How to use targeting by competitors’ audience?

For those startups who say they do not have competitors, we’ve got some bad news for you. Every startup has competitors. If there is no one who solves the problem you solve in the same way that you solve it, that means you’ve got a unique product. It does not mean there aren’t competitors but that there are other solutions the same problem. Thus, there is always competition and you have to use their audiences to your advantage.


Targeting to competitor audiences give you useful insights about marketing positioning in the market and the competitive activity by different channels. The question is: where do you begin?


First, recognize your audience reliably. Do not trust stereotypes or your imagination only. You should verify every assumption you have about your audience with data. Audience models based on social and demographic behavioral patterns do not work like the did before. Moreover, according to a study by Copenhagen Business School, people can interact with marketing materials unconsciously.


You cannot cheat your internet provider’s DPI log. You cannot fool Google or Facebook about your location. Ok, you probably can, but it’s not easy for the most people, right?


Algorithms do not care if  you click on a link intentionally or not. They remember almost everything. That’s why a data-driven way of audience research is much more reliable than traditional methods.


The second thing you want to do is compile a list of  your competitors. It should be a long list of all the brands that address your core audience.


Third, get all the related URLs you find. That’s where the audience is found.


So, you’ve got the long list of competitor’s names and a much longer list of the the websites they visit. You’ll need  both of these to start your data-driven experiments.

What tools to use?

You can target ads with certain names of the brands or certain domains with AdWords, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail, Twitter, Facebook.


You can also use Twitter and Facebook ads  to target people who like or search your competitors. Gmail and Yahoo! also have settings that allow targeting to show ads to competitor’s subscribers.

There are a couple other powerful data providers, which are pretty hard use for data management platforms such as MasterCard, Lotame, Bizo, or AddThis. These are sophisticated interfaces and require a lot of research before using them.


I know you’re not afraid of interfaces and quite capable to connect them to get access to audience data.  You should use it to compare, analyze, and test a wide array of different segments. Then, create your own custom one to launch ads. This requires a