educational

Stay Ahead of the Competitive Pack

Stephen Yagielowicz

A vital component of the initial business planning process, acquiring intelligence about your competitor’s infrastructure, forecasts and revenue streams, is an important step in the continuous battle to stay ahead of — or at least remain part of — the pack.

A wide range of tools are available for studying what and how the other guy is doing; providing an in-depth (and at times startlingly complete) analysis of some of the exact same factors, opportunities and pitfalls that your company may contend with — along with a glimpse at how your peers are coping with similar issues.

A wide range of tools are available for studying what and how the other guy is doing.

For example, adult webmasters have long studied their competitor’s coding and site technologies; search engine keywords and ranking; inbound link sources and affiliates; along with a range of other “helpful” insights that may be easily gleaned online. Human intelligence sources are also tapped within adult circles, with the “affiliate rep bringing his rolodex to a new job,” cited as an easy example.

While the intricacies of forming useful competitor arrays are well beyond the scope of this article, some time spent with your favorite spreadsheet or document program, developing a data grid that will fit a specific requirement, then populating it with web-based research, will provide more insight than not.

For example, many affiliates keep track of out-clicks and revenues on a spreadsheet, providing an accurate means of measuring affiliate program profitability. Adding a new column to cover its monthly update frequency can help predict a program’s longevity — in other words, the program that sent out weekly affiliate newsletters once upon a time but hasn’t sent one in six months, may be facing an uncertain future — despite any public posturing by board reps. A colorcoded field for this and other info on your spreadsheet adds extra insight into a program’s health and ongoing potential for rebills, beyond what historical stats provide.

The important thing is to become intimately aware of your competition and to document this awareness.

Although ancient by Internet standards, IBM has a free guide to competitive analysis that may be useful: www.ibm.com/developerworks/webservices/library/us-analysis.html.

Microsoft also offers several free Word templates that can give you a quick head start (office.microsoft.com/enus/templates/competitiveanalysis-TC001018273.aspx).

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