This week we are talking about competitive analysis and my guest is Cassandra Schwartz, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Rival IQ, a social media marketing analytics tool. If you want to stand out from the crowd, you should be conducting social media competitive analysis to identify gaps in your competitor’s offerings and marketing strategy.
Listen to this Episode:
Cassandra has 8 years of marketing experience working with charities and tech companies such as Microsoft and Frontdesk, and she will walk us through the steps of conducting a social media competitive analysis and explain the value and opportunities that can be found in this process.
Topics Discussed in this Episode:
- Why competitive analysis matters
- Avoiding blanket statement “best practices”
- Personalized internet marketing
- How to identify your competitors
- Networking and talking to marketers and SaaS customers
- Specific tactics of competitive research
- Understanding brand voice and storytelling
- Cassandra’s recommended marketing resources
— Seth Bridges (@seth_bridges) August 29, 2017
- Rival IQ
- On Writing Well by William Zinsser
- This American Life podcast
- Social Physics by Alex Pentland
Louis: Cassandra, thank you so much for being on the show. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that but when you search for project management software or Basecamp on Google, you would have literally four or five competitors showing up on Google Ads saying oh we are better than Basecamp or we do that better than Basecamp, and all of that.
It’s my very own view on it but to me, it really seems that those brands have already failed because they are just comparing themselves with Basecamp, and Basecamp will never do that. They will never put an Ad saying we are better than XY and Z, they don’t need that. They just have their own journey.
In my career, I’ve met many people obsessed about competition, obsessed about competitors. They would follow their every move, every time a new feature will come off from their competitor’s website, they will worry about it and try to create the exact same feature and basically always be one step behind.
The reason why I am telling you all of that is because the company you’re working for, Rival IQ, is a social media marketing analytics with some advanced competitive analysis, and other tools like this. You’re pretty well versed into the competitive analysis and benchmarking space. The first question I have for you is can you convince me that competitive analysis matters?
Cassandra: First, I want to go back to the example you have of people searching and they’re searching for a specific company and then they came up with all of this competitive advertising. When I talk about competitive analysis and benchmarking and making sure you’re watching your competitors, I’m not talking about that stuff because I cannot stand that. I cannot stand when I Google a company and the first thing that comes up is comparing that to whatever other company because it does feel like you’re just trying to go after these people who are clearly looking for a very specific thing.
Sometimes, people word it in a way that makes it sound really crappy. They’re already badmouthing the company that you’re just looking for or you’re a customer and so you’re a big fan and a lot of us use Google search bar as where we drop our URLs in. When you put in basecamp.com, it pulls up a search and somebody has bought some ads to say, oh no, Basecamp is crappy, you should be using ours. I don’t like that. I am not advocating for that when we talk about competitive.
What I advocate is the understanding of your competitors and what they’re doing and it’s not to go copy them, you should not be copying your competitors. You should be looking for the gaps in their messaging, in their product and where you can serve that their customers are not being served. When I look at other competitors, sometimes it’s crappy UI. I’m not going to go say hey, our UI is better than so and so’s. I’m going to make sure that I talk about how great our experience is, how easy it is when we do case studies and talking about how you can jump into the product and know exactly what you’re doing.
That is how I differentiate but I’m not going to call out a competitor because that’s shady. Your customers see that, or your potential customers, and they recognize it for what it is and it puts a bad taste in their mouth and you’re starting off on the wrong foot. I do not advocate for that. But you need to know what your competitors are doing. I have worked for several SaaS companies and often times, my role is to come in and reevaluate the brand.
Let’s take a look at the brand and say, okay what is it we’re currently saying about ourselves, what are our competitors saying and where is their gap that we can dive into? I’ll use Rival IQ as an example. I have been at Rival IQ since September of last year and when I came in, we sounded like every other competitive analysis social benchmarking software company.
I came in and I was like, “Hey, we don’t want to sound like everybody else.” Everybody talks about getting knowledge and how you can have this knowledge and suddenly knowing about your competitors will make things different. It’s not the knowledge that is helpful, it’s the action you take from that. We have changed our messaging based on that to talk to our customers about the actions they can take and that’s how I’ve used competitive insight to make changes.
Louis: We’ll go more in depth about that and how exactly listeners can do the same thing that you’ve done by looking at competition and looking at gaps. One thing though that springs to mind when you say we see gaps in the competitor’s website and all product and we know that their IU is bad so therefore we can leverage our own customer experience.
Obviously, customer experience is, and the UI is very important for any product company and customers obviously like products that work. I’m just thinking about something here, if you find some gaps in the competitor’s environment like their product or their website, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your customer will care about that, right?
Cassandra: Oh, sure.
Louis: Does it mean that you also need to listen to your customers and to understand them as well as the market that you are in, right?
