A key element in the design of successful strategies is understanding a company’s market environment and positioning in comparison to its competitors. Whether off- or online, companies (better said their services and products) have a variety of competitors – from the direct ones that offer the same services or products, in the same area to the same customers, to the indirect and potential ones (see lecture slides and the Czepiel and Perrin reading on myBU).

Competitor analyses are done at various times in the life cycle of a service/product as a means to either identify new opportunities for expansion or as a means to benchmark with others. The analysis can be done either at market level (where the products’ customer function, technology and materials need to be taken into consideration) or at firm level where an understanding of how the market is organized and the strategic groups within it operate. Check Czepiel and Perrin’s article for more details.

Market positioning – the external and internal environment

Determining the service/product’s positioning on the market requires a deep understanding the business environment.

The STEEPLE analysis (social, technology, economic, environment, legal, political, ethical – an extended version of the PEST and PESTEL analyses) provides a framework for analyzing the major forces and influences in a market place. This helps map out the external enviromnent in which the product/service and the business operate. Lancaster and Withey (2007) have some good examples.

Using that knowledge, the next step is to identify opportunities, target audiences and a competitive strategy. The SWOT and exhanced SWOT/TOWS matrix can be particularly useful in this case in identifying market needs, strenghts and weaknesses as well as market requirements (see DiMingo 1988 on myBU for more details). As the SWOT/TOWS matrix combines an analysis of the external environment (threats and opportunities) and that of the internal enviroment (weakneses and strenghts) this enables the identification of market/communication strategies (either combative or defensive which emphasize strenghts and opportunities or try to diminish threats and weaknesses).

This helps identify real dimensions such as benefits or values that are important and meaningul to consumers/customers.

Perceptual positioning and perceptual maps

Perceptual positining is therefore the next step, that “translates market-determined values into the clear, focused language and visual images that install a product into its own niche in the consumer’s mind” (DiMingo, 1988, p. 3). The perceptual maps are therefore a visual representation of the consumer’s understanding of the product/service in comparison with its competitors. To construct perceptual maps one needs to:

  1. select two critical (as hot buttons/important/representative) dimension of the product/service (previous research might give you an indication what the likely dimensions are or primary research such as surveys or focus groups could help identify them)
  2. list your competitors (check the information in Czepiel and Perrin on how to determine your competitors)
  3. design your research (pick a likert scale 1-5, 1-7, 1-10, 1-100 and associate it with the two dimensions)
  4. ask your target audience (check out the segmentation lecture notes)
  5. create your graph (you can find a free excel template here)
  6. interpret your results considering how closer or far away your product/service is from the competitors and whether customer perceptions mirror the business’ perceived attributes (refer back to the SWOT/TOWS analysis)

Social media audits

Having an understanding of the business environment and of the market positioning of the product/service chosen, a similar pattern of analysis can be applied to social media. In effect, a social media audit is a online competitor analysis and its aims are therefore similar – benchmark, identify strategies for growth/change, gather market intelligence.

However, the specificity of social media – the fact that each platform has its own rules in terms of content (format/lenght), uploading, sharing and reporting results – makes social media audits more complex.

In the past many marketing and communications consultants and consultancies have proposed their own solutions and templates. Our “social media audit templates” folder on myBU includes many useful examples. This also indicates that there is no single way of conducting a social media audit but rather that the form, the metrics reported and depth of the analysis of the content and patterns of communication will be influenced by the business objectives and the objectives of the social media audit.

For instance, a “marketing audit might focus on mechanisms of promotion and evaluation, an advertising audit might focus on reach, architecture and content, a branding audit might look at content and integration while a public relations perspective audit might look at content, share of voice, sentiment and integration. The objectives of the audit and the perspective from which it is undertaken, will help define the elements that the report will cover and therefore the type of metrics to be reported“. (see previous lecture notes)

The social media audit seminar exercice (in the seminar folder on myBU) should also provide you a step-by-step messaging and branking consitency, coherence discovery example.

Further readings:


About Ana ADI

Professor of Public Relations/Corporate Communications @ http://www.quadriga.eu | Researcher | PR & Social Media Consultant | Fulbrighter

2 responses »

  1. […] a sample lecture from the Digital Communication Strategies course I teach at BU on “social media competitor analysis“ […]

  2. […] check the lecture notes from 2013 with more information also on SWOT and PESTLE but also the notes from 2012 elaborating more on some […]

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