How to Learn From Your Competition (and Steal All Their Best Ideas)

by Derek Halpern · 27 comments

study competition

No matter what business you’re in, you will benefit greatly from studying your competition.

Just take a look at the world’s best—athletes, entrepreneurs, executives, and etc.—and you’ll see that they all make studying their competition part of their routine. Kobe Bryant watches videos of his opponents before games, and Sam Walton visited stores that competed with Walmart.

Why do the world’s best do this?

Because it works.

However, when analyzing your competition, you must know what to look for. It’s not about copying their ideas, it’s about figuring out their strategy and why they do the things they do.

Discover What Your Competitors Do and Why

When I say to learn from your competition, some people will no doubt just copy everything they do.

That’s not the answer. Think about Chess for a second. If black copies everything white does, black will always stay one move behind. The same applies to business. If you copy your competitors, you’re still one-step behind.

However, if you analyze each move your competition makes, and then understand why they made that move, you’ll prevent yourself from missing out on lucrative opportunities.

For example, I recently started experimenting with running live webinars. Where did I get that idea? Someone else in my niche was doing it, and was having great results.

So, I tried it out, and let me tell you, I’m glad that I did. I didn’t copy their webinar topic, but I copied their strategy, and in 9 days I gained 761 new email addresses, and then generated ~3,000 in revenue from those new emails.

Not bad, right?

Use What People Say About Your Competitors For Product Development

With the emergence of social media, it’s easy to see what people say about your competition.

When you analyze what those people say, you can find one of two things: 1) a thread of discontent and/or 2) a success story. When you look at each of those under a microscope, opportunities for new products and differentiation arise out of thin air.

Let’s take a look at each scenario.

A Thread of Discontent

If you see people complaining about the usability of a website or product, you can focus on making your user-experience perfect. If you see complaints about software installation, you can offer one-click installations. It’s that easy.

For example, nowadays people love to complain about blogs. One of the main complaints is that blogs are unoriginal and that they rarely back their claims up with verifiable data.

In most cases, the people who complain are “experts.” They know everything, and are frustrated with reading the same thing over and over again.

(Yes, I complain about that regularly, too).

What did I do about it?

When I launched my site Social Triggers, I made sure that each and every article had some data or research to back up what I said, and sure enough, the website started growing extremely fast.

Or let’s take a look at the DIYthemes blog, which is also growing fast (we’re almost at 17,000 RSS readers after a few short months).

When I write articles here, I share my experience with specific tactics or data from scientific research, and based on some of the feedback I’ve received, people love it.

More specifically, two of the most popular articles on this site have to do with specific results I received after a simple test. One was about conversion rates and one was about lead generation.

A Success Story

When you see what the competition does right, and then witness a live testimonial from a customer, you’re getting direct insight into what customers want. You can then cater to that.

For example, it’s no secret that Hello Bar exploded over the last few weeks. We use it and love it here, but Glenn Allsop from Viper Chill saw their success, and decided to release a similar product with different features. It’s called Viper Bar, and while it’s similar to Hello Bar, it’s genius. Let me explain.

People went crazy for Hello Bar because it’s a great way to generate leads—we  attracted 1,180 emails in 30 days with the Hello Bar.

Well, Glenn took it one step further, and created Viper Bar specifically for lead generation. Now, instead of including a link in your bar, you can include a sign-up form instead, and that supposedly helps conversion rates (I haven’t tested it yet).

Either way, hat tip to Glenn because Viper Bar is a perfect example of how you can take what your competition does, and improve it for exposure and in his case, free links :-D.

The Bottom Line

The secret to success is simple. Find out what works and do something similar, but better. Find out what doesn’t work and avoid it.

What about you? Do you have any examples of taking learning from your competition?

About the Author: Derek Halpern ran marketing at DIYthemes, and is the founder of Social Triggers. To get more tips on how to be confident, sign up to his list here.

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{ 27 comments }

Glen Allsopp

Hey Derek,

Thanks a lot for the mention of ViperBar. I’m glad you see the power in the idea :)

Keep well!

Ana | Traffic Generation

You know what I’ve been looking for, Glen, is a bar that would let me display a phrase with a link – say a business tip, aff. product, what have you, and have it show a different line every time the page is refreshed or the readers move on to the new page.

So simple to do (I think), yet I can’t find one so far.

Next project? :)

Ana

Derek Halpern

Funny that you say that… :-D

Ana | Traffic Generation

Don’t tell me you are working on something like that, Derek… :)

Glen Allsopp

Hey Anna,

You can display a line of text with links if you want in the content section. There’s no randomisation yet but I’m sure we can implement that :)

Chris Aitken

Hi Glenn — stumbled across this (older) post on the DIYthemes site and checked out your plugin. Looks like it hasn’t been updated for WordPress 3.3 and breaks? Are you still doing development and support for the product?

Thanks, Chris

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

On one hand, sure, I see it. Analyze your competition.

On the other hand, excessive duplication is LAME.

HelloBar >> ViperBar. C’mon. Let’s call that what it is.

