There are possibly hundreds of digital marketing strategies for businesses to use, and most of them have significant potential to be profitable. Search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, social media marketing, email marketing, and other forms of online engagement are you able to boost the visibility of your brand, help you reach new people, and ultimately win more sales.

That said, entrepreneurs and marketers delving into the world of digital marketing often find that seeing these results isn’t as straightforward or easy as they first imagined. One of the biggest problems they face is competition – but why is competition such a massive roadblock in your digital marketing strategy, and what can you do about it?

The Competition Problem

Let’s start with an explanation of the competition problem in digital marketing. In business, competition is a well-known and well-studied threat; if a competing business offers a similar product for a lower price and does a better job of reaching your target audience, they could easily wick away much of your customer base.

But for our purposes, we’re going to be focusing exclusively on how competition interferes with your digital marketing strategy. Ultimately, there are three main issues:

  •       Higher costs. Dealing with competitors usually means higher costs, both in terms of time and money. If you’re competitively bidding on advertising, and many of your competitors are aggressively bidding on the same keywords as you, the cost of an ad for those keywords is going to increase. If you’re trying to outrank a competitor on a major search engine, and they already have a decade of experience at the top, it’s going to take an enormous amount of time and resources to challenge them. Existing competition can also threaten the return on investment (ROI) you see from your existing marketing strategies, since your impact may be reduced by the visibility of competing offers.
  •       Lower visibility. Competition also lowers your visibility in at least some contexts. If you end a competitor have ads side by side, users may only take the time to fully read one of them, or they may feel overwhelmed or bombarded by advertisements, choosing to skip over them altogether.
  •       User confusion. If a user sees a video demonstration of your product in action, then immediately sees a video demonstration of a competitor’s similar product in action, they may walk away feeling confused. They may remember one or neither brand or mistakenly associate one brand name with the other product. This isn’t good for either one of you.

Obviously, you can’t push a magic button and instantly remove your competitors from the market. Instead, you’ll need to find creative strategies to deal with the competition problem in the digital marketing space.

These are some of our best recommendations.

Get to Know Your Competitors

The first step to take is always to get to know your competitors better. The better you understand your competition, the better you’ll be able to handle them.

Understanding their strengths and weaknesses will give you a clear path to optimizing your offers and your presentation. Noting their most powerful marketing strategies can help you decide whether you want to avoid those specific areas or lean into them and double down.

Take note that competitive research isn’t a one-time ordeal; many entrepreneurs rate the competitive research section of their business plan, then never return to it, but this is a mistake. Your competitors are always growing and evolving, just like you are, so you need to keep researching and updating your understanding accordingly.

Differentiate Yourself

Possibly the best way to deal with competition in digital marketing is to differentiate yourself. Making yourself extremely different or pursuing different strategies will immediately distinguish you from your closest counterparts. In some cases, this allows you to find inexpensive alternative paths to reaching customers.

In others, it’s more about making sure there is no confusion for your target audience. In any case, differentiating yourself could help you seize control.

Think like an entrepreneur and get creative here. There are many different ways you can differentiate yourself, though these are some of the most common:

  •       Geographic location. For starters, you could target a different geographic location than your competitors. If one of your competitors has a national presence, you could focus exclusively on one metropolitan area.
  •       Target demographics. You can also target different demographics. If you already have a firm target audience and your marketing campaigns have always been built around them, this may be a difficult transition to make. But sometimes, targeting a different age group or a different socioeconomic class is all it takes to immediately distinguish yourself.
  •       Buyer intent. Your marketing strategy probably includes specific targeting tactics for different stages of buyer intent. You can competitively differentiate yourself by focusing more heavily on one of these stages.
  •       Brand, image, and voice. Another option is to revitalize your brand, changing your image and your voice to stand apart from your competition more strongly. For example, if all your competitors seem to have a stuffy, overly professional voice, you could offer something more casual and laid back. This is especially powerful if you also update your demographic targeting in the process.
  •       Quality and support. Consider setting yourself apart from the competition by offering better product and service quality, better support, or both. Make these distinctions the centerpieces of your digital marketing strategy moving forward – as long as you can back up your claims.

Outspend Where Appropriate

Thanks to automation and other scalable, high-tech tools, digital marketing is relatively cheap. A small business or an individual can get started with a basic digital marketing strategy for just a few hundred dollars. But if you want to compete on a national scale with some of your biggest competitors, you’re going to have to spend far more.

Many entrepreneurs and marketers are too intimidated to attempt such a bold gambit, but there are cases when outspending your competition is the wisest strategy. If a competitor spent $50,000 to reach rank one for a specific keyword, there’s probably a good reason they did – and spending $60,000 to outrank them could be the best use of your resources.

Use the Competition to Your Advantage

It’s natural to think of your competitors as enemies or threats, but they could also present new opportunities to you. Consider tapping into the power of your competition, rather than simply avoiding or dominating them.

For example:

  •       Content collaborations. partner up with one of your competitors and collaborate on a piece of shared content. It could help you both improve your visibility.
  •       Partnerships. Form a partnership with one of your competitors to expand your reach and provide mutual benefits.
  •       Branded keyword optimization. It’s possible to optimize for your competitors’ branded keywords, or even pay for ads that display when users search for your competitors’ branded keywords. This is a bit of a dirty strategy, but it could be a valuable trump card if you’re having trouble beating your competition in other ways.

Focus on Retention

You can get more value out of your current digital marketing strategies by focusing on retention. Remember, customer retention is less expensive and more effective than customer acquisition. If you’re already spending a hefty sum on your digital marketing strategies, you should maximize the value of each new customer you attract to your brand.

Offering more support, customer loyalty incentives and stronger client relationships are great places to start. Also, consider setting up a referral program, so you can naturally attract more loyal customers to your brand.

There are many ways that you can adequately address the competition problem in your digital marketing work. Some are naturally going to be more favorable for your brand than others. It’s up to you to study your competition carefully, set the right budget, and analyze your effectiveness to choose the best path forward.

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Timothy Carter

Chief Revenue Officer

Timothy Carter is the Chief Revenue Officer of the Seattle digital marketing agency, & He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When he's not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach -- preferably in Hawaii with a cup of Kona coffee. Follow him on Twitter @TimothyCarter