Cassandra: Oh, yes. You need to be talking to your customers and you need to talk to the people who aren’t your customers. Either they’re your competitor’s customers or they’re apathetic and they don’t care about that type of product at all but you need to have those conversations so that you understand what the problems are that they have, where you can serve them, where others are not serving them.
I really enjoy listening to what people are saying about my competitors because it gives me an understanding. If a competitor’s product is good, maybe not outstanding but their customer service and how they relate to their customers, and that community that they’ve built, that tells me a lot. I’m not going to be able to get in between that relationship. I need to look at it from a different standpoint and maybe I’m not going to go after their customers because they have that relationship. Maybe I’m going to go after somebody else’s or people who have never thought to use the product.
Louis: Fantastic. Before we dive in, I’m just going to backtrack a little bit and explain a few things to the people listening. The first thing they need to know is that I owe you a lot and I genuinely mean it. To tell the story, a few months ago now, I think it was in Slack channels, I had a few interviews with a few people, few marketers for the podcast, I had a concept for the podcast. I knew I wanted to promote good marketing, to fight bad marketing, the shady, manipulative marketing but I had no clue on how to name this podcast. I generally was blank. I couldn’t find anything good. I asked around and literally the first suggestion that came in was from you. No, genuinely, it was and it was Everyone Hates Marketers, and as soon as I read it I was like okay, that’s it. I don’t need any other suggestions. Once again, thank you so much for that. I really appreciate it.
Cassandra: It was really great. I remember when you sent out the survey asking for ideas and I was sitting in a coffee shop and what had actually happened that day is that that morning, the lady sitting next to me in this coffee shop started a conversation. She saw what was up on my screen and she’s like, “Oh, what do you do?” And I tell her, I’m in marketing. She went off on me. She was like, “Marketers are awful. That is what’s wrong with this world and they are liars. They do awful things. They follow me around. I don’t want them to follow me around.”
This was not the first time that’s happened to me. I’ve had many of those conversations but it just happened and then your survey came out and reading what your description was and the purpose of it, that’s how I came out with that. Because at that moment I was like yeah, everyone hates us. We are awful people according to the general public. That is something that I can’t stand. I don’t want that to be how we’re thought of and so I was really happy to see a very timely message that someone else is trying to promote more positive aspects or appropriate behavior for marketers.
Louis: The interview I did with Rand Fishkin recently that was posted a few weeks ago, we talked about this in more detail and I see why you think everyone hates us. And he adds this answer that nobody really told me before which is you notice only the bad marketers and bad marketing and good marketing goes unnoticed because it’s good.
Good marketing is a good product that you use all the time. Good marketing is a website that is so easy to use, you come back to use it often. Good marketing is feeling understood by the company and feeling that they talk the same language with you. When people ask me what I do, I don’t get these comments maybe because they are scared because I’m French. I know that all the people have those comments. I think that’s the right way to answer by saying you only notice the bad ones and there are plenty of good ones. I think that’s a really good positive view on it.
Cassandra: Oh yeah, even as marketers. We pay attention, we notice when we get really great email or a headline that grabs our attention. Maybe we save it as inspiration, but it’s the really bad emails or the really bad ads that we screenshot and we send to people and we’re like, “Oh my gosh, did you see this?” It’s very much the old school.
The car salesman ads. I don’t watch television anymore so I don’t have an idea if they still do it but I remember growing up, the worst television ads were always the local car dealership. But you would talk about it, you would talk about how crappy the guy yelling on the screen with a big, bright yellow or orange or red lettering and block. We want to do better but we also want to grab attention. We have plenty of marketers who are like, “Well, it works before and so I’m going to keep doing it even though it makes every other person cringe and therefore hate all of us.”
Louis: Absolutely. We have something in common as well. When I went to study in the US for a year, I went to the same university as you, which is quite fun as well because it’s in Wichita, Kansas. It’s not the most popular university in the world but funny to see that. We talked about that before, now that you’re the senior marketing manager for Rival IQ, and before that, as you mentioned, you have multiple marketing positions with Microsoft, Front Desk and others.
You have plenty of experience and I know we talked about it before, you have the same view as me in terms of what I would qualify as bad marketing. Can you give us a few more examples in today’s world, what annoys you the most in marketing?
Cassandra: One thing that I can’t stand is other marketers telling you the best practices. Like you should be doing x and they make blanket statements that that is what everybody should be doing. That really pisses me off because your customer is different than theirs and what your product is is somewhat different in some aspect.
You may be on the same channels, but when you post on Facebook, it may be a different time or different type of imagery or content. I cannot stand blanket best practices.
I love recommendations. If you have something you’re just starting off like in social media, you’re just starting on Twitter and you use those as, “Hey, I’m going to test and post this many times a day. These are the types of contents I’m going to try. I’m going to try this hashtag.” That’s great. Test it.
