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Keeping Up with the Jones’

May 14, 2023

I want to talk about competitive intelligence – what it is, where to get it, and mostly importantly, how to deploy it to support your marketing + growth goals. The reality is that we’re working in a dynamic environment and competing against some of the world’s most sophisticated brands and savvy marketers. 

If baseball is a game of inches, marketing is a game of micrometers. And the best among us take every opportunity to gain even a small advantage. And one way to gain that advantage is through the integration of ongoing competitive intelligence gathering. 

Before we dive in, let’s start with a basic question: what is competitive intelligence? 

Competitive intelligence is the iterative practice of obtaining, analyzing and actioning information to anticipate competitive activity, understand past market disruptions and assess future conditions in a dispassionate and methodical manner. 

There are a few things that stand out from this definition: 

  1. Competitive Intelligence is iterative – most brands have done some competitive or landscape research once (and will proudly tell you about it). Unfortunately, we don’t live in a static world; if intelligence isn’t regularly collected, it deteriorates – offers change, ads change, messages change, products are introduced and retired – the list goes on and on. 
  2. CI is focused on actioning information, not simply gathering it – having all of the competitive intelligence in the world isn’t helpful IF you can’t leverage it to improve your organization’s position in the marketplace. 
  3. This is a dispassionate and methodical process – it’s easy to get swept up and directly respond to competitive activity. It’s tempting to immediately change your approach when you feel that your competition has gained an advantage. But real, effective CI takes a dispassionate, methodical approach, focusing on understanding the big picture + responding strategically vs. emotionally. 

With those things in mind, let’s dive into some of the strategies you can use to gain a competitive advantage. I’ve broken these down into various segments of the buyers’ journey – from acquisition to retention, to make it easier to digest: 


Creative & Offers – With the launch of the Google Ads Library (alongside the Meta Ads Library), spying on your competitors’ ads has never been easier. If you prefer to use third-party tools, Moat (now owned by Oracle) and AdEspresso are both solid choices. 

Using The Tools – the #1 piece of advice I have is to create a competitive library of your own (use Google Sheets), with each competitor on a tab. For each asset, note the date, offer and creative structure (video/static/carousel), along with other points of interest, such as: angle, differentiator/value prop used, ad style (UGC, Static, Boomerang, etc.).

As you analyze each competitor, focus on higher-spending or longer-running ads – these are the ones that are most likely to have been successful/profitable. Some questions to ask: 

  • Is a certain format or style simply not spending (which Meta provides)? If so, that could indicate the creative isn’t resonating. 
  • Are there very few creatives in the library, despite your knowledge (from elsewhere) that their team isn’t as on-top of things as you might have initially surmised? This – and presents an opportunity. 

Spend & Keywords – Auction Insights (or the Competition Tab, on Microsoft) remains one of the most spectacularly valuable resources out there for paid search. The ability to create a custom competitive report at the keyword level, by day, is absolutely incredible. Use it to determine spend patterns in competitor’s accounts (are they running out of budget at the end of the month? If so, you can adjust your budget accordingly to capitalize on the opportunity created by their dropping out of the auction), as well as which KWs each competitor is targeting. 

Determining Spend / Budget – the best way to get a sense of how much your competition is spending is via third-party tools like SpyFu & SEMRush. Just bear in mind that they are third-party tools that are not perfectly accurate. In my experience, these can be off by significant margins – they are useful directional guides, not sources of truth. 

Campaign Structure – There’s really nothing like a good ol’ fashioned URL analysis to tell you quite a bit about a competitor’s PPC or Paid Social efforts (and bonus tip: you can even view the UTM parameters they’re using in the Ad Library). A few quick things to look for: 

  • Click Identifiers – tell you where the click originated (gclid, msclkid, fbclid); also works with platform-specific identifiers (Trade Desk or Basis Click ID, etc.)
  • UTM Parameters – you’d be ::shocked:: what some brands put in their UTMs – everything from the KW targeted, to the campaign structure (full campaign + ad group/ad set descriptions), to the creative used. 

Audience Analysis – Finally, there’s the audience analysis – who is going to your competitor’s site + socials? I’m a huge fan of using SparkToro for this – just drop in a competitor’s domain (or social handles) and see what little nuggets come up. In many cases, you’ll discover sources of traffic or influence that could help augment your own marketing efforts. 


Landers & Tests –  the unwillingness of brands (and agencies) to click on competitor ads never ceases to amaze me – but those that do are rewarded with rich insights. Not only can you gain insight into your competitor’s messaging + sales pitch, but often you can view which LP tests or segmentation they’re using via the URL. 


