What can the military teach a business owner about crushing the competition? Everything! The military has particular expertise in an area that translates well to marketing: intelligence.
The Free Dictionary defines military intelligence as “An agency of the armed forces that procures, analyzes, and uses information of tactical and strategic military value.” Intelligence is necessary for planning and conducting military operations and activities.
It is just as necessary for planning and conducting marketing operations and strategies; in other words, it’s an integral function of market research. If you don’t know what your competition is planning, you could be blindsided.
Gathering intelligence provides a point of leverage
Military intelligence technology concentrates on collecting data from foreign communication systems and radars and turns it into actionable intelligence. Gathering intelligence is the best way to gain insight into what the enemy is planning, what they’re capable of, and what their intentions might be.
This is crucial for designing a response to potential threats and maintaining security. We can assume your business isn’t facing the threat of physical attack, but if you have competition, they pose a threat to your revenue and customer base.
Even if you’re already the leader in your industry, you mustn’t rest on your laurels.
Start collecting and analyzing public online communications from competitors
The world has seen many one-time leaders overtaken by competitors who did something different that resulted in a phenomenally better experience. For example, Facebook dominated its predecessors in the realm of community-centric social media platforms by giving users what they wanted but couldn’t get elsewhere.
At the time, Myspace was strictly enforcing its rules against creating profiles for pets and businesses. Facebook started encouraging people to create such profiles and won a lot of consumers over.
By paying attention to what your competitors are doing, you’ll gain insight into what your market wants and how well you’re meeting their needs and expectations (or not). You’ll gain valuable insight into your competitors’ intentions and strategies by collecting and analyzing their online communications in public spaces.
- Focus on customer service first. According to Oracle, 89% of customers have switched brand loyalties due to poor customer experience, but only 49% of executives believe poor customer experience causes customers to switch brands. This difference in perception could be costing you revenue.
Outstanding customer service is always a point of powerful leverage. Find out what your competitors do that customers love, and follow their example if you’re not already doing that.
- Scour review websites for their interactions with customers and leads. You can improve the effectiveness of conversations with leads and existing customers by observing conversations between industry leaders and their clients. If they seem to be moving customers toward resolution even when they’re upset, learn from those interactions.
- Contact their support team and ask for help. Do your competitors have better support than you? Are you using a chatbot, while they’ve got live customer service 24/7? Are their wait times shorter? Contact their support team through email, live chat, or phone and find out.
- Buy their product and contact customer support for a refund. Obtaining a refund can be one of the most frustrating processes for customers. They don’t want to be hassled, they just want their money back. Find out how easy your competitors make the return process. If they do something different that makes you happy as a customer, adopt their model. You have to put some skin in the game, though. Don’t just contact customer service to find out what their return policy is. Buy their product and return it. Otherwise, your experience as a customer won’t be realistic.
- Look through their social media accounts. Do they leave people hanging? Do they personally interact with their customers? Do they seem to have a cohesive Twitter marketing strategy? If your competitors are having conversations with customers on social media, you should be doing the same.
- Find out what promises and guarantees your competitors are making. Customers want to know they can trust you to deliver on your promises. All guarantees should be realistic, but they should also represent something the customer values.
Ultimately, your promises should reassure your leads with regard to the investment they’re thinking of making in your product or service. For example, Domino’s Pizza guarantees its pizzas will be delivered hot.
To a family who orders pizza for dinner, a pizza that arrives hot is the best guarantee next to getting the order correct. Even if the pizza is delivered late, if it’s still hot, they’re less likely to be dissatisfied.
Another example of a powerful guarantee the one offered by Dawn, the maker of dish soap. Dawn offers a 2x money-back guarantee if a customer isn’t satisfied with its soap.
Other guarantees focus on customer satisfaction. For instance, Red Wing Shoes is probably one of the only footwear companies in the world to offer refunds with no questions asked within 30 days of purchase.
Most shoe stores require returns to be in unworn condition if they’re going to be returned or exchanged. By guaranteeing customer satisfaction, Red Wing Shoes takes the risk of purchase of the customer, which leads to more sales.
Some businesses create guarantees as a marketing strategy; others create unconditional guarantees for the purpose of supporting an error-free service. This type of guarantee is rare, but it enables the company to charge substantially higher fees while dominating the market.
For example, “Bugs” Burger Bug Killers, a Miami-based pest-control company owned by S.C. Johnson & Son, offers several guarantees that give the firm sufficient leverage to charge up to ten times more than competitors, but it still enjoys a disproportionately high market share.
First, customers don’t pay until all pests have been eradicated. If a customer isn’t satisfied, he or she has twelve months to get a refund and BBBK will pay the fees for another exterminator to come out.
For businesses such as hotels, after they’ve been serviced, if a guest spots a pest on the premises, BBBK will pay for that guest’s meal or room, send a letter of apology, and pay for a future meal or stay.
And that’s not all. If a commercial facility shuts down due to the presence of roaches or rodents after BBBK has serviced it, BBBK will pay all fines and lost profits, plus $5,000.
Look around for inspiration. You might be surprised to learn the kinds of promises made and met by your competitors.
- Read their marketing materials. Sign up for your competitors’ email newsletters, subscribe to their magazines, search out their banner ads, and study their marketing materials. If they’re using a professional marketing agency, it will be obvious. That’s a sign that you probably should, too.
Make gathering intelligence a priority
Gathering intelligence on your competitors is worth your time and effort. Remember to source your information only from public conversations so you’ll avoid any potential legal hassles.
You can find everything you need online and in printed materials. Don’t send people undercover to work for your competition and report back. Save that for James Bond.