But don’t be like, “Okay well, this blog told me I need to post on Facebook at 8:00PM on Tuesdays because that’s when I’ll get great engagement.” They don’t know your audience, and actually if you’re doing that, you probably don’t know your audience. From a marketing to marketing standpoint, that is what makes me so mad.
The thing that makes me mad in general for marketing to consumers, specifically in B2B, we forget they’re people. When it comes to B2B, we try to make it about talking to a business. But you’re not selling to a business, you are selling to a person. The way we talk to them shouldn’t really be that different. At the end of the day, the person that sits behind that computer has a problem they need to solve.
Your product might not be super sexy. It might be cloud solution but they still have a problem and you can talk to them like a human. You don’t need to get super technical, you don’t have to keep it dry, you can tell a story and bring storytelling in. It’s just as compelling as it would be to in a B2C world. When it comes to how we treat people, when it comes to B2B, they’re still humans, talk to them like they’re human.
Louis: To go back to your first point about best practices, we talked about that a little bit with David Darmanin from Hotjar and we were making the point that there are two things. Exactly as you said, the blanket best practices saying that you need to post every Tuesday at 8:00PM at Facebook. There is a difference between best practice and first principle in a sense that first principles are things that will never change such as people are attracted by food, danger and other things.
Those kind of stuff won’t change in the next 100 years, 200 years, 500 years or even more than that because that’s how we are wired. Therefore, there are a few things that will always work and will never change. I think that’s one thing that people should be aware of, is that when they read something that they should do, they should ask themselves, will this be true in five years, even one year, or will this change. I think that’s a good way to differentiate the two because usually best practices, you should avoid them and that’s the best practice. That’s the first principle. Avoid best practices for sure.
Cassandra: Totally agree.
Louis: We agree on everything. That’s not good. We need to disagree on a few things. How do you think marketers can make the web a better place? Outside of what we mentioned.
Cassandra: A big part, I think, when it comes to how we as people interact with the web is we want personalization. I don’t mind getting an ad that speaks to me. There was a conversation recently on one of the Slack Channels I’m on about this ad that people were seeing and it was super customized, it was based on where you were located, what we guess is probably your hometown and whether or not you are a son or a daughter, there was a relationship there. People were really impressed because they saw themselves and they felt it was customized to them.
Those are the ads that don’t annoy people because it’s timely and it speaks to them. As marketers, we get lazy. Let’s just be really honest. To create an ad like that, you’re talking about hundreds of different combinations between different states and your relationships and those things. That’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of design work, that’s a lot of back end in setting it up in whatever ad platform you’re using but it’s worth it because as a consumer, I see that and I’m engaged and I notice it and then I talk about it because people talk about those things.
You mentioned earlier about how good advertising, you don’t notice it as advertising because it’s relevant. When you see something that you were just talking about to somebody else and you’re like, “I wonder about doing this.” And you get an ad for it in the next day or so, it doesn’t bother you because you’re like, “Oh hey, I just talking about going kayaking, I want to go try that.”
When we can take our web experiences and make it personalized to that person, when that person comes to your site and they’re a customer and they’re dropping onto your SaaS site, what are doing? Are you sending them right into your product? Do you give them the option like, “Hey, you can go onto the product or we thought this content would make sense for you.”
What are you doing that makes it feel like it’s built for them? With our technology, you can do it and it doesn’t cost that much, but it is a little bit of extra work. You have to know your customer. Some of those things, we get a little lazy and we take the easy way out and we just feel like we’ll make one page and it fits everyone. But it doesn’t fit everyone and it’s not a great experience.
Louis: I have many things to tell you about this part. All very good points. I remember reading this article recently about how marketers and us in particular can become very creepy, which is a very personal thing and I think that’s something that’s going to get worse and worse with personalization coming in.
A few people on the thread were complaining about the fact that the ads were way too personal. I think it’s from Optimizely, they were starting to share homepage depending on which company you were working from. If you work for Oracle then the homepage when you go to optimizely.com actually shows you’re one of the Oracle people and here’s a case I did just for you. The line between effectiveness and personalization and creepiness can be very, very thin and almost non-existent. I wonder if you have any thought on that, the creepiness of it as well and how marketers can tackle it.
Cassandra: Oh yes. The first time that I got a marketing automation software was this really odd experience for me during the sales process. As a normal person went and looked at their site several times, looks at lots of different content, downloaded different things and the when we met with the sales person, he’s going back and he’s showing me all the things that he got to see and notifications he got when I went and did X or Y.
At the moment I was like wow, this is creepy. It’s like stalker stuff but then I was like oh wow. All of that data. What can I give you that’s better? You’re walking a very fine line between stalker and appropriate relationship building. That’s where you need to understand your customer and how much they want to interact. As a strong marketer in SaaS who really cares about personalization, I’m probably more open to it than my mother. She is a little creeped out about the internet and a little bit worried about privacy loss. How much personalization happens for her needs to be different than me. That’s a customer thing. Do you know your customer well enough to know how much they want to share?
