Find Your Hidden Competitors (Before They Find You)

Savvy marketers and business strategists have long understood that competitive research is essential to success. The only way to stay ahead of the pack is to know what the pack is doing.

This means understanding the pack in its entirety, instead of just a handful of the players. 

Because here’s the problem: the companies you traditionally define as competitors likely only represent a small sliver of who you are actually competing against.

So who are your competitors?

One of the questions we ask clients at the start of an engagement is, “Who are your competitors?” What we tend to get back is a list of 3-5 direct competitors that the C-suite is focused on. 

This is a great starting point, but it’s too narrowly focused, especially online. 

The reality is that in our digital-first ecosystem, you're not only competing for customers—you’re competing for keywords, engagement, and attention.

As a result, the competitive landscape you face is far more complex than just those top competitors everyone at your organization is focused on. Scrappy upstarts, adjacent offerings, and industry aggregators are all vying for the same mindshare, and ultimately the same dollar.


Capterra spends an estimated $780,000/month in search!


So how do you identify your competitors, learn from them, and action on this newfound competitive intelligence?

Use AdWords Auction Insight Report

If you’re using Google AdWords, the Auction Insight Report is a treasure trove of data showing you which other companies are bidding on the same keywords as you. 

(If you’re a B2B marketer and you’re not using AdWords, you’re missing a HUGE opportunity.)

Find hidden competitors

Like chess, AdWords is easy to start and impossible to master. And because there are few barriers to entry, launching an AdWords campaign is one of the first advertising efforts a new market entrant will explore.

 For enterprise companies, the data in the Auction Insight Report works as your ear to the ground on start-ups entering your space. Don’t wait until you’ve read about them in Forbes; your competitive research starts as soon as they hit Google AdWords. 

Auction Insight data is also an early warning signal for foreign entrants testing the water in your markets. Cloning a campaign that targets England to test the potential for US expansion is one of the easiest ways to gather insights about market competitiveness and volume.

Unearth alternatives

In SaaS, your main threat often isn’t another company—it’s a potential customer either taking no action at all or spending their money on an alternative category.

Traditionally, an alternative represented a different offering that provided a similar outcome. Going to the movie theatre is an alternative to eating at a restaurant if the desired outcome is a good night out.

But with the proliferation of niche software, alternatives are becoming more comparable and competitive. Quote management software is an alternative to sales acceleration software if the outcome a customer wants is higher sales volume. 

This has led to an ever-expanding ecosystem of both specialized players and all-in-one tools. 

Just as human capital management software competes with compensation management software for a slice of the total HR IT budget, the same companies compete in search advertising for similar keywords.

Overlay & Opportunity for learning competitors Outshine.jpg

By looking at who else is bidding on “HR software” keywords, these companies can understand the offers and messages they are competing with.

Monitor your competitive landscape over time

Socializing these competitive insights within your organization is key. The Auction Insight data should be reviewed once a quarter across marketing teams (brand, product, demand gen, social, and so on) and within the sales department. 

To make the data collection and analysis much simpler, use BrainLabs’ fantastic Auction Insights script, which tracks and visualizes who is coming in and out of the search marketplace over time. As new competitors and alternatives arise, reverse-engineer their digital marketing strategy for a constant source of new ideas and approaches.

Bottom line: when you think about who your competitors are, don’t just think about who your executives are talking about. As the Auction Insight Report will show you, the answer is likely to be much more complicated.


This article was originally published on LinkedIn by Andrew Breen, President of Outshine.

Brian Jeffcock