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Tools That Tip the Scales

All’s fair in love and war, and business is a battlefield. Merchants must use every instrument in their arsenal to outrival their opposition. That means taking advantage of competitive research and analysis and the tools designed to aid in conducting it.

Competition in the marketplace is healthy. It keeps merchants hungry and ensures that they are constantly looking for new ways to win and to bring customers into their salons. Competition should also keep merchants curious, especially about the other players on the field.

It helps to make sure your merchants are equipped with the right tools that give them the best possible chance of success. It is important to understand that not all tools perform all functions. It is very difficult to find one comprehensive tool that does it all and that does it all well.

For this reason, it is likely that your merchants will need to employ several of the tools listed below to aid them in their competitive analysis.

Tool #1: SWOT (and PEST and Porter’s)

Before your merchants can know their enemy, they must first know themselves. A SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis accomplishes both goals at once. The SWOT was developed in the 1960s and is a tried-and-true competitive analysis tool “designed to facilitate a realistic, fact-based, data-driven look at the strengths and weaknesses of an organization, its initiatives or an industry.” There are several online resources available to assist merchants in completing a thorough SWOT analysis that will be beneficial for their future goals and success; however, merchants can also put pen to paper the old-fashioned way and complete a SWOT without any fancy software.

A PEST (political, economic, social, technological) analysis, while similar to a SWOT, is focused solely on external factors, most commonly measuring a market, whereas a SWOT analysis focuses equally on internal and external factors and measures a business entity, proposition or idea. For this reason, it is helpful to complete a PEST analysis prior to beginning a SWOT. Variations of the PEST model can also be expanded to include factors such as environmental, legal, industry analysis (PESTELI model), and/or ethical and demographic factors (STEEPLED interpretation). Many of these factors may be irrelevant in the salon and spa industry, so merchants should pick and choose which factors are applicable to them if they plan to complete a variation of a PEST analysis.

A third model merchants may choose to employ alongside a SWOT and PEST analysis is Michael Porter’s Five Forces of Competitive Position model. Porter’s model examines existing competitive rivalry between suppliers (in this case salons), threat of new market entrants (new salons opening their doors), bargaining power of buyers (consumer choices), power of suppliers (competitive advantage), and threat of substitute products (or services).

By utilizing one or a combination of these three models, merchants come away with an in-depth examination of their own salon as well as competing salons in the marketplace.

Tool #2: Moz

Moz is an all-around great search engine optimization (SEO) tool, not just for competitor analysis, but also for merchants to monitor their own activity and make sure they’re on the right track. Moz offers features like Keyword Research, which allows merchants to find and prioritize the best keywords to use in their digital marketing, on their website and blog. Merchants can also utilize the On-Page Highlighter to find and highlight keywords on any webpage, whether it be theirs or a competitor’s. Also available is the ability to assess ranking probability (how likely a webpage is to come up in the results of a search engine) of any webpage. Some features of Moz are free to use, while others require a premium upgrade, but even Moz’s free features are worth a look.

Tool #3: Good Ole’ Google

There’s something to be said for a good old-fashioned Google search (or other search engine of your choice). It’s a great starting point. Have your merchants start by searching for their salon name. In some cases, Google will bring up a list of associated search results that will include a mix of direct, indirect, and tertiary competitors. Using this list as a jumping point and continuing the process with these business names, merchants can develop a healthy competitor list from which to work. Merchants can also search for words and phrases that relate to their business to see what else comes up. Be wary, though, as Google may not be completely accurate. Google personalizes results based on the user’s profile, location, as well as other factors.

Google also has tools merchants can use specifically to monitor their own and their competitors’ online presence. Google Alerts, for example, is easy to use and allows merchants to simply enter the names of their competitors and select what they want to monitor (i.e. online mentions, links, keywords). Google Alerts will then send your merchants email reports with the requested information. And the tool is free to use!

Your merchants should already be using the Google Ads Keyword Planner to help tailor their own web content, but they can also gain insightful data about their competitors with this tool. By inputting their competitors’ URL into the landing page field, they can extrapolate the keywords competitors are using and the average traffic earned from those keywords, which merchants can then leverage themselves.

Tool #4: Ahrefs

Ahrefs is another powerful SEO analysis platform that has a feature specifically geared towards competitive analysis. Ahrefs also has features that include backlink audit, validating keywords and analyzing competitors’ keyword usage, keyword research and tracking, tracking organic visibility, and overall brand management assistance. Merchants can get an idea of how much traffic keywords generate for their competitors, as well as checking competitor websites for their highest-performing content. All of this boils down to your merchants being able to understand what services or messaging is working best for their competitors and what may also work well for their salon.

Tool #5: Social Media Insights

Social media can provide a wealth of knowledge for your merchants about how their competitors utilize social media, as well as how people talk about them. Merchants should pay attention to what platforms their competitors use, who they talk to, what kind of content they are posting and with what frequency and tone, and the type of response their competitors are getting on social media. Specifically, Twitter allows users to create private lists so your merchant’s competitors will not be made aware that they are being followed. Facebook Insights offers a host of tools for merchants, including a “Pages to Watch” feature. Third-party social media management software companies like Hootsuite allow users to go so far as to compare their social media strategy against others like it and includes metrics like shares, click-through rates, and total views.

Keeping an Eye on the Competition

While many of these tools have a cost associated with them, not employing competitor analysis tools could pose a far greater cost to your merchant’s salon than just these fees. They risk being passed over by customers in favor of their competitors.

When conducting competitor analysis research, it can be useful to utilize a combination of any of these tools, or any one of the dozens of others available to your merchants. It all depends on how thorough merchants want to be and how much they value the insight they can gain on their competition using these tools.

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