Content Strategy

What Competitive Intelligence Can Teach You About Your Own Content Strategy

By Jackie Lam on August 13, 2018

In the documentary The Barkley Marathon: The Race That Eats Its Young, Gary "Lazarus Lake" Cantrell, the creator of the zany, nearly-impossible-to-complete ultra marathon says that when you compete with someone, you oftentimes form a close bond with them.

While you may never be buddy-buddy with competitor brands, you can certainly learn something from their strengths and weaknesses to further your own brand understanding and place within the market. There is an advantage found in observing what competitors are and aren't doing to drive self-evaluation with your own work. This kind of comparison analysis should never boil down to simply bashing the competition or tearing down competitor efforts and the value they promote with outright rebuttals. When a brand proclaims the inferiority of the competition, they usually only succeed in making themselves look insecure in their own value.

Oftentimes positioning yourself to stand out from the competition requires a subtle approach with a touch of finesse. Here are some ways content marketers and strategists can observe competitors and position their own brand value accordingly.

Perform Competitive Content Market Analysis

Creating anything for the market, whether it's handbags to gadgets-or in this case braned content-can't occur in a bubble. You'll want to see what the competition is doing, and take note of what pieces and channels have worked well for them. From there you can learn how to create a conversation that involves your competitors without calling them out or palely imitating what another brand has done before.

Here are some key points to consider when you begin planning your competitive content market analysis:

  • Who else do your competitors compete with?
    Do they directly mention any competitors, and how they're "better than them?" Or do they take on a more subtle approach, such as pointing out their product or service's top features and the value they bring to their target audience?
  • How are they positioning their brand with content?
    How are they differentiating themselves in the space? For instance, what is their brand message, and how do they use brand storytelling to convey their message and core values?
  • What features are they highlighting?
    By figuring out what parts of their content are the most prominent throughout their messaging, you can determine what competitive brands want consumers to take away from their service and compare these with your own unique "selling points."
  • How are they driving traffic?
    Are they primarily using SEO strategy to get users to engage with their content? With some SEO analysis, you can figure out which keywords are driving the most traffic to their site, and gauge what terms they are trying to own and what themes regularly appear in much of their content. What keywords have the most value in the space they occupy? While this may not be as systematic to track, if they seem to be using paid social to drive their audience to content, which platforms do they seem to be investing the most in? What is the user engagement, either by way of shares or comments?

Find the White Space-and Delve Into It

white space in art

Image attribution: Vincent Tantardini

Now here's where it gets interesting. In art, the white space, or negative space, is the area of a creation that is intentionally left blank. Oftentimes it's a strategic technique to draw in the viewer to the object of intended focus. The same can be said of the white space in content marketing: What areas of the industry remain untapped? And therefore, where should your strategy team be aiming their focus?

By first identifying what topics that brands have widely overlooked, you can then swoop in and create a conversation in an unoccupied space. When this occurs, you can potentially dominate the conversation on a particular topic and establish a sense of brand authority, perhaps by creating a high-value big rock content. One way to begin filling in the blanks is by locating a pain point your customer is experiencing that seems to be left unaddressed by your competitors.

Look at Adjacent Competitor Brands

To get a clearer picture, spend time looking into the tactics of not only direct competitors, but brands that are adjacent as well. These include looking at brands that may not offer the same sort of product or service as the brands you're creating content for, but they're related under a broader connection to the field or a larger mission. Thus, stepping back to observe the way adjacent practitioners speak about certain topics or tools in the field can offer you new insights for how to approach your next content type. For instance, if you're working with a brand in the fintech space that makes a strong connection between financial and physical wellness, such as FitSense an online analysis platform for healthcare and insurance providers, you may want to look at the content of popular brands in the fitness space, too-such as Under Armor's digital fitness enthusiast forum.

Discover What Makes Your Brand Unique

By studying the strategies and tactics of your competitors, you'll soon discover what can help you stand out in an oftentimes saturated space. This requires knowing a bit about the history of the industry and contextualize and position your brand to highlight the features that make you different from what has long been regarded as the standard. For instance, seltzer brand LaCroix utilized consumer insights research to position their product as a healthier, natural alternative to soft drinks for younger consumers much more concerned with their sugar intake.

The new competition from LaCroix's success has even driven these competitors like Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to launch their own sparkling water lines in order to keep pace with the shift in industry trends.

la croix packaging

Image attribution: La Croix


Another brand that has addressed the competition in a nuanced way to help it stand out in the crowd is KeyBank. KeyBank deftly positions itself as a trusted advisor among banks. KeyBank's Financial Wellness Center content solidifies them as a bank that helps people navigate complicated financial decisions and situations. KeyBank is not academic in its tone. The Financial Wellnes Center does not tell people what to do. Instead, they use content as a means to help guide people through tough real-life choices while positionining themselves as guide who acknowledges and seeks to address major life decisions that real people face when buying a first home or getting married. Articles such as "How to Buy a Fixer Upper That's Not a Money Pit" and "What Is the Cost of Changing Your Name?" cleverly accomplish a few things. First, these resources shine a light on the financial impact that each life decision can have and positions KeyBank as a bank that offers a solution.

A resource for people who are making major financial decisions.

Image attribution: KeyBank

By creating content focused on a pain points that its competitors are ignoring, the brand is subtly saying, "Hey, we're one of the good guys. So bank with us."

By studying what your competitor brands are up to, you can create content that differentiates you from your competition without blatantly saying "we're better than them." Those sorts of tactics are puerile and ineffective. Instead, do the necessary probing to see what's working and what's not with your competitors, and define a space for your brand that subtly addresses the competition. In turn, you'll yield stronger and more innovative results.

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Featured image attribution: Fred Pixlab


Jackie Lam

Jackie Lam is a money writer and content marketer who's worked with both Fortune 500 financial companies and clients in the fintech space such as Chase, Discover, KeyBank, Fidelity, SoFi, Acorns, Simple Finance, and Swell Investing. Her work has appeared in outlets such as GOOD, Business Insider, and Forbes. She blogs at and tweets about her many projects at @heyfreelancerco. In her free time she likes to help cultivate community for freelancers, write fiction, and volunteer feeding the homeless.