benefits provided by a benchmarking exercise;

  • to improve the effectiveness of search, display, affiliate, email and social marketing campaigns,
  • to make timely decisions based on the products and services consumers are searching for,
  • see the demographic, attitudinal and behavioural characteristics of your competitors’ website visitors and compare them to yours.

How does benchmarking help brands?

There are a variety of ways brands can use the results of online benchmarking.

First, brands can simply choose to put more effort into a given area that may have been neglected in the past. Another option is to adopt some of the best practices employed by a competitor, implementing them effectively into an existing own business plan. Finally, brands can opt for innovation, and attempt to create a new tactic or strategy based on what has been learned.

Best practice benchmarking

Although benchmarking should form a part of every brand’s marketing planning there are still pitfalls to be aware of and issues to be considered. Here are the top six considerations:

  1. Be clear about what is being benchmarked and why it’s being done. It’s important to have a purpose and a goal. If it’s going to cost money and take time these efforts need to be justified with a clear answer to ‘what are we trying to achieve?’
  1. Remember that benchmarking should be a continuous and on-going process, not a one off. You may get some one-off wins from individual findings but the process of competitor benchmarking should be constant.
  1. Don’t use the wrong tools. There are a lot of tools available with some offering cheap options and free trials. While it may be tempting to use inferior tools the insights gained will not be the whole picture and won’t deliver reliable insights.
  1. Don’t miss competitors. In the online space competitors aren’t just those offering similar products. A brand’s online competitors include all websites which are competing for the attentions of the same people. This often comes down to the types of content and topics they are interested in. If analysing a paid channel (PPC, social media advertising) there will be a varied selection of brands bidding for the same keywords/traffic.
  1. Make it actionable. This point is heavily linked to having a purpose, it’s crucial that work and investment result in some kind of action that delivers benefits. This can be ensured by fully justifying the work in the first place and prioritising actions based on potential benefits to the business.
  1. Ensure you are measuring performance. In order to be able to prove that benchmarking works it’s critical that the correct tracking and analytics is in place from that start so that increases and changes are transparent – from the moment they were implemented.

Always put the customer first

When putting these best practice steps into action, brands should think first and foremost about their customers. If the customer wants something then the brand should do its utmost to provide it. Actions off the back of a benchmarking exercise should not be taken simply because competitors are doing a certain thing. Decisions need to be made with the customer front of mind – it could be the competitor is doing something which is not beneficial to the customer, in which case it should be avoided.

Competitor knowledge should be used to gain insights into what your customers want and what’s working and should always be part of every brand’s marketing strategy – not used as a base.

It is an industry-standard process, and brands not doing so are quickly going to get left behind, not by a single competitor with a breakthrough or revolutionary strategy, but by every other brand that has sight of that fast-moving competitor.

Giles Longhurst

Giles Longhurst


General Manager, Consumer Insight at Experian Marketing Services.