Editor's note: "The First 90 Days" is a series about how to make 2016 a year of breakout growth for your business. Let us know how you're making the first 90 days count by joining the conversation on social media with the hashtag #Inc90Days.
Over the past nine weeks, we've explored just how vital a role technology can play in helping your business experience strong growth. These technologies include remarketing, business productivity apps, and webinars.
For our final installment of this series, let's talk about your competitors--specifically, how to beat (up on) them using technology.
Obviously, there are countless ways to use technology in a way that will set up your business for ridiculous success. But have you ever thought about using technology to hurt your competition?
Don't get the wrong idea here. I'm not suggesting that you should use any illegal techniques or technologies, such as those used by hardcore hackers. You should never do this.
What I'm talking about is using completely legal and widely available technology that will exploit your competition's biggest weaknesses and give you an unfair advantage.
What are these incredible technologies? Read on to discover five sneaky ways to use paid advertising to beat your competition.
1. Download your competitors' Twitter followers.
A few companies allow you to download a list of every Twitter follower for any account. One such place is BirdSong Analytics, which is based in the U.K.
Let's use Inc. as our example. If I were an Inc. competitor, I could go to BirdSong and pay about $310 for a report that reveals everyone who follows Inc. and some key metrics about these followers.
Now, $310 is on the high end for a single report, because Inc.'s Twitter account has a massive following (1.63 million as of this writing). It's highly likely you'll spend more in the $35 neighborhood for smaller competitors.
Once you have your report, you can use those Twitter handles to create a list that you'll then upload to Twitter Ads. You can then create various types of ads to get your business in front of Twitter users who are following your competitors and are likely in the market to buy or switch to a similar product or service. Genius, right?
2. Target Facebook users whose interests include your competitors.
Facebook doesn't offer keyword targeting for your ads and you can't specifically target people who have liked your competitors' pages. However, Facebook offers something called interest-based targeting.
On Facebook, interests range from extremely broad (e.g., business or entrepreneurship) to very specific. In this case, your competitor's name is the specific interest you want to target, because Facebook allows you to choose to target people based on, among other things, pages they like.
Type in your competitor's website. Or, if that doesn't work, you can type in your competitor's brand name (for example, "Inc.") or a few keyword combinations (e.g., maybe you're better off targeting "Inc. Magazine") to figure out best option for reaching your target audience via Facebook ads.
3. Disrupt your competitors' videos with YouTube ads.
Does the name Milana Vayntrub mean anything to you? Or Lily Adams? Maybe you just know her as the saleswoman from all those AT&T commercials.
A couple of weeks ago, I was on YouTube searching for an AT&T ad. Before I could watch the ad I wanted to, I had to sit through another ad -- but the genius part was that this ad wasn't for AT&T, but for its competitor, Sprint.
Sprint quickly explained why it is a better provider than AT&T and highlighted its current offer to switch, even before I could see the ad for the brand I came to see.
You've likely had something similar happen to you. This is another example of the power of video ads.
YouTube lets you run ads before viewers can see what they really came to see. You might as well make sure it's yours and try to steal customers from your competition.
4. Use your competitors' emails against them.
Many smart businesses are now targeting consumers based on keywords they use in searches, topics, or interests. So target your ads so they show up whenever people search for YouTube videos of your competitors.
If you're running Gmail Ads, one brilliantly sneaky tactic you should start using now is targeting people who have recently shown interest in the things your competition sells.
With Gmail Ads (those ads that appear at the top of the Promotions tab of users' personal accounts), you can do keyword targeting on your competitors' brand terms. As you read this, people who are in the market for your competitor's products are getting emails from your competitors -- and those emails mention your competitors' brand terms.
For example, Inc. offers sends out several newsletters. Every time an Inc. newsletter arrives in someone's Gmail inbox, we could target its brand name as part of our Gmail ad campaign so we're sure our brand ends up in its inbox as well, telling Inc. all about our great competing product and why it should check us out.
So if you want to try to steal some sales, target the trademarks of your competitors. As an added bonus, because these people are already in the market for a competing solution, it's likely that more people will click on your ads, which reduces your costs.
5. Use the Google Display Network to reach your competitors' audiences.
Google has some great display ad technology. But if you want to beat up on your competition, you need to use Google's custom affinity audience feature.
Affinity audiences let you target a predefined audience, one that should be more receptive to seeing your ads.
To make this work brilliantly, and avoid wasting your ad budget, you'll want to target the home page of your competitor. Google's ads will then figure out the brand trademarks and the behavior of the people who visit and are interested in that domain name (or search for content on related topics).
Again we'll use Inc. as our example. Inc. is a publication that's geared toward entrepreneurs, covering topics like leadership, growth, and technology. So if I'm running a similar publication geared toward entrepreneurs, its visitors would form the basis of our "ideal customer" whom we want to reach with our ads.
This will start the process of getting people familiar with your brand and the products or service you provide. And hopefully, with the right message, you'll start stealing business away from your competitors and start experiencing breakout growth.