Build Blog Products That Sell 2: Analyze the Market and Competitors

This guest series is by Greg McFarlane of Control Your Cash.

Copy from one, it’s plagiarism; copy from many, it’s research.
—Attributed to Wilson Mizner (1876-1933), among others

…Or you can take it a step further. If you research many, and then forge something original, your readers will take notice. And then, if you market yourself in the right fashion, they’ll buy what you’re selling. In the meantime, though, look out later today for a post that explains how you can use video testimonials to set yourself apart from the competition in your niche.

Last week we began our examination of not just how to sell products via your blog, but how to do so when customers are watching their dollars, pounds, euros, rands, pesos and zlotych like never before. As the very concept of “disposable” income becomes less realistic, it’s imperative that you provide real value for your customers instead of just a product that you slapped together out of boredom.

Last week’s post was designed to help you identify what you offer that’s unique. It also helped you to consider that unique offering in reference to your audience’s present, most pressing needs.

Competitor and market research—seeing what else the marketplace is already offering—is a good next step to take. It shows you exactly what not to sell, and forces you to work a little harder to create something truly distinctive.

Assessing the competition

Candidly assessing your competitors isn’t plagiarism, but it’s unquestionably research. This isn’t a call to rip anybody off—quite the opposite, in fact.

Say you’ve got a blog that focuses on international train travel for the budget-conscious. Assume you’ve developed a dedicated and regular readership that considers you an authority on the subject. Would there be any market for a handy ebook that tells readers where to buy inexpensive tickets throughout the world?

Of course there would be. For the intrepid and peripatetic traveler, it’d be awfully convenient to know how to save money everywhere from the Camrail station in Yaoundé, Cameroon to the Trans-Siberian depot in Erenhot, China. The information clearly exists, albeit in diverse and unconnected places. For the hypothetical blogger in question, it’d just be a matter of taking the time and effort to compile and present it.

The idea is to create something that’s not only valuable, but unique and, ideally, impossible for anyone else to reproduce.

Again, drawing from personal experience but keeping it generic enough that you can apply it to your own situation, the primary products I sell on are ebooks on selected personal finance topics. The ebooks are short (6000 words or so), easily digestible monographs illustrated with the occasional graphic and written in a style that hopefully serves to distinguish my blog from its myriad competitors. The ebooks are completely of my own derivation, and merge seamlessly with the content on my blog itself. They “extend the brand.”

Which, of course, assumes that the brand is worth extending in the first place.

Unique products are easier to sell

Creating products worth selling is only half the battle. You still need to make the sale. The list of worthwhile consumer items that never get sufficient exposure in a saturated marketplace is a long and depressing one. Marketing is an inexact science, but there are simple rules that you can follow to publicize what you’re selling. Those rules can be more self-evident that you might think.

I once worked for an advertising and marketing firm whose clients included a hot sauce manufacturer. The firm created multiple innovative, entertaining campaigns that attempted to position the company’s sauce as a bold alternative to Tabasco, Nando’s peri-peri and other competitors.

But the needle never budged. Countless man-hours and dollars went down a hole, sales remained static, and the hot sauce company’s representatives were ready to take their business elsewhere. They demanded an emergency meeting, and the advertising firm’s employees assembled for the inevitable dressing-down. Charts were presented, projections recalibrated, and (gasp) lawyers consulted. It looked as though we were certain to lose a lucrative client, one that was justifiably looking at other options.

Finally, the chief executive officer of the advertising firm—who probably wondered why he was bothering to pay the rest of us—stood up and asked, “Have you ever thought about widening the opening of the bottle by an eighth of an inch?”

Of course it worked, and the moral to the story is that it’s easy to unnecessarily handicap yourself right out of the gate. Many bloggers offer worthwhile products and services, yet treat them as afterthoughts, which is astonishing.

If you’re attempting to sell a product, Job #1 is: make it as easy as possible for customers to buy and consume said product.

Stand out, not beside

Remember that the market for bloggers selling products is amazingly segmented and diffuse. There are hundreds of thousands of diligent bloggers. Your blog’s area of interest is almost certainly well represented, if not overrepresented. Thus it’s important to market yourself aggressively and boldly. That being said, it makes less sense to contrast yourself with, or even acknowledge, your competitors.

Aggressive, confrontational marketing that draws a clear distinction between your product and someone else’s works fine if you happen to be major beer brewer or mobile phone service provider chasing market share. Everyone already knows the competitor exists, and pointing out the little differences counts when comparing essentially homogenous products.

Different rules apply when selling niche products of your own creation, especially in a climate in which consumers as a whole are cautious about spending money. Don’t avail your customers of alternatives. It’s best to pretend they don’t exist. Customers are a lot more likely to spend when there’s only one supplier. The power of monopoly is a formidable one, and no one else sells (or can sell) the properly conceived and executed products that make you and your blog distinctive.

Key points

  • Assess your competition closely.
  • Hone your product idea accordingly.
  • Ensure your product’s key benefits directly reflect your brand.
  • Make your product as unique and difficult to replicate as possible.
  • Don’t compare your product directly with those of competitors: design and present it as the best solution available for your target audience segment.

Selling a product takes time, but not as much as creating it in the first place does. Next week, we’ll learn how to develop your product and devote the appropriate time and resources to it.

Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas. He wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. You can buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at [email protected].

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