The flipside is that if you get too broad, if you don’t do any type of personalization, if you start showing my mom ads for something on the east coast and she’s on the west coast, she’s not going to enjoy that experience. There was a study and I can’t remember who did it, I’ll have to look it up, but it was about people that use app lockers would say that they don’t mind when they see ads that are relevant to them.
You have to take that line to understand what is relevant. For advertising for Rival IQ, we are very specific about the types of companies that we’re looking for, the types of marketers, so we’re serving up content that’s specifically for them. We recently ran a campaign around how media companies are utilizing social media and we ran an ad campaign that was very targeted, the click throughs tell me that they appreciated that because they went down and downloaded the content.
We weren’t getting marked as spam, we’re not relevant. I think it’s about how much, I didn’t go use people’s name, I wasn’t saying their specific company, I wasn’t like, “Hey, you’re at CNN and you need to look at this.” But we might drop a couple of names and target based on those companies. It’s definitely a line you have to skirt but I wouldn’t shy away from personalization just because some people are like, “Oh it’s a little creepy.”
Louis: I agree. Those are good examples. But my thoughts on this, as long as your customers or your leads have given you those information, let’s say if they accept to give you when they want to receive emails. Instead of daily, they want to receive them weekly. They gave you their preference in terms of when they want to receive in their emails, maybe they are more interested in SMS marketing than email marketing for example.
They gave you their email address, their name and last name and where they live. I think it’s okay to use that in your marketing to make sure that you personalize your offer. I think when it gets creepy, regardless of the type of customer you have, is when you use sensitive information against their will. There’s a lot of data enrichment platform at the minute that enables you to get a lot of information from just an email. I would say if you are able to know how many kids they have without them telling you in the first place, mentioning that in the ad, I think that’s a no, no for example.
Cassandra: Oh, yes. That would creep me out.
Louis: I think that will creep anybody out. I’ve yet to define a set of rules to make sure that your marketing isn’t creepy but regardless of it, it will still need to be personalized as per your customer and what they want. But that’s an interesting subject, and it really springs a lot of ideas in my mind. I think that’s something that needs to be addressed because a lot more people are mentioning it now than before.
We talked about the marketing bullshit. I’d like to dive in back into what we started to talk about at the start of the podcast. I’m genuinely not very good at competitive research. I’ve never really done it because it never really interested me. I always thought that we didn’t need that. But I’m really curious to know how we could do it and how I could do it in the future.
We talked about it before together and you said that you think that marketers do competitive research the wrong way. Let’s get into a step by step guide that listeners can literally use in their business tomorrow or even today. What would be the first step of this competitive research task?
Cassandra: The first step is who are your competitors? This is where some marketers will get it wrong because they’ll only pick the top names, and I’ll use CPG for example because it’s safe to talk about that type of thing. You have a local soda company. It’s regional and when I’m talking to them who they’re looking at as far as social media performance, they’ll mention the Jones Soda, the Coca Colas. It’s like, “Are you really competing against them? Do you really think that is the one to go after?”
That might be aspirational and you should certainly have an aspirational list and we can talk more about that later. But you need to know when the person walks into the local whole foods and they’re looking at the off the wall sodas, who are those people? Who are you coming up against right at that moment? For Rival, we could say, [00:26:19] is a competitor but we’re not on the same level. That’s a huge company. They target enterprise level and the cost associated with it is large. We’re not competing against them.
It’s great for me to know what they’re doing and what they’re talking about. It’s really fun to read their reports but I’m not going to look at them as a direct competitor because when it comes down to it, if my potential customer has a budget for them, I’m probably going to say you should go try that because it’s going to be a broader and deeper experience for them.
Who are your competitors? Who is talking to your customers? And then start to look at how they’re talking. The first thing I do is look at the language that they’re using. Where are they talking to people? I focus a lot on social, social is a big part of my experience but you don’t just do that. You look at what are the emails? What are the blogs? Where might they be showing up? When you Google them, what happens? If you Google them and look for comparisons, not a big fan of that, but I want to see, are they putting themselves out there and trying to put themselves against that?
You mentioned earlier about the comparisons and putting yourself against… I cannot stand when companies talk about parity. I don’t care about parity. I can’t sell against parity. We have the same features as other company, why would you want to sell against that. You need to sell against either the experience or the differentiators. What makes you better. Unless you know about your competitor, you’re not going to be able to do that.
When you do complete a whole competitive analysis, it’s not just for marketing. If you’re in SaaS, you have a sales team and you need to be able to educate them and enable them to do this. As a product marketer, I have to turn around the product and be like, “Hey we should be doing this because nobody else is doing this and this is what I hear from our competitor’s customers or from our own customers.”
