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As a former competitive analyst in technology marketing, I know how critical it is to keep your finger on the pulse of competitors’ activities, announcements, and positioning. But to get a true sense of just how well they stack up, organizations should assess their competitors in three areas:

  • Idea marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Buying experience

First I’ll define each of these and then I’ll offer suggestions for analyzing the competition.

focusThe Shift from Thought Leadership to Idea Marketing
In October 2009, Chris Koch of ITSMA coined the term idea marketingas a replacement for thought leadership. According to Chris, “The termthought leadership has come to mean so many different things that it has become a throwaway…We need a new term: idea marketing. This term describes what we’re really trying to do with thought leadership: sell a point of view that educates the audience.” Chris also says “Thought leadership is a way to build a relationship with prospects based on knowledge—not on products and services.”

As you’ll see, this premise is closely related to the concept of content marketing.

Content Marketing: Delivering Relevant, Valuable Content
While not a new idea, the practice of content marketing has taken hold in a big way over the past six months or so. In their book Get Content Get Customers, Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett define content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

Research conducted by Genius.com and DemandGen Report found that almost 95% of recent purchasers said the solution provider they chose “provided them with ample content to help navigate through each stage of the buying process.”

What’s especially appealing about content marketing is that when companies deliver content prospects find relevant and valuable, they’re seen as a trusted advisor. And that’s an enviable position for any organization.

How the Buying Experience is Evolving
Both idea marketing and content marketing contribute to delivering a new type of buying experience. And as products become more commoditized, this experience is taking on growing importance.

Tony Zambito of Goal Centric has written extensively about the buying experience. According to Tony, “One of the clearest mandates being heard from buyers today is the desire for buying experiences that offer more than just a product or service sale. This puts enormous pressure on B2B organizations in particular…to not only understand what buyers wish to buy but how they want to buy and why they buy.”

In fact, in their book “Rethinking the Sales Cycle: How Superior Sellers Embrace the Buying Cycle to Achieve a Sustainable and Competitive Advantage,” (http://www.amazon.com/Rethinking-Sales-Cycle-Sustainable-Competitive/dp/0071637990) it’s what Tim Young and John Holland say will ultimately set one company apart from the pack.

Are Your Competitors Gaining an Edge?
As you can see, competitive analysis extends beyond understanding the other products, services, and positioning in the market. Today, companies need to get a sense for how strongly its rivals are embracing these three ways of engaging with prospects and customers. They can do so by evaluating how well rivals are:

  • Adopting an outside-in perspective instead of an inside-out one that’s focused on the companies and their products and services
  • Educating their prospects and customers about business issues and, in the process, demonstrating a depth of understanding about these issues backed by their own research and unique insights
  • Providing content:

o   Aligned with each stage in the buying cycle

o   For the major roles involved in the purchase process

o   In a variety of formats to suit different content preferences

  • Publishing content under business themes and on a consistent basis
  • Using registration strategically (rather than gating all content)
  • Disseminating their content online to establish a presence where prospects and customers congregate
  • Engaging with prospects and customers in online forums and communities in a helpful (i.e., non-salesy) way
  • Delivering a buyer experience that leads to recognition and word-of-mouth recommendations

If nothing else, companies should measure how well they’re delivering in these areas.