Competitive Analysis 101: Is Your Content Really Better Than Theirs?
The first time you do a competitive editorial analysis report, you may find out that the editorial superiority you thought was yours has vanished. The last time you looked— maybe years ago—you owned a clear edge over your competitors. But much to your astonishment, your presumed leadership has slipped away. As business conditions have tightened, many publishers have begun to track their competitive performance on a category-by-category basis. In the process, some have learned that owning traditional page count leadership may not be enough.
For instance, more upcoming competitive battles may focus on who has the most exclusive content. Historically it may have been somewhat difficult to claim bragging rights. But as the first entry in this series pointed out, now there is a simple way to tabulate whether or not you publish the most content reflecting solid enterprise reporting.
Future installments in this series will address promising editorial competitive analysis options. For now, let’s return to our main focus this time—avoiding the presumption of your editorial superiority.
To illustrate, I’ve chosen a case involving a combination of regular and at-show issues. Analyses of at-show issues often go astray by assuming that content should be dominated by traditional reviews with long exhibitor lists, exhibit floor plans, and workshop descriptions. While such material may be informative, readers can easily find it in official show directories. Given that reality, shouldn’t industry publications go beyond that limit by offering highly readable articles covering important non-convention themes?
The case covered here has special significance for me because it was the first competitive editorial analysis project I undertook, at the request of one of our sales executives. Our aim was to compare our editorial strengths and weaknesses with those of two tough competitors. We expected our findings to funnel into promotional material that would stress our lead in covering key product categories. That was not quite how it turned out.
My conclusions were drawn through analyzing six issues—including two show issues—of each magazine. Afterwards, I quantified findings in terms of nine editorial categories, some of which clearly were overvalued by us: total editorial pages, the number of case histories, the number of pages of case histories, the number of product item pages, the number of pages of directories and miscellaneous lists, the number of pages in key convention issues, the number of news pages, and the number of pages covering business management.
Tabulations made it clear that our magazine needed to rethink its editorial focus. Until this study, we had maintained that our title (“A” in the following table) offered more business management pages than our competitors B and C. As the table shows, this claim was not supported by my six-issue review.
|Total editorial pages||489||737||610|
|Number of case histories||16||79||75|
|Pages to case histories||49||375||188|
|Number of product item pages||73||85||44|
|Pages to directories/lists||116||16||60|
|Pages to key convention preview||62||32||14|
|Pages to other key show preview||20||18||16|
|Total news pages||31||22||29|
|Pages to business management||24||10||39|
Additional analysis showed that we were too light on case histories because we saturated show issues with standard convention details. The opposition had reversed our approach. Their show issue content placed less emphasis on information that appeared in the formal convention program. Instead, their editors devoted more space to high-interest case histories.
When I started my consulting practice, I found that such surprise findings were frequent in competitive studies I conducted. For one project, the client identified eight topics of key interest to readers. Three consecutive issues of the monthly industrial magazine studied were matched against the title’s toughest competitor. Each publication managed to edge out the other in four categories. Overall, total coverage was almost even. My client had expected a more favorable outcome than a dead heat.
If you have yet to develop a similar quantitative review, plan on doing one at least every three months. It may not be pleasant to discover you’re behind in one or more categories, but the data will help you regain the editorial superiority you once confidently assumed was yours.