Would if someone came up with the Thebus Framework that was the same in every way as Thesus, except for some minor difference.

There’s a line here that needs to be respected.

Derek Halpern

Viper Bar lets you embed a form directly into your bar. You can’t do that in Hello Bar. How is that lame? That’s new functionality.

Glen Allsopp

Hey Rob,

As Derek says, we added a lot to the original idea. Please don’t assume that Hello Bar we’re first to this either. There’s actually even been Wordpress plugins that do what they do.

However, I didn’t know of any solution which requires an opt-in bar, which is a big change in purpose from plain text that could mention anything. So, I decided to create it.

Thanks for the comment though. Always interesting to see other view points :)

Rob @ Atlanta Real Estate

So now HelloBar should analyze ViperBar and add the capability to embed a form, right?

:)

Glen Allsopp

They’ve just announced they’re working on a Wordpress plugin.

So, already in motion :)

Ana | Traffic Generation

I love doing competition research on all levels (as a matter of fact, just wrote a post about researching competition for link building yesterday).

However, I am amazed how it never occurs to so many bloggers to do the same.

For instance, when it comes down to email marketing, I am always asked as to what to write to a list.

My answer is always to get on all your competitors’ email lists, see what they write about and do better!

Thanks for the ViperBar, Derek – my readers will eat it up. :)

Ana

Glen Allsopp

Glad you like it Anna!

Thanks (in advance) for the promotion :)

Linus Rylander

Great post Derek, some important points covered. I would probably take it a step further to say that… if you DON’T keep tabs on what everyone else is doing, specifically the market leaders (whether it’s in your industry or not) – you will be at least 1 or a couple steps behind.

The market leaders will always be doing their best to stay one step ahead, so not paying attention will simply leave you in the dust.

Great post.

Cheers,
Linus

Derek Halpern

It’s true. You do want to focus on what the market leaders are doing, but you also want to focus on what the new people are doing too. Sometimes you find a few gems that the market leaders haven’t picked up yet.

Vinny O'Hare

I just installed Viper Bar on one of my sites and I like it a lot more then Hello Bar. Just seems a little bit better and having the user fill in the boxes is genius.

Can’t wait to see the results.

Glen Allsopp

Really glad to hear that Vinny,

Thanks for the kind words!

Ara Kazanjian

Great article. Great business thinking. Oh…and great theme!

kathyj

kudos… imitation is the sincerest form of flattery… and acknowledging completion is truly gracious…. Durk your the man!

Ioan Nicut

@Glen,

Wondering if you will make the bar working with Mailchimp as well…
What do you think?

@Derek I can use the Hello bar to lead the people to a sales page and that is not provided by the viperbar or?

Guys, I wish you all the best,

ps. Derek You Rock! :)

Ioan

Glen Allsopp

Ioan,

It works with MailChimp now :)

Peter Jones

Just beginning and website is not up yet but this was really useful help so thank you

Joshua

Another excellent post, Derek.

Your bottom line puts it all into perspective: “Find out what works and do something similar, but better. Find out what doesn’t work and avoid it.”

Regarding Viper Bar vs. Hello Bar… I think Viper is wonderful (and not even close to merely a copy of Hello). I’ve personally been a bit frustrated with the current limitations of the Hello Bar and am excited to see other options explored.

Regarding competition… This is a topic widely debated in my market (the pet sitting industry). Some pet sitters respect, appreciate and form various partnerships with their competitors, while others avoid them at all costs (usually comes down to fear of stealing clients, etc).

This article is a great angle, Derek, to bring to the table.

Thanks.

John M.

Thanks for the article and I could not agree more with your strategy of look at what your competition is doing that works well for them and improve upon it. I worked for a couple of large companies that designed Electronic products “I will not name them since 1. I don’t work for them any longer and 2. Everyone knows this company.” Let just say they makes a product that most people carry everyday now. :) Anyway when I worked for them in development one they use to do what is called “Competitive Analyses” which basically means they go out and buy the competitions products and see how good or bad it was compared to there own products. So your strategy does have merit for sure since I know many companies still do this today.

I do have a few questions for you since I never did this kind of work in terms of websites and the internet.
1. How do you start on doing your Competitive Analyzes? I know you should do this even before you start your “Website business” or if you already have one you need to do it.
2. Do you use certain tools? If so which ones and is there cost involved? I know trying to find stuff for free is not easy I do know you can look up some things but whats is the best approach these days at finding and examining your competition?
3. Also what the best way to research your market? After all if the market is saturated with lots of websites offering the same or similar products what are your chances of getting a serious income of at least 2 to 5k a month.

Thanks again for the article,
John M.

Elli

Dangit — Viper Bar doesn’t work with MadMimi.

Know of anything that does?

ron chordigian

Great info, if you dont need to reinvent the wheel, why do so? If you want to be successful, do what successful people do…

Lisa Angelettie

I myself like the option of having choices. For example, I had difficulty installing one of the bars due to my cache plugin and so I tried the other. Love both bars actually and I always appreciate a cool & free plugin.