Start with how they’re talking, what are they saying. I mentioned earlier that when I came into Rival, I looked at our competitors and all of them are talking about knowledge. The knowledge you’d get. That’s great. I want to know more things but at the end of the day, as a marketer I need to be able to take action. I need to know what I need to do with that knowledge.
Data is really overwhelming for us. I’m not a data scientist, I went into marketing because I didn’t want to do math. It’s not really working out for me. I end up doing a lot of math and running a lot of reports but that’s why I went into it. I wanted to do communications. I wanted to brand. I wanted to connect with people. I didn’t want to go into finance or accounting but you have to have that data. What you do with it, and that’s where the insights that you gain and understanding how can you take that into action. That’s how I rebranded Rival IQ based on that competitive knowledge.
Louis: Let’s go back to it. You said a lot of things and we need to dive into another level of details. The first step is to understand who your direct competitors are. The one who genuinely your customers will consider to buy from instead of you. Here is one thing though, and this is why competitive research by definition, to me, might be missing something. You probably heard about the job to be done methodology.
The example would be when you buy a milk shake and go to work with it in your car, you drink it on the way. Let’s say you make downloads and you have this milkshake that you want to sell. Your direct competitor are not necessarily Burger King or any other fast food restaurant. Your direct competitor might very well be any other thing that this person might use to make her journey more pleasant to work.
This is what I’m always worried about when I hear about competition, is that it doesn’t necessarily mean people, companies selling the same product. It means companies selling things that does the same job, so would you consider those in your analysis usually or is it outside?
Cassandra: It really depends on what I’m selling. I mentioned earlier one of things you’re coming up against is your competitors or somebody talking to your same audience or you’re coming up against apathy. I worked at a couple different SaaS companies and the previous one, our problem wasn’t getting them to buy the software. If we talk to them we could share that, like why they should, the benefits of saving time and ease but it was the apathy of like, “Well, I can just do it all on paper. Why do I need a software to do it?”
It cost me nothing. It takes time, whatever. It was apathy of you have everything on paper, what happens if something happens. A car runs into your gym, or there’s a fire, but that’s the apathy we’re coming up against. That’s not going to come in in a competitive analysis but that will come up when you are researching your customers or your potential customers.
Louis: Sorry to cut you, but about that. Do you think this task is before you pick on competitors? Typically in this project, did you start talking to potential customers first and then pick the competitors?
Cassandra: Oh, yes.
Louis: That’s the first step, isn’t it?
Cassandra: Before I look at competitors, I need to know who am I talking to right at this moment. They’re going to tell me who my competitors are. They’re going to say, “Oh yes. I was looking at you and I was looking at this other company.” All we do is analytics, social media analytics then we can use that in various ways but we are not a publishing or a listening software.
I do have a competitive view on softwares that do that even though we don’t. Because when it comes to it, I have customers who are like, “I have a set amount of money that I’m spending on tools because every dollar that I’m spending on a tool, I’m not spending on my advertising.”
They’re looking at it as the whole thing what’s going to bring me the value across the board and I have to fight against that. I need to understand why they value another software even if that software doesn’t exactly do what we do. I need to understand their whole marketing tech and how we will fit in there. How those companies will talk about their product because they may say they’re doing things with their product but they don’t really do but that’s what makes the customer go, “Oh, I’m going to get this one because it does these three things and yours really just does this one thing with analytics.”
I need to understand that and that is a level of it. I will generally have a set of direct competitors. These are the companies that do the exact same thing with their software or really close. I will have a set of relational like we might get knocked off of their marketing tech list because they’re going to go buy this other product. I’ll have a set of aspirational and I mentioned that earlier. These are the companies that do really well. They may not be competitors at all or they may just be companies that are talking to my audience.
I follow companies that are talking to marketers because I want to know what are they saying, what is it that’s engaging marketers around that. Companies like Moss, we touch into SEO but that’s not our bread and butter. I’m not following them to see how they’re talking about SEO. I’m following them to see how they’re talking to marketers. Same thing with HubSpot, not a marketing automation software but I want to know what they’re saying and what are marketers caring about. I can look at opportunities in our content strategy to insert ourselves.
Louis: Do you spend time on the phone or on Skype with every customer? Do you send them surveys? What do you use to do this research?
Cassandra: I actually use a combination of surveys, phone calls, and focus groups. If I had more money, I would do even more focus groups. Those are my favorite because when you put marketers together and you get them to talk, they’ll say things that you never would get them to do in a one on one conversation. Because the moment somebody jumps on a call with me, they want to talk specifically about Rival and that’s not necessarily what I want them to talk about. I want them to talk about what they’re doing with their day. What are the problems they have.
