Using Data To One-Up The Competition

arthurwuData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Arther Wu, senior director of monetization and business operations at Cheetah Mobile.

Napoleon Bonaparte once wrote: “War is 90% information.” When it comes to business competition, the figure might be closer to 100%.

That’s especially true in digital marketing, which thrives on data about individual customers. First-party data tells businesses who its customers are and what they buy and are interested in. Third-party data provides supplemental information from publishers and the like that helps marketers target their ad buys. Putting the two together can give companies an edge in the market.

Most marketers use data in this manner but data can also be used as a means to acquire customers from competitors. As the demand for competitive information grows, there are numerous SaaS solutions on the market to help brands identify their rivals’ customers and track what they’re doing and saying.

Social Media Listening

Since social media leaves a digital trail, several firms have built businesses around snooping on customers and their interactions. Mention, for instance, monitors social media conversations about brands, as does Synup. Brands can use these types of data to find dissatisfied customers for future PR opportunities.

Similarly, Fanpage Karma and Likealyzer can analyze a brand’s Facebook profile and compares it to those of its competitors. Twitonomy does the same for Twitter profiles. Simply Measured, meanwhile, gives aggregate metrics for competitors’ social media activities.


SEO searches also provide valuable data. If a company sells custom-made scalloped oak media credenzas, it should first do a search for “scalloped oak media credenzas” to see who pops up in organic and paid search ads. Beyond that, tools like SEMRush and SpyFu determine which keywords a rival is targeting via AdWords. Others, like SERanking, offer detailed reports on rivals that include website visibility and average positions.

Another tool, Monitor Backlinks, helps a brand locate its weak links and competitors’ strong links. ISpionage exposes which keywords rivals are using to get good organic search positions.

Content Marketing And Ads

Brands can get a sense of what their competitors are doing in content marketing by looking at their sites, but Ontolo goes deeper, providing data about what sort of content rivals are putting out, who’s writing it and which topics are clicking.

Moat also provides up-to-date info on what ads competitors are currently running.

Taking Action

Once a brand is armed with such information, the next step is to act on it. If a carmaker’s competitor just issued recalls, then it’s possible to run ads against related news stories. Likewise, a brand could target social media discussions related to a rival brand.

Another method is to get wind of discussions that are not necessarily about a rival brand but are about a topic that’s relevant to specific categories. For instance, if a brand sells wireless service, then discussions about net neutrality may be fertile ground for advertising.


One downside of this array of data and services is that there’s no omnibus solution that marketers can use to get an accurate read on the competition and new opportunities and threats. Instead, marketers have to choose among the dozens of tools out there and see what works best.

The other downside is that the competition can, of course, use the same tricks. Brands should assume that their rivals are actively using tools like these to gauge their performance and look for weak spots.

That’s why some caution is advised in using these tools. It’s easy to get sucked into a posture in which a brand is constantly monitoring its competitors’ performance and neglecting its own.

Data is the best competitive edge, but it’s only as valuable as how much it is used. If you don’t use it to stay ahead, then the chances are your competitors will use their data – and maybe even your own – against you.

Follow Cheetah Mobile (@CheetahMobile) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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