The “listicle” (i.e. “article containing a list”) is among the most popular style of blog posts online, both among readers and marketers. Listicles are popular, say experts, because they require minimum effort to read.
Listicles can be short or long. The other plus point about listicles is that they are a very mobile-friendly format. They allow easy chunking of text under discrete subheads, and are therefore easier to comprehend.
Digital marketing is no less than a battle and since all’s fair in love and war, setting your strategy to steal your competitor’s thunder is clean and above-board. Have no hesitation on that account!
Steel your conscience to steal the best from your competitor (sorry for the awful pun!). But don’t get me wrong … stealing from your competitors does not mean espionage or any other dirty tricks.
You don’t need to do all that messy stuff if you have your eyes on the brands that matter, have your ears to the ground, have the best interests of customers at heart, and have decency and ethics as your non-negotiable principles.
Read on to see four great ways to steal the thunder from your competition, largely by making inroads into their marketing patterns and by making them irrelevant!
To make sure you are stealing in a perfectly acceptable way – and not doing anything underhand or treacherous (which is not your style and never will be!) – you have to make three promises to yourself before you begin your quest for your competitor’s thunder.
Remember, these three tenets are crucial and you have to keep these promises to yourself without let up, because otherwise your manoeuvers will be counterproductive and erode your own brand’s credibility!
Right? Okay, so here goes …
PROMISE #1: You will aim to steal by stealing the ground from under your competitor’s feet. You will use only perfectly acceptable marketing best practices and not try to harm your competitor. You will leave him standing, and you will leave him and his people alone. Instead, your aim will be to carve away the strategic foundations on which his brand is built!
PROMISE #2: You will zero in on just the top two or three competitors and not run after the whole pack. You will not shoot yourself in the foot by eyeing every distant marketer as a competitor and get beset by paranoia or a persecution complex! If you have to take the advantage position in this game, you can’t afford to run perennially scared yourself of everyone in the vicinity. Focus on one or two brands that really matter, and if you can, find brands that are where you would like to be, not just those on your own level.
PROMISE #3: You will guard your own turf against competitor stealth before you begin stealing! I have heard gory stories of how people set out to steal other people’s hashtags and landed up in a huge mess themselves. Like any good military strategist, you have to venture out towards the competition only after securing your own fortress. So make sure you have a strong defense team and an impregnable brand strategy, with your own customers being serviced with care and promptness, and guarded zealously. If you’ve won 100 customers from your competitor and lost 200 of your own through negligence, how will you feel?
Okay, so much for self-promises to keep. Read on for the tactics …
Here are my top five methods …
If your competitor is spending zilch on marketing (i.e. getting all organic traffic from Google and the social media) while you are spending heavy dollars on Search Engine Marketing via PPC and other ads and heavily-paid PR, it’s time to steal the SEO tactics of your competitor.
Key among them is the SEO keywords plan. I know that a lot advice prevails on the Net about how to run after long-tail keywords so that you get the traffic to your site from avenues your competitors never thought of, or discarded as worthless.
But sometimes – maybe often times – it pays to “be a man” and take the competition’s toughest keywords by the scruff of the neck and say “I can and will compete for the high popularity crucial keywords and do whatever it takes!”
Get a tool like Majestic SEO or Ahrefs to explore exactly what keywords your competitor is ranking for. Then go for Brian Dean’s “Skyscraper Technique” to outdo the content the competitor has written for these keywords.
(Brian suggests that you dissect the competitor’s post and then build your own post to a higher level of quality and quantity of content i.e. where your highest ranking competitor has, say, two storied content, you aim to build skyscraper content).
One important thing to remember with keywords is that you should have a lot of posts (in hundreds) tightly knit around your principal topic of your brand’s positioning, and when you thus have firmly established “domain authority” Google tends to bump up all your posts on rankings.
So don’t fight for each post to rank well, build a neighbourhood of hundreds of skyscrapers on all the keywords stolen from competitors that are doing well on your principal topic! It takes time, for sure, but stealing the competitor’s thunder is not a game for lazy boys and girls!
Also critical to Google organic rankings is backlinks. Again Ahrefs or Majestic SEO or Moz’s Open Site Explorer can tell you what backlinks your competition is thriving on … which ones, how many, how well are the backlinking sites and URLs ranking etc.
Now. how do you go about stealing backlinks?
One, you can approach the backlinkers in a straightforward manner and say “I noticed you linked to XYZ site. We are in the same space and even better. So how about linking to us also?” That works sometimes.
Or two, you could see how many of those competitor backlinks are outdated and offer the backlinker your own more upkept site as an alternative. Or three, you can bait the backlinker with some link-bait (i.e. very worthy piece of high-value content) knowing that the backlinker has a demonstrated appetite for these.
Especially if the same backlinker is linked to two or more of your competitors, the odds are good that he will include you also in his linking scheme of things.
Don’t give up easily. A person already backlinking to competitors is a soft target. He is a definite “linker”, you know that. So pursue him. And as I said before if you can get him to shed the “old backlink” for your “more latest content” nothing like stripping some backlinks off the competitors!
Let’s say your competitor is very smart on content creation. he has the best writers who can turn out magnetic headlines and reams of high-quality textual and visual and multimedia content, at high speed, and with unwavering consistency. So how do you compete? It’s the easiest thing in the world!
