A little competition never hurt anyone

By
Shoshana Eilon
,
Head of Business Development at ThoughtLeaders
August 6, 2020


I’ve spent a lot of time this week thinking about competitors, or as we call them over on the business development side of things, “potential partners”. With monopolies and antitrust laws dominating the headlines, there has never been a better time to appreciate the ways in which competition can be good for the market. Business owners benefit from having to innovate and optimize their business to stay ahead of their rivals, employees benefit from competitive salaries and opportunities, and consumers benefit from a wealth of different market options, each of which are vying for their business. 

Whether it’s CocaCola vs. Pepsi, McDonald's vs. Burger King, or Batman vs. the Joker, no one is too big to have rivals. In fact, ignoring your competitors can be professional suicide, particularly when it comes to marketing. While we’d all love to be a fly on the wall inside our competitor’s marketing meeting, understanding what another company is likely to do next often depends on understanding what they’ve done before. 


Since we are tracking over 45,000 different brands, it’s pretty likely that we’ve got a ton of data on what your competitors have been doing in terms of sponsored content. In terms of checking out the competition, it’s like a more professional version of stalking your boyfriend’s college ex. 


Here are some fail-safe strategies for taking advantage of this data and learning from your competitor’s sponsorship history:


See where your competitors have succeeded

Let’s dive into the cut-throat world of high-end socks for an example of what it looks like when your competitor finds out what works for them and decides to stick with it. Bombas started experimenting with podcasts in 2015, with a couple of cautious episodes on Art of Wrestling and If I Were You. In 2016, when they started to get more serious about this strategy, they soon found out that podcast listeners are also crazy sock fans. The band has since appeared on 184 podcasts. Their focus on podcasts heavily outweighs their sponsorships in other formats: 

The most successful podcast for Bombas is The Allusionist, with 32 episodes over a 2 year period: 



That kind of committed relationship suggests a lot of socks have changed hands (or feet) to make this ongoing partnership profitable for the brand. The company watching all of this closely is Happy Socks, who haven’t yet implemented a consistent branded content strategy, despite having upped their marketing efforts in recent years: their 2019 Christmas ad featured Macaulay Culkin holding an iguana. Cute, but they could have just looked to their competitors to work out that there is a clear, proven overlap between podcast lovers (particularly those interested in the intricacies of language) and customers who would be interested in their product. I’m not saying that Macaulay Culkin fans aren’t sock lovers, I’m just saying that this particular approach is not a strategy that their competitors have already paid to explore. 


This is where competitor tracking becomes really valuable: let your competitors spend the money so you don’t have to. You can sit back and wait until their marketing strategy begins to show some signs of success and then simply jump on that bandwagon without having paid a penny in testing channels that won’t work for your brand. This brings us onto our next part of the competitor tracking: learning from your competitor’s mistakes.


See where your competitors have failed

It’s not just schadenfreude to feel smug when your rivals have messed up - it’s also a perfect way to safeguard your business from making the same tactical errors. Sure, we all have our “off” days, but it’s better if those don’t end up costing your company thousands or even millions of dollars, and paying attention to what hasn’t worked well for other brands is a good way to avoid that.


SeatGeek is doing some pretty cool things when it comes to sponsored content - their Senior Director of Influencer Marketing Ian Borthwick recently wrote an op-ed column for Marketing Brew about how brands have to give up control when it comes to influencer partnerships. However, part of that letting go of control is understanding that not every video will be a success. 


One of SeatGeek’s clear “misses” was a video they ran on the DALLMYD YouTube channel, I Found a GoPro Underwater in the River While Scuba Diving!


DALLMYD is run by Jake, a “treasure hunter, scuba diver and YouTuber”, which is one of the coolest sounding job descriptions I’ve ever come across. However, this video clearly did not perform well for the sponsor: attracting 750K views which is below the channel’s average. Our estimated price for that video is $55k, an investment that SeatGeek did not repeat, as they haven’t gone back to partnering with that channel (and have stayed away from all other scuba diving related content!) 


While SeatGeek continues to experiment with new channels, their competitors (StubHub and Vivid Seats) can learn from this and other instances where their rival’s creative sponsorship strategy doesn’t always pay off. These brands have chosen to pursue a more conservative marketing strategy, which means they won’t benefit from the kind of wins that SeatGeek sees from it’s partnership with David Doberick (30 videos), but they also won’t lose money on these less successful collaborations. 


See where your competitors haven’t missed

“The biggest failure in life is not to try at all” said an inspirational post on Instagram (imagine those words appearing over a golden sunset and you get the idea.) The world of couponing apps is a crowded space with Ibotta, Checkout51 and Swagbucks: you would think that it was impossible to find a marketing niche with this much competition going on. However, once you look at their sponsorship strategies, we quickly see that none of these companies have seriously tested the world of podcasts: Ibotta has sponsored only 3 podcasts and appeared on each of these only once, Swagbucks has done the same with only 2 podcasts and Checkout51 hasn’t tested any podcasts at all! Sponsoring a single podcast episode is insufficient to properly test a new channel, let alone a new format. Furthermore, all three of these brands have been repeatedly mentioned on a number of podcasts like The Frugal Family Home Podcast and Frugal Friends Podcast, which is a sure sign that these podcasts are speaking to audiences that would like to learn more about these services!


The fact that podcasts remain an unexplored territory should be encouraging for new brands entering the fray with their own couponing app. The brands mentioned here might be cautious that podcast advertising may not bring them the direct response activity they are looking for from clients (unlike YouTube sponsorships that can convert directly into app downloads from a single click). However, they should be encouraged by the many apps that do see success from podcast sponsorships. A good example of this is the Best Fiends mobile game, which has recently shifted its strategy away from YouTube and into podcasts: 

Since those couponing brands have ignored podcasts, they are offering up this format as virgin territory for any new competitors breaking onto the scene. 


If you’re not sure how to get started with tracking your competitors, simply head over to our brand leaderboards and type in any brand you’re feeling curious about, because it never hurts to scope out the competition.