We live in an age of the “perpetual update” and of “limitless competition”. The infinite possibilities and opportunities offered by the internet with its unlimited access to information can sometimes be overwhelming. We have to stay up to date if we don’t want to fall behind; we have to see what others are doing; we not only have to do things, we also have to communicate them, to make sure that everyone sees them, because if they are not seen it is as if they never happened…. This is true for us and our customers alike.
But this extra effort, this pressure, this headlong race to reach a goal which seems to be getting further away every day has a positive side to it: it forces us to grow, evolve, and improve ….constantly.
Start from scratch? You don’t have to reinvent the wheel…
On the internet, as in all things, success doesn’t come only from having a brilliant idea. Neither do you have to rack your brains every day to do something extraordinary which attracts more customers, or goes viral, or gets everybody talking about you, lining up to visit your website, or buying your products in record time. No, take a deep breath! There just aren’t enough lamps to go round so many Aladdins!
There are lots of ways of getting started and you really don’t have to start from scratch….. Just take a glance around you, as there may already be something similar which will work for you. Maybe you can’t use it off the shelf but it may well be an inspiration to you.
What is benchmarking?
The majority of people who read this are likely to be familiar with the term. One of the clearest definitions can be found in Robert J. Boxwell’s book “Benchmarking for competitive advantage”. He states, “Benchmarking is the process of setting goals by using external and objective practices and learning from others – learning how much, and maybe more importantly, learning how”.
So benchmarking helps us to start making decisions without having to start from scratch.
At KEC, we use benchmarking in the majority of our projects. We use it when we create a new website, when we create a digital strategy, when a customer asks us to help with a contents plan, or to boost their presence on social networks, or simply when they want to find out what their leading competitors are up to. There are so many ways of using benchmarking it would be impossible to mention them all in just one post.
Where to start?
- Define your objectives. First of all you have to think and plan. Set your objectives. What do you want your benchmark for? What do you want to achieve? What is it going to contribute? Bear in mind that there is no point in getting hold of all this information if it is not going to be fed into an action plan.
- Identify what you are going to measure. You can do benchmarking to analyse a whole range of different aspects of your competitors’ activities but you have to think about which aspects you are going to analyse. Taking on too much may be very time-consuming and in the end it may not give you the information you were really after all along.
It is possible to define both qualitative and quantitative indicators, but one always needs to be conscious that there are two main objectives. The first objective is to understand your positioning with respect to the competition and to work out how to differentiate yourself. The second objective is to implement the good practice which they may already be carrying out. Therefore concentrate on what is of value to you, not on absolutely everything your competitors are doing.
We mention this point first, even before talking about competitors, as often we have a good idea about competitors already as we know them so well. However if we know what it is we wish to analyse first, it is often easier to find new benchmarks. To give you an example: Something useful occurs to you which has nothing to do with the customer’s sector; it can be adapted, however. We investigate who is doing it and how, and it may just be that this helps you to stand out from your direct competitors.
How do I know who I should analyse?
Bearing in mind what we have said already, this should now be clear:
Select benchmarks, not just competitors. As we say in the previous point, it is better to have a few, well-chosen benchmarks than an interminable list which adds no value. To do this, it is a good idea to make a list, and then cut out any names on the list which are you feel are of little or no value to you.
To be a little more specific, imagine that we are talking about a website or a blog and the benchmarking process will be to focus on contents and communication.
In order to select your benchmarks you can focus on three main areas:
- Select direct competitors who are working in a similar area to you in terms of sector, product, service etc.
- Select benchmarks who are doing things you could apply to your business, although they are not necessarily competitors of yours. For example, you may share the same target.
And there is a third, very important point: if a user wants to know about your subject area, what options are already on the market?
- So select sources of information where your users might be consuming these types of content. It may be that you are thinking of creating a blog, but users may already be consuming similar information on Facebook, via newsletters, etc.
And talking about good practice, we can give you one very good, common sense tip which is often forgotten: put yourselves in your ideal user’s shoes!
It is now time to gather information!
One very easy way of doing so, above all if there are various people in the team working simultaneously on the benchmarking, is to create a standard form which can then be gradually filled out with screenshots. This will help you to get an overview of the situation.
So let’s imagine a standard form which we can fill in with the following information:
- Target (ordinary citizens, professionals, niche, …)
- Subject matter (specialization, more general…)
- Graphic and multimedia resources (infographics, 10 top lists, videos, games, apps…)
- Quality of content (tone, simple copy, information updates, interesting for users …)
- Community (the web is social, enables multidirectional communication, users participate, use social media….)
- Other aspects which should be highlighted are SEO positioning, ease of finding content, visual aspects. And is it updated frequently or is it static?
What do we do with this information?
The idea is to work on and deliver a comprehensive document which isn’t only good to fill up the computer screen but is also easy to handle and to read. So we need to organize the information in three sections:
- Executive summary with the most important information: companies analysed, conclusions, positioning, and a way to stand out from the competition.
- A list of good practices we could apply.
- An action plan: planning, implementation costs and impact which each of the improvements may have.
It is possible to get some really good and helpful ideas from this type of analysis. Not only when you are starting something new but also when you are making improvements or small adjustments. If one day you just don’t know where to start, a benchmarking analysis might be just the thing. So now you know: There’s still hope on those days when the ideas just aren’t flowing!
Written by Lorena García