  • Check the URL – often, you’ll see variables in the URL that indicate a test or some type of segmentation (for instance, returning_user=y or gender=f). Change the variable (for instance, to returning_user=n or gender=m), reload the page, and see what happens. 
  • Use Wappalyzer to determine the competitor’s tech stack (you can also use this as a lead intelligence tool, if you wanted to know which prospects are using a certain piece of technology on their site and pitch them….), as well as Visual Ping to monitor changes to your competitor’s domains.   
  • View the page source (in chrome, add “view-source:” before the https:), then poke around. Look for structured data markups, different plugins, and even agency code/signatures (yes, some agencies still sign their work and yes, it’s so tacky). 
  • Want to monitor all of those changes (including pricing changes) in a single dashboard? Try out a tool like Prisync, which monitors a set of competitor sites on a single dashboard, giving you real-time insight into their pricing strategy. 

Flows – But why stop with just checking out your competitor’s website, when you can get their full sales funnel? My usual approach is a bit more comprehensive than most, but I think it works better: 

  • Create a fake gmail account with a person’s name. Add a Google Voice number (most brands with sense use phone as a primary key AND are doing SMS – so you don’t want to miss out). If you’re in the B2B space, bonus points if you create a fake LI profile, too (I’m always a fan of commitment to a bit).
  • Sign up for the emails / demo using the fake email address. 
  • Create filters and folders for each competitor within your competitive analysis gmail account (so emails from each competitor are filtered into a folder for easy analysis). 
  • Experiment with different actions – open some emails, click on some, leave some unread. 
  • If you *really* want to be thorough, and if your competition has “additional information” boxes on their signup forms (for instance, company size or role or gender), complete the form again, adding a “+[variable]” to the email address. See if there’s any difference. 

PR & Credibility Building – If the above steps give you insight into how your competition is approaching their digital presence, then a combination of social media monitoring (we use Brandwatch + Brand24) and Google Alerts (they aren’t perfect, but they are free) can give you insight into how your competitors are approaching their PR + thought leadership. 

Bonus tip: also add alerts for your competitor’s key employees. If you see one of them has moved on to a new role (for instance) – what better time to try to capitalize on what’s likely a less-than-organized situation at their former employer?  


Price Testing – While you’re performing the website review (above), be on the lookout for price testing plugins OR other price-determining tactics (for instance, tiered discounts or free gift with purchase promos). Not only do those tell you something (your competition hasn’t figured it all out yet), but they also can give you ideas for improving your own marketing efforts. 

Shadow Shopping – There’s nothing better than talking to your competition’s sales team to get insight into their product, value props, discounts, differentiators and even product roadmap. Seriously. Shadow Shopping is staggeringly valuable, especially if you’re willing to be curious and proactive during the call. 

Order IDs & Revenue Estimates – This one is controversial, but incredibly useful for ecommerce/D2C brands: order stuff from your smaller competitors on a regular basis (for instance, each quarter). Order IDs in most platforms are sequential, so the difference from one order to the next = the approximate number of orders they’ve collected in a certain timeframe. If you have a general idea about their AOV + margins, you can make intelligent guesses at their revenue. 

Want to find their best-selling products? If your competitor is on Shopify, simply add: /collections/all?sort_by=best-selling to their home page URL. You’ll see their SKUs, ordered by sales. Neat, right? 

While you’re buying, why not do some UI/UX research, too? Take screenshots of each page in the purchase journey. Be on the lookout for anything you think it’s noteworthy – either in a positive sense (“wow, this is much better than what we have!”) or in a negative sense (“this is weird/confusing/just straight-up bad”). If you don’t think you can be fully objective, ask a friend or relative….preferably after they’ve had a long day or a drink. What follows is almost always (in my experience) a treasure trove of UX gold. 

Customer Service Audits – Since we’ve already gone down the rabbit hole of actually ordering from our competitors, what’s one more step? Fill out a customer service form/request + go through the experience. Are they helpful? Do they respond in a timely manner? If not, those are golden opportunities to differentiate your brand from your competition. 

Want to get a similar effect? 

Download your competitor’s reviews (yes, you can crawl + download them) and run them through a sentiment analysis tool (or just use a ChatGPT plugin for Google Sheets). Segment by star rating (for instance, in 5* reviews, look for the features/benefits customers rave about; in 1* reviews, look for what was wrong). 

Voila! You now have fresh angles to test out in your creative. 

Want to take this to the next level? Have a developer write a script to crawl each of your competitors’ reviews sections on a regular basis, and output the results to a Google Sheet (yes, you can do that!). If you notice an anomaly (or a string of bad reviews for a particular SKU), use it to inform your own marketing. 

These are just some of the ways you can use competitive intelligence to take your brand’s marketing to the next level. The important thing to remember is that each competitor review is a snapshot of a moment in time. Just as you’re evolving, so too are you competitors (and if they aren’t, that also tells you something) – which is why documenting your findings is critical.

To get the most from this article: Set aside 60 minutes per competitor, once per month, to deploy some of the tactics in this email. Record what you find in a Google Sheet. Over time, you’ll build up a staggeringly valuable collection of your competitive landscape, which will enable you to market smarter.