Seven Hills Communications
Small Business Marketing & Public Relations


Small Business Marketing & PR Advice

Improving Your Email Marketing Through Competitive Analysis

Email marketing remains one of the most effective ways that companies can get the word out about their products and convert prospects into sales, nurture current customers and create repeat business. But it can be time consuming to figure out the best way to market to your audience. For small businesses especially, A/B testing can be almost a useless endeavor because it requires a big list to be accurate.

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So how do you make improvements to your emails when your list isn’t huge or doesn’t have a long history? Beyond the obvious action of keeping an eye on the statistics that you’re seeing with each email and noting any jumps or dips, we love to do a competitive email analysis to get the lay of the land and spark new ideas for email.

A competitive analysis is just what it sounds like: you’re looking at the marketing materials (in this case emails) of companies playing in the same space as you and seeing what ideas you can glean from them. Because many companies have long-term email funnels, an analysis can take awhile. Here’s how to develop, organize and track competitor email programs to figure out how you can improve yours.

Step 1: Create an email dumping ground

To stay organized, create a dumping ground for all these emails. We like to set up a separate GMail address that is just for subscribing to competitor marketing materials. This keeps them from clogging up our inboxes while also allowing multiple people to access and search the emails when they want to check them out.

Step 2: Create your list of competitors

For some companies, this is obvious but for others - particularly those who don’t have direct competitors in their space - it can be a little trickier. Think about who is speaking to the same audience as you with similar messaging. Even if they’re not selling the exact same product, there may be some overlap and will certainly reveal useful information. Consider the following categories:

  • Large national competitors: You can assume these companies are well funded and have larger lists, so they may have done a lot of the research for you already. Paying attention to their CTAs, offers, frequency, etc. could give you lots of free insight.

  • Competitors in your market: For obvious reasons.

  • Competitors in other markets: If you’re a local or regional company, see what companies in other regions are doing. These companies may be at the same scale as you, but have other insights or ideas.

  • Fringe competitors: These may be companies fighting for a similar market share or audience but without a product that’s directly competing. (A great example of this might be a meal kit company vs. a grocery delivery company or a CSA. The products are different but they are solving a similar problem for the consumer.) See how they’re positioning their product.

Step 3: Start signing up for lists

Take your list and explore the websites for your competitors. Sign up for their email lists and/or for accounts on their sites to see what happens afterwards. Sit back and allow the emails to flow in.

Step 4: Create a tracking spreadsheet

What you’re tracking will depend on what you’re most interested in. Are you looking to see what offers companies are making? What their value proposition is? Email frequency? Style, graphics? Create a spreadsheet to track this information, so each time you’re going into your shared inbox you’re able to input the data and look back on it later.

One example we recently did for a client was tracking the intro offers of competitors. We created a spreadsheet with the competitor’s name, the offer description, whether it was an intro offer or a one time/flash sale type offer and how long after signup it was offered, as well as when it expired. This gave the client a better grasp on what their prospects and customers were seeing as they researched the product with competitors.

Step 5: Create action items to test

It’s important to note that just because something’s working for another company, it doesn’t mean it will work for you. Compile a list of ideas from your research and test them one by one - or just implement them if you fall in love with them. Just reading the emails may bring to mind creative brainstorms that you’d never considered. Keep the action items organized and continue to track the email marketing to mine fresh ideas.