You see, the competitor has done all the work for you. He has chosen the right keywords to write around, he has built the content and formatted the key points, he has set out his writing list of topics and his editorial calendar, and he has set you the benchmarks to aim to surpass.
So spare yourself the torture of doing your own keyword research, and then framing your article, and then calendarizing your list of topics. Just put your competitors’ sites on your Feedly RSS reader list to see what they’ve come up with in just the last week. You’ve got your topics and keywords! You’ve even got some starter content ideas! As easy as that!
Do just a bit more serious research on what the competitor has written about, and especially see if you can get some research-backed factoids and lots of key quotes from high-ranking influencers who have said something on the subject … so that you can build an article (an originally written one, not a copy-and-paste!) on the same topic, several stories higher than his, and making sure your article is full of research and quotes from high places.
Then email the research houses and A-listers you have quoted to thank them for their inspiration … and see if they will share out your post! If you just achieve this much, you will have taken the competitor’s content and turned it around to get your brand name in the tweets of A-listers and top influencers!
One more thing: it really pays to have “controversial headlines” … so if your competitor has merely done a “list post” (say, of “9 good ideas for this” or “10 good tips for that”), you could easily do a post that questions those 9 or 10 points instead of just pinching the competitor’s points.
That way you’ve called some attention to the competitor’s knowledge, as well as positioned his post in readers’ minds as missing some important angles!
Better still, you could leave a comment on the competitor’s post with your contra-points, so that readers ask themselves: “Who is this commenter cat who really knows his onions?”
This is a game of hashtags, essentially. Don’t do hashtag hijacking i.e. running away with competitor hashtags (because some of them are registered trademarks these days!) Instead, see if you can get a contra hashtag that takes the other brand’s hashtag on, or get a hashtag extremely close to the original one of the competitor that you can run with.
An example would be: if a competitor’s hashtag is #giveityourall, your own hashtag could be #giveityourbest. Let there be just enough to differentiate your hashtag while sounding almost similar.
But the getting of the hashtag is just half the order. Now you have to run with it. To really claim a hashtag, and charge ahead to make it indelibly yours, you have to run a high-visibility, high-frequency, hi-decibel campaign for a reasonable length of time.
So set up a tweetchat series (maybe twice or thrice a week initially for about two or three months) exploring diverse angles of topics around your brand positioning and hashtag to “make a lot of noise”.
In marketing communications, it doesn’t pay to do a slow gradual series of anything. It pays to do a high-decibel campaign and then calm down for a while, and then repeat a high-decibel campaign and again calm down for a while. We call this “spiking” and it works like the blazes!
When you schedule your tweetchats, make sure you invite all the competition’s followers. You do this by including the competitor’s hashtag subtly along with yours in your invitation tweets so that his followers are notified of your tweetchat event when they see his hashtag!
For example, your invite tweet could be: “#giveityourall on a influencer-led Tweetchat on topic ABC by Brand XYZ. Join us via #giveityourbest.” Here you’ve asked people to “give it their all” by joining your tweetchat on #giveityourbest!
Head straight for your customer’s About Us webpage. This is where the competitor’s readers usually head first to see what he’s all about. This is where he bares his soul, his mission statement, his value proposition, and his competitive advantage.
When you go through all that’s written here, try and get a grip on the tone of voice, the sincerity, and authenticity of the content, the imagery of the brand and its values that emanate, the quality of people who are holding high positions in the company, and the overall feel of what makes the brand tick as an “authority” or “expert” in its area.
Every brand tries to convey its superiority through its About Page on its site – and this page is usually crucial to investigate to get your competitive one-upmanship in place.
After you have got a sense of where the competitor’s thunder is coming from, you have to play this beautiful game called Listerine vs Scope!
What is this sport? It’s one of the hallowed examples from advertising history where the market-leading, unbeatably-ahead, doctor-endorsed mouthwash brand Listerine was made to look extremely small and unfavourable by an upstart brand called Scope – which simply asked consumers if they wanted to continue having “medicine breath”!
Listerine was repositioned in consumer minds as the “medicine-smelling mouthwash” while Scope by its very gentle green color gave off cues of minty-fresh lovely-smelling breath!
Thereafter we all know what happened. Listerine called its old mouthwash its “original” variant and tried other variants of blue and green color to look more “pleasant”, but I guess the Scope hammer had hit the Listerine nail on its head and caused a rash of reactive U-turns from the great unassailable Listerine.
This is what you do to really steal the competition’s thunder and make the competition irrelevant. You subtly position yourself not by your own merits alone, but by repositioning the competitor’s merits as far less favourable! You make the competition sound like “old hat that consumers need no longer suffer”!
You thus don’t have to say much for yourself (and so you can spend less marketing dollars too!) if you can smartly lower the competitor by several rungs on the consumer perception scale.
I am sure there must have been many consultants who warned Scope not to downplay their own medicinal value since a mouthwash has to “fight oral bacteria”.
But I am sure again, that Scope’s brilliant marketing team must have sized up the odds and decided that people know that any mouthwash will help kill germs so it’s not necessary to state the obvious – and they could instead play up the taste and flavor and freshness of breath (all of which matter more to people who are social animals and therefore place great value of personal aesthetics!)
This then is the ultimate secret of “stealing the market from competition”. It’s what I told you in the beginning about leaving the competitor alone but carving out the ground from beneath his feet!
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