Sustainable competitive advantages in digital marketing – Search Engine Land

competitors-eric-enge

It’s amazing how often I have conversations with people that focus solely on how they can invest $1 and get back $3 or more in a month or less. Sounds great, of course, but the problem is that every single one of your competitors is likely chasing that same $3, so finding these opportunities and successfully executing them is far more difficult than it seems.

Contrast that with the concept of investing in projects that don’t have a payoff for six months or more. There are far fewer companies willing to do that, but here’s the thing: That’s what makes these opportunities so awesome. Imagine the benefits if you focus your energy in a direction that most of your competition doesn’t have the will to pursue.

That puts you in a place where you are building competitive advantage for your business. If it’s hard for your competition to replicate, and you can continue to build on the lead that you’ve built, that’s what you call a “sustainable competitive advantage.”

Definition of Sustainable Competitive Advantage

In today’s post, I’m going to address the importance of sustainable competitive advantages, and where those opportunities lie in the worlds of SEO and digital marketing.

What is a sustainable competitive advantage?

The last two words are what most people understand fairly readily, and that’s the concept of having something that your competitors don’t. The first word is where the great majority of companies struggle, and failure to build a sustainable advantage is a major reason many companies fail.

What sustainability addresses is whether or not it’s easy for your competition to erase your competitive advantage. In other words, if you have a competitive advantage, but it takes less than 30 days for your competition to catch up, how much use is it?

Venture capitalists expect anyone pitching them in an effort to obtain an investment to demonstrate that their competitive advantage is sustainable. It just makes sense. Why invest money in a business that only has a 30-day, or even six-month advantage? VCs want a long-term sustainable advantage, and whether or not you have investors, so should you.

Types of sustainable competitive advantages in digital marketing

There are many ways to build a sustainable competitive advantage in digital marketing. Here are just a few ideas:

1. Become seen as a leading authority

Can you (or your business) become the one that media and influencers ask for quotes to include in their content? In many industries, this will result in awesome visibility on an ongoing basis, as related articles about your market space will result in many mentions and links.

I demonstrated this in our most recent study, Links Still Matter. Get enough links and you’ll have a killer link profile, and that’s what makes this advantage a big deal for your digital marketing strategy. Build enough of a gap in that link profile, and it can potentially take a competitor years to catch up.

Pulling Away From the Pack

2. Create vastly superior content

There are many ways to do this, such as assembling a massive number of user reviews (examples: Amazon and TripAdvisor). The number of available reviews, and the quality of those reviews, is a clear differentiator for both these companies, and it’s very hard for anyone else to replicate what they have.

Another idea is to invest a lot in unbelievably good content. For example, consider the example of retail sites.

For a long time, SEOs have noted the challenge with having exactly the same product descriptions as many other companies selling the same product. This led many companies to invest in rewriting those product descriptions, but at the end of it all, their rewritten content presented no new information. That’s NOT vastly superior content; it’s just a new form of article spinning.

Consider instead getting expert opinions on how to use the product or service on the page. Or getting users to contribute content on how they are using the product. Neither of these are easy to do, but if you invest in it and your competition doesn’t, you can gain a critical edge over the competition.

Another way to accomplish this is to invest in a sustained way in a high-end content marketing strategy. With our investments in data-driven studies, this is obviously a big focus for Stone Temple.

3. Rule a social media platform

It would, of course, probably be very difficult for you to decide to establish a dominant presence on Facebook. Chances are, a lot of your competition is already there, and you may already be active there as well — so it’s a little late to decide to do it on Facebook.

But consider embracing a new and upcoming platform that others aren’t active on yet. When social media platforms are new, and their level of adoption is uncertain, it’s amazingly easy to build a killer presence there. The early adopters of a new social media player readily flock to brands that embrace the new platform and its unique characteristics. But as the social media site/app gets more established, this is no longer quite as easy to replicate.

If you can jump in early, you can do quite well for yourself. A great example of this is what Best Made has done with Instagram.

Best Made on Instagram

4. Build a vastly superior user experience

This is another area that companies typically under-invest in, and that’s what makes it an opportunity. There are many ways to pursue this, including:

  1. Conduct usability testing and implement refinements on an ongoing basis. Users will remember if your site is far easier to use, and it can keep them coming back.
  2. Build a site that’s unbelievably fast. This is a specific way to build a superior experience. One way to do this is to consider implementing Accelerated Mobile Pages.
  3. Make a fantastic mobile experience. Site speed is one way to do this, but the other is to adopt a mobile-first mentality. Redesign your site and mock up your mobile experience first; work on your desktop version only after your design for the mobile site is complete.

5. Build a passionately loyal audience

This includes many elements that people sometimes refer to as “brand” or “reputation.” The core underlying concept actually relates to the sense of connection that your target audience has for your business, or the loyalty or attachment they feel toward it.

Imagine a world where your industry reputation is so strong that people actively seek you out to do business with you. In fact, that’s what we strive for at Stone Temple. We don’t have a sales force. If you want to become a client, you have to contact us and ask.

All these things sound hard!

You bet! None of these are overnight activities. They require serious investment, as well as time, to show the benefits. That’s what I like about them.

One other way to achieve sustainable competitive advantage that I left off is to come up with a brilliant new idea that significantly changes the way people do things. Facebook is a perfect example of that — but obviously, coming up with ideas like that is difficult and dependent on having amazing inspiration.

Failing that level of inspiration, if you want to build a sustainable competitive advantage, what you need to do is simple to explain, but not easy to do: Do the hard thing, and do it better than anyone else.

Do the Hard Thing

It may not provide the instant gratification of investing $1 to get $3, but it turns out that the $1/$3 goal is usually elusive and rarely happens — unless you have already built a sustainable competitive advantage.

And here’s the thing: After you’ve built that sustainable competitive advantage, those $1/$3 setups tend to work more often for you, because that sustainable advantage brings you another critical business characteristic: leverage.


Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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