Sam Walton Was a Spy! 5 Ways to Perform Competitive Research


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Sam Walton was well-known for his covert shopping sprees to competitive businesses like K-Mart and Price Club. His missions revealed weaknesses in his competition’s armor, but also unveiled some strengths, which he was able to copy and make better!

spyMy questions to you is…

Are you ready to look and act like a spy?

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post titled How to Avoid Failure by Copying Success. In that post, I stated that very few entrepreneurs are able to formulate organic ideas that have never been done before. I received a few negative responses from some local businesses after that article went to print in the local paper. But despite ruffling some feathers, I still remain loyal to that statement.

The one thing you have to understand is that copying your competition is not a bad thing. I don’t mean to say that you are incapable of coming up with something original, but having an eye for mimic potential only highlights the fact that you are smart! More time has been wasted trying to reinvent the wheel, and that same wasted time often results in lost revenue.

The key to avoiding failure by copying success is to convert your borrowed idea into something way cooler! A remix on an outdated product, a system, a color scheme or even advertising flops. I’m a huge fan of finding ads on the internet that I enjoy and feel will appeal to my customer. And then I simply give them a Bent Business makeover. I adjust the written message, adjust some of the images and play with the layout. I don’t cut and paste the ad, but I harness the structure that lured me in, and again…make it better.

That’s the beauty of the internet. While you can’t “legally” copy someone’s content, you can, and with no fear of the law, use their genius to jump-start your own. Everyone reading this article is smart enough to understand the difference between plagiarism and inspiration.

But back to acting like a spy.

5 Ways to Perform Competitive Research

 1)      In-Store reconnaissance

This tactic is pretty easy to deploy, but you have to be strategic in your approach. Sam Walton would walk around K-Mart with a tape recorder dictating prices and store layout. Not the most subtle approach, but he was able to see what was working, selling and what items seemed to generate zero response from passing customers. I heard a story that he was busted once, and had his tape confiscated. When he messaged the store owner to request the tape portion back that contained information not associated with the competitive store, he received his tape a few days later, and it was jam-packed with all of the recorded content. The competition acknowledged his tenacity, and the owner, presumably a guerrilla business man just like Sam, understood the necessity for competitive research and never deleted Sam’s findings.

 2)      Website

Pretty much every business these days has a website. So if you are uncomfortable cruising around the aisles of your competitor’s store, at least take a look around their website. Be sure to click on every page! Read their “about us” section thoroughly, and take notes on the selling points that may be useful in your own promotions. Also, be sure to write down anything you find that you don’t like. After you’re done, immediately visit your site, and perform the same inspection. You might be surprised to see that the information found on your competitor’s site, especially the negative stuff, can often be found on yours. In a day where web design is available from providers like GoDaddy, it doesn’t require a trained eye to notice an abundance of site similarities. Heck! Their site might even be a mirror image of yours or vice verse.

But since you’ve been a student of the Bent Business Marketing revolution, you’ll know exactly what steps to take in order make yours look awesome.

3)      Facebook

Similar to the website mission, we are now going to take a gander at their Facebook page. The page administrator has the ability to limit the information a person sees when visiting their page, and you’ll really be restricted if you are not a fan, or have not “Liked” that page. So this tactic may yield little result, but you have to take a peek! You never know what you may find. I’ve heard horror stories of competitors bashing other businesses publicly on their page. Even nastier, competing businesses have been known to report rival pages as “inappropriate” content to Facebook, and had their page shut down pending investigation. Ouch! So if anything, just check out the page to ensure that everyone is playing nice.

4)      Call

Have a few minutes of down time? Give a ring over to business X, and listen to the greeting you receive on the other end.

Was it welcoming and warm? Or was it gruff and not very friendly?

These are the type of weaknesses you can harness, and use in your advertising.

Example: “Did you know that we’re always smiling? Even when we answer the phone.”Accompanied by a picture of an employee with a big cheesy grin on their face, and the phone pressed to their ear!

While you have them on the phone, you should also consider asking them some product specific questions. Put their knowledge to the test. If they have no clue, you can confidently smile, and know that you’re doing something right. But if they spout off a reply like they memorized the product specs in the catalog, you might want to consider performing a little remedial training with your staff.

And do it FAST!

5)      Cut their advertisements out of the paper


Yes, cut their ads out from whatever publication you find them, and place them in a folder marked “Competitive Research.” If you really want to be on the Bent Business Honor Roll, separate those ads into two stacks, the ones that you and your staff like, and the ones that you found to be ineffective. Now the next time you go to design an ad, take that folder out and make sure your not about to launch a similar campaign to one found in the “sucks” pile. Similar products tend to produce similar benefits. There’s a good chance that the benefit you are about to highlight has been used in the past. And if the ad that promotes said benefit is lying in the bad pile, you may want to do one of two things. Either recycle it, and make a new kick-ass ad, or flip the page over on your legal pad and start from scratch. I would try option one first, and seeing what you come up with.

Now that you have a better understanding of what it means to do some serious competitive research, I suggest you slap on your best tuxedo, and go order yourself a Vodka Martini! But remember…

It’s shaken not stirred.

P.S. I would love for you to spy on us by visiting our Facebook page and slapping the LIKE button! ~Andy

Andy Sokolovich







photo credit: uacescomm via photopin cc
photo credit: johanoomen via photopin cc

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