I wanted to spend a few minutes today talking about competition, but I want to preface this entire thing with two very big cautions.

Done ineffectively, looking at the competition can slow you down.

Think of the runner who spins his head back and forth during a race as he tries to watch what the competition is doing. Those distractions would naturally pull focus off of maintaining his own race pace.

However, if that same runner had done homework before the race and learned that the competition tends to have a noticeable burst after the 2nd curve or likes to ride the left side of the lane, those insights could be extremely helpful. He can be better prepared for those things when they happen, while maintaining his focus on what’s important during the race.

Done ineffectively, it can also make you look like a copycat instead of an innovator. You obviously don’t want that.

So, the cardinal rule is “don’t duplicate, differentiate.” You aren’t looking at your competition to repeat what they are doing. You are looking at your competition to see where your organization can best fit into the market in a way that serves your audience differently and perhaps more effectively.

With those two cautions in mind, here are 4 things that are helpful to learn from your competition.

1. Hot Topics – What is sparking engagement on their social media?  What topics are getting likes, shares and other interactions?

Being able to recognize what conversations are important to your audience allows you to craft experiences that go deeper into those areas of interest. You can also better align your descriptions of your offerings to be solution-focused and to address the most pressing and timely issues that prospective members are facing.

2. Gaps – What is not being talked about that is important in your industry? Is there a specific type of member who isn’t being served?

While you are noting those hot topics that are the subject of conversation, it’s a good idea to also pay attention to what is not being addressed. Perhaps the competitor is sparking conversation about some pending legislation and the advocacy efforts required, but they aren’t addressing the reality of what to do if/when the legislation passes and becomes an industry requirement. That gap represents an opportunity for you to step in with helpful resources and guidance. 

3. Connection Opportunities – Where are they connecting with the audience via guest posts, event booths, strategic partnerships, etc.?  Again, you don’t need to be in the same places, having the same conversations, with the same strategic partners. Instead, use this information to fuel new ideas. If you lead an education association and your competitor is partnering with local libraries, perhaps you can partner with a national association focused on literacy. In this way, you are working on similar goals, but at different strategic levels.

4. Marketing Messages – How well do they seem to understand the problems in your industry and are they offering solutions for those problems?


The best analogy I’ve ever heard to explain being focused on member problems is imagining that you’ve run out of gas and you are stranded on the side of the road. You call roadside assistance for help and when the tow truck driver arrives, he starts telling you all about how awesome his tow truck is. In your head, you’re probably thinking, “It’s great that you have an awesome tow truck, but what I need right now is some gas.”

If your competition is talking about your tow truck and you’re providing the gas that people actually need, it’s easy to see which organization is going to seem more relevant and engaged with the audience.

I’d love to hear if you’ve learned anything from watching your competition. What lessons has that held for you?

If you’d like to catch the Crowdcast that I did recently on this topic, you can go here.

Have a great rest of your week! 

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Joy Duling is Founder and CEO of The Joy of Membership.  Since 2005, Joy and her team have helped associations, trade groups and membership-based nonprofits run their programs more easily and deliver exceptional member care.

You can find FREE tools, tips and training to help you run and grow your membership organization in The Joy of Membership Help Hub.