Naturally, because they’re talking to me and they see me as this representative of Rival IQ, they’re going to skew their conversation that way. When I can setup a focus group and I try to do them on a regular basis, I’m bringing in a handful of marketers and my job is to instigate conversation but otherwise it’s just sit back and just listen. That’s where I find out the most interesting things about the pains they’re dealing with, the struggle they have of proving value around certain marketing activities to their executive team. It’s where I find out that they really like this software but they can’t afford it, so how do you look at where we fit in the budget and things like that.
I wouldn’t learn that otherwise because generally when people talk to you and they know you’re from that company, they’re going to say nice things, they don’t complain because they’re like, “Oh I have your ear, will you give me something? Will you tell me something that might be helpful?”
Louis: How do you recruit those people?
Cassandra: That’s where my network comes in. I am in a variety of groups whether it’s Slack communities, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups and then of course I do in person networking. I’m always looking for potential people that would fit with our service and looking at okay, can I pick your brain? Can I invite you to something?
There’s always a relationship aspect to it of what can I give in return, what can I help them with? They may be people I’ve met two years ago and I helped them find a freelance gig or something and now I can call on them and be like, “Hey, can I get 30 minutes of your time to chat about this?” They’re like, “Yeah, sure, you helped me out.” I’m always trying to build relationships because I never know where that relationship will lead to.
Louis: How much time would you spend a week on Slack channels, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups?
Cassandra: An embarrassing amount of time. I probably spend 50% of my time throughout the week is writing. I’m doing messaging. I’m writing articles about how customers use our product or in general things that people should know. The other half of that time is spent between being in meetings internally, strategizing, and being out and talking to people. As a product marketer, if I don’t understand our customer or our prospective customer, I can’t do my job. I can’t write those articles. I can’t write that messaging. It’s worth it for me to invest a significant amount of time to talk to people.
Louis: Fantastic. That sounds really good. That’s why I want to dig a little bit more because I knew that there was something behind all of that you did that was really valuable. One of the key take aways right here is organize focus groups, go and talk to people on the phone and surveys, and gather this data, then you’ll have a list of direct competitors, relational competitors and aspirational competitors that you can really put on a spreadsheet almost.
You don’t have to guess that because from this conversation you just had, they will have told you. Those people will have told you all of those, these information or idea. I suppose you use your own software to do the competitive research, right?
Cassandra: Oh, yes. I’m in our software every day.
Louis: Let’s consider that listeners don’t necessary use it and I’m not going to go into a sales pitch where you have to explain why it’s better. It’s definitely better on a spreadsheet because it’s probably easier. Let’s say the people we are talking to don’t have a budget and they have to use a spreadsheet. Something simple enough. We would put all of them into a spreadsheet and then what type of information will you typically look for? You mentioned a few but I like to try to list a few important ones for people to look to.
Casandra: First, I’m going to start with their brand and the brand voice. Before I get into nitty gritty about features or specific aspects, I want to know how did they talk. Certainly, as you mentioned, the software that we have start with social, but you don’t have to start with social. You’d start on their website. Go check out what are they saying on their website. Most SaaS companies will have the list of the industries they serve, so you know the customer they’re going after.
For me, some of our competitors, pretty much only go after agencies and that’s good for me to know because how they talk to agencies, I can dive into that and what are they saying. What’s the imagery they use? What’s the feeling you get from it? I’m a big fan of brand archetypes. I’ll go do that and take notes on the site and what I’m seeing and how they are talking and then I figure out which brand voice are they using? What’s that archetype that they fit into? That allows me to look at the board.
For Rival IQ, I went out and looked and the one that I kept seeing was the stage, the all-knowing I’m going to bring up all this knowledge. That’s what we’re like, “Okay, we’re not going that way because everybody then starts to sound the same.” I start with that. Then, I’ll get into some more of the nitty gritty of like specific features. What features do they care about?
In software, we’re not going to have every little feature listed on our site. That’s not beneficial. It doesn’t help the customer. What are the ones that they pull out that are the big selling? How do they talk about those different features? When you’re in competitive analysis for SaaS, you’re generally selling the same things.
We have a customer that’s in big data analysis, not just social analysis, and I go look at all their competitors and they all have the same features but they talk very differently. Getting into that, what are the things that they bubble up as the most important and sometimes you can tell, oh okay did they actually talk to customers because that doesn’t seem like that would be interesting. You can get into that when you start to dive into what are the products they’re focused on? How do they talk about them?
And then, I layer on the social. Looking at what are the channels they’re on. What are they doing on those channels? What’s the engagement like? It’s great if you get on social like, “Oh my gosh, they do so much video, every day they’re posting a couple times.” But then you look at the engagement, you’re like oh, they get 10 likes each time. Maybe that’s not actually working. Maybe it’s because that’s not the channel you need to be on.
Understanding that aspect of it and having that all mapped out. Just because your competitor is on Pinterest, it’s good to know. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to end up there. But having all that information, so you have that to go back to.
