Understanding the competitive messaging landscape is critical for strategically positioning your company and/or products and solutions. From web properties to marketing campaigns to thought leadership and more, if you understand how other organizations message themselves, you can identify gaps and opportunities. But, conducting a comprehensive competitive analysis can be timely and expensive.

Next time you embark on a competitive messaging project, keep these five key tips in mind to help ensure you or your team is on the same page:

1. Stretch beyond direct competitors – Some audits only look at 1-2 competitors, while some look at 10. When possible, picking 4-6 direct competitors and then picking 1-2 overlapping brands is the sweet spot. For example, if your company makes accounting software, pick two other software vendors you admire that make time management software. This allows you to understand how other leading brands are dealing with messaging around issues like standards, social justice, academic collaboration, etc. Having these tangential messaging insights can really help validate a new approach or position when messaging.

2. Focus on eight core areas – If you don’t have a comprehensive understanding of the primary pillars that your messaging flows into, you can’t effectively analyze and change it. I recommend starting your research in these core areas: website, content assets (like ebooks, infographics and white papers), media/press coverage/thought-leadership articles, social media, keywords (organic and paid), partnerships, events and analysts. There could be more areas worth considering (depending on your market), but this is a good solid foundation.

3. Eliminate the “never-ending effect” – Research can be a never-ending process if it’s not well defined. When dealing with the core areas mentioned above, be sure to define the scope of the research. For example, are you looking at the primary corporate website or every micro-site created? Are you looking at public content assets or customer resource centers? Are you looking at all media or just top tier? These are the types of parameters you need to define to ensure timely (and less costly) competition of a project – and to ensure parity.

4. Identify keywords or phrases upfront – Much like the “never-ending effect,” it’s crucial to understand what keywords or phrases you think are important before the research begins. Identify 10-20 that matter most and benchmark against those. These could also be general categories such as “automation in the manufacturing process” or “corporate commitment to philanthropy.” Spending a little extra time up front goes a long way to ensuring quality research (and saves you from add-on costs at the end). You’ll also need the organic and paid keywords list for two reasons. First, to do the keyword evaluation section of the audit, but second, so you can ensure nothing may have been overlooked in your core keyword/phrase identification.

5. Tier the results – These projects can be extremely in-depth and complex. In fact, I recently completed a 232-page messaging research project for a Fortune 500 company. Tiering how that information is delivered is key to ensuring value for the entire organization. Be sure you’ve thought how this information is going to be consumed across the organizations (executives, engineers, marketing managers, etc.) For example, the first 5-10 pages or slides might need to provide a high-level summary of the key takeaways and opportunities – something management can consume quickly. It might then include more in-depth sections for each core area that breaks out each competitor and includes samples and links to core data sheets (for example in Google), which is more helpful to project management or marketers.

There are many other elements to consider when conducting a competitive messaging analysis, but these tips should get you pointed in the right direction – and save you and your team time and money. Keep an eye out for future posts on this topic or an ebook.