So your competitor updated their website…
From the outside, this may seem like “just some marketing fluff.” Everyone updates their website at some point! Who cares? But product marketers know to look a little deeper.
This blog will outline the process and questions you need to ask in order to find the why behind your rivals’ web upgrades. Digging into this exercise will not only provide you valuable insight, as a product marketer, but will bubble up learnings that should be shared with a larger team -- product management, demand generation, etc.
Step 1: Inventory the Breadth & Depth of Changes
Begin with identifying what changed. Copy? Design? Products? Audience segments? All of the above? Take note of the breadth of changes so you can determine where to dig deeper.
Understanding the extent of what was updated is one part, but understanding how much it changed is another -- the depth of the changes. A couple of minor edits may be nothing to sweat over. But a complete website overhaul can signal a large business or branding pivot.
Don’t have a photographic memory? Me neither. A great tool to help you remember exactly what the old site looked like is Inspire, by Crayon. This awesome engine scrapes web pages across the entire internet and archives those screen captures for easy access, and allows you to go back a few weeks ago or a few years ago.
After you have noted exactly what changed, you can start researching and (hopefully) find the answers to your questions.
Step 2: Research if There Was a Leadership Change
To quote Spiderman’s wise Uncle Ben, “with great power comes great responsibility.” That “business responsibility” is often manifested in part, by the corporate website of a company. Often, a change in command on the marketing or executive team means some updates are afoot. A new head of product marketing almost guarantees a refresh to messaging and positioning. Likewise, a new head of sales or product often put their stamp or spin on the business’s core offering, translating to site updates.
To uncover any potential management changes, begin first with a visit to the company’s leadership page. If you’re lucky enough to have DiscoverOrg or ZoomInfo, you’ll likely spot some interesting organizational structure nuggets. If you don’t have this paid solution, here’s a free one, you’ve probably never heard of...LinkedIn. LinkedIn is great because it has start and end dates. If you’re not sure if there was a staffing change, snooping the CMO’s profile reveals they’ve been at Company X for three months is a pretty good indicator of changes to come.
After your investigation, if you found there is a new player at bat, ask next: where did they come from? B2B or B2C? Do they have mostly SMB or Fortune 500 experience? Do they come from your industry or are they an outsider? All of this research may help you predict positioning changes your rival might take based on their new leaders’ background.
Step 3: Identify Product or Feature Changes
As a product marketer, you should be fluent in your competitors’ solutions and features. It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise when I tell you to probe your rival’s products. Below is a more specific list of elements to explore.
- Product name changes
- Supporting image or screenshot updates
- Specific features or benefits listed
- Pricing (if available)
- Videos and demos
- Free trial or freemium offering (SaaS only)
Now to begin the hunt: home page is page numero uno. What are they featuring? Do they display all their products equally? Or is more real estate/prominence given to a select solution? Is it their legacy breadwinner solution that continually pays the bills or their shiny new toy just released?
Hold your horses, it’s not time to dive into the product pages yet. First, navigate on over to the press section. Have they publicly announced any new products or features? This is often an indicator of how big of a splash they are trying to make and how much they believe this product or feature will be of importance. Did the announcement get any coverage by media outlets in your industry?
Only now is it time to dive into the product page. This is where you can explore this checklist in more detail.
For a name change, take a look at what part changed. Did they add more actionability to the name to create a sense of urgency not previously there? Was an adjective descriptor added signifying there was confusion previously that needed clarification? Is it more marketing “buzzy” or less?
Scanning the images, note how the product is displayed differently. Do the images show more details or less now? Did they incorporate more customer case studies/examples? If “screenshots” of the actual product are available, share with your product team.
Detail modifications can signal product changes as well. Was the website previously “features” driven as opposed to “benefits” focused? Are they listing specific use cases now that weren’t previously shown? This subtly communicates the product marketing team felt there was ambiguity that needed clearing up.
Step 4: Note All Messaging and Positioning Changes
Behind obvious product updates (names, features, etc) are often more subtle product marketing messaging updates. Use the following checklist as a starting point for digging into where these sneaky edits may have manifested.
- Has the primary audience changed? Is there a new secondary audience?
- Are they speaking to multiple industries/verticals or new ones?
- Does their messaging target buyers and decision makers or end-users?
- Who is their ICP if you had to guess? Has it changed?
- Has the tone changed? More formal or casual? More confident/bold?
- Are they speaking in “benefits” or “use cases” or “features”?
- What are their Call-to-Actions (CTAs)? (Ex: Free Trial, Demo, Learn More Form, etc)
A great example of these changes was MailChimp’s brand shift. See their January 2017 website (via Inspire) where their sole focus is email optimization. Email automation software is their bread and butter.
Fast forward to today, MailChimp is repositioning their messaging to communicate that they do more than just send emails. They now have solutions for social media, branding, audiences/CRMs, and much more. AKA, “smarter marketing” as a whole.
Keep Your Sights on Competitors’ Sites
This may seem like a blog full of questions, but that is exactly the point! As a product marketer, you are your company’s industry and competitor best subject matter expert. Corporate websites are one of the most important external-facing assets a company has. First impressions matter and website changes require heavy investments in time and money. So try to take some time to figure out exactly what changes your competitors made so you can hopefully uncover the why of those changes.
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