Louis: Let’s say we have the spreadsheet full of the information you just mentioned. How do you find gaps? How do you find opportunities from there?
Cassandra: This is where you become a little smooth. You have to look for patterns. Not everybody can do it, not everybody is really great at seeing where things are missing and part of that comes with time. As you do more of it, you start to notice things. You can figure out people’s content strategy. You can figure out what are the things they really care about.
If they are investing a lot in specific keywords because you can tell, you can get that sense as you’re looking at all of these different places and where their content lives. And you can see, okay, I’m probably not going to go after those keywords because that wouldn’t make sense for me to directly compete on that. You start to get into some of the tactical pieces but you have to have that full picture to be able to get that knowledge, otherwise you’re just going to have a spreadsheet with some stats. Maybe it looks good to your leadership but it doesn’t actually serve your strategy.
Louis: You look for patterns to try to see what is in common, what do they share in common or whether or not there’s anything that they’re not doing or they not doing too much or they are not doing well. Once you have that, what’s the next step? Do you create a story to convince management to go and to use the strategy you just came up with? What will be the next step then?
Casandra: For me, there are three different ways that can spin off in two things. If it’s early at my time in the company, usually means I’m going into brand voice and I’m reevaluating what our organization’s brand voice needs to be. Where are we sounding like everybody else and we need to stop that. If I’m further along in the company, it’s probably content strategy.
Content is your way to have some long term impact and it’s an investment so you want to make the right choices. If you just go copy everybody else, is that really going to help you? Probably not. That’s where the gaps are really important to me. And then I pair this with my own information. I’m not just basing my decisions off of my competitive analysis, I’m pairing it with the research I’ve done on myself. I go back in and look at what blogs are super successful? Where do we get a lot of shares? What are the pages that did the best of converting into trials? What are the best pages that convert into customers? What do I see that tells me something that we need to capitalize on and pair that with my competitive analysis and so I can see when we do a specific type of first party research, it does really well. That’s the highest converting, it goes all the way down the funnel. I need to do more of that.
And then I pair it with, “Okay, I see your competitors are also doing lots of reports but they do specific across weekly four channels and so they’re like this is the report on Facebook, that’s very generic.” That might work for them, what can I do that’s going to be able to compete and so we’re going to do specific industries. So I got an industry report on media, on Craft Brew. We did one a few months ago on Democrats versus Republicans. It was a little bit controversial. It was a hack day project but it did really well. People downloaded it. It went down the funnel and help desk. I pair that knowledge together and those gaps to come up with a full content strategy.
Louis: There’s a lot going on here, isn’t it?
Cassandra: There is. Product marketing is this really broad role within a marketing team. We don’t just do one thing. I have somebody on my team, she does paid media. That is what she does. She is running ads and the creative alongside that and that’s all she does and that’s great. We couldn’t survive without her.
But then you have somebody like me who’s working with three different teams that has these very broad differed areas that I touch. They all touch everybody else and it helps her do her job better. I have a social media person and it helps her do her job better. It all has to get done. I end up being this hodge podge of touching customers, and products, and sales and looking at competitors and understanding their content but all of it is all a big web. They all go together.
Louis: What’s the most successful campaign that you’ve done in Rival?
Cassandra: We did this thing at the end of last year. It was a countdown to 2017. Because we do social media analytics, we need to be good at social, we need to shine there. If we’re not shining there, then are we actually using the insight that we get from the product to improve things?
We created this 31 days, all of December countdown to 2017 and it was a series of tips. There was a tip a day and there was images to go with it and there was a video. Every day, we had a short video with a tip and we spread it across all of our social channels, even Pinterest, which we’re not big on Pinterest but it’s something that we do have a presence there mostly because we want to test and see how things work. But it was super successful.
We went from an organic reach, oh gosh, I want to say it was in the hundreds and we ended up having the organic reach of like 12,000 per post. No pay, nothing behind it. Really, what we got to see is how the Facebook algorithm really favors video and native videos specifically versus a link to a video. It was super successful.
What we did at the end of December is we stopped it because we wanted to see what would happen and how not doing video and not posting these things on a daily basis, how that would affect our reach. It took a week or two, and it didn’t take very long. The organic reach dropped, it was like a cliff. We’ve now added video back and we’re now doing it on a regular basis.
But that was a campaign that we were able to use to engage audiences that were not on Facebook and in other areas, but primarily on Facebook and we were able to test out the algorithms that we think we know but we don’t really have a full understanding and see that, yes, video matters. Organic video is possible and you can reach more people if you played Facebook’s game.
Louis: Did this engagement turn into sales? Because social media is notoriously to be channels that work really well for discovery and awareness but the line is a bit blurry when it comes to sales. What’s your view on that?
Cassandra: There are two thing with that. Yes, social leads to sales. Primarily, our leads come through social. Part of that might be because we target marketers who are on social and so getting them to download content from Facebook or LinkedIn is not that hard. We’re able to engage them. We have different strategies from Instagram, like Instagram is focused on sharing our culture and some more of recruiting tool so I don’t expect to see people coming from Instagram to download out content.
We see it, we create these reports and we share them out and Facebook has those really great lead forms and so they don’t have to leave Facebook to download a piece of content and then we nurture them through. We can see a significant portion of our traffic coming through from social channels.
The flipside is though we are so obsessed with attribution and being able to put everybody in a little bucket that we have taken our data too far. When I graduated from college, there was no social media marketing. That was not a thing. Our marketing activities were very heavy on radio, or billboards, or print and you couldn’t track that. You could not track and say this person came into my store and bought this product because they saw this ad. It wasn’t something we did. You definitely tracked your sales and you’re like oh okay, we ran this campaign and then our sales went up. That was enough and now we are so obsessed with attribution and data that if we cannot say that this specific thing directly lead to it, we don’t want to do it.
Even though if you run a campaign, and you should be running that across multiple things. It should not be on one channel. You should be doing something on Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram, as well as online. Are you following them around with display ads? Are you doing all these things and then that is what you’ll see like, “Okay, we ran this campaign.” And partly to the campaign our sales started to creep up.
Louis: Something that bother digital marketers quite a lot is that they won’t reattribute exactly as you said conversions to a specific channel. But life is not like this. I remember talking to Laura Roder from meetedgar.com. She was saying the similar things and she was saying think about the the first time you’ve been exposed to marketing from a brand that you bought from, you wouldn’t remember it. You wouldn’t remember the first you heard from them. You wouldn’t remember the second, third, fourth, fifth, twenty fifth, hundredth time.
But then one day, when you’re thinking about buying a social media competitive analysis tool, the first name that comes into your mind is Rival IQ. You don’t really know why but you heard of it, you’ve seen a few ads and that’s when the brand equity, the brand is so important. It will work in the long term. People will remember you and buy from you but can you say that this display ad that you’ve done with the retargeting pixel is the thing that is responsible for these sales? Absolutely not. That’s why exactly digital marketers are struggling at the minute with all of this data because they want to get too granular. I completely agree.
That’s good. That’s fantastic stuff. You told a lot of very interesting things and a few ideas that I will definitely nurture on my own. Thank you so much for that. The last two questions I wanted to ask you. First, what do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 5, 10 years, or 20 years?
Cassandra: I think marketers would do well to learn and invest in understanding storytelling. No matter what type of marketer you are, whether you are focused on PPC, or SEO, or product marketing, understanding how to tell a story is important. It’s not just important to be able to connect with your customers but it also allows you to sell things internally.
When you have leadership that maybe doesn’t understand marketing or hates it, you have to sell it to them and the best way to sell something to somebody is telling a story. If you can become a good storyteller, you don’t have to be great, just a good one, you’re going to go far, you’re going to be able to do things and try new things because you can tell a compelling story about it.
Louis: What are the top three resources you would recommend to people? It could be books, podcasts, anything.
Cassandra: I’m heavy into books. Going with the storytelling aspect. I recommend everyone read On Writing Well. If you didn’t read it in undergrad, you should go read it now. I want to say it’s William Zinsser, don’t ask me to spell it. Take yourselves back to the basics. What is it that you need to do to write good copy, to write a good email, to sell up to your executive team.
From podcast, obviously, I recommend this podcast. I enjoy listening to it. But I also like listening to This American Life. It isn’t marketing related but you can learn a lot about storytelling, about human stories, and how do you use that human element to connect with people.
Like I said earlier, if you’re in B2B, you’re still selling to people, you need to understand those people and you need to speak to them based on their needs. I am currently reading this book by Alex Pentland, Social Physics. We talked a little bit about the creepy factor of marketing and when you are building a community, how you design that community affects how people interact and how people make decisions. In general, how we’re handling the web, how we’re handling our overall communities outside of online activity. We’re changing the way we function.
Reading his book has been really interesting to me in the sense that we’re affected by what’s going on in our community more than we think we are. When we’re looking at how we market to people, we need to understand that it’s not just the person sitting next to them in their office or their friend that affects their decision making, it’s their overall community. The things that happen with Facebook algorithms, they matter and they affect what’s going to happen in our local communities and our global community. As marketers, we need to understand that so I definitely recommend checking that book out.
Louis: Alright, Cassandra, you’ve been really great. Thank you so much for all of those insights and I’ll talk to you soon.
Cassandra: Yeah, thank you.
How to stand out: 9 bullshit-free lessons from world-class tech marketers
Insights from Seth Godin, Rand Fishkin, David Darmanin and 6 other world-class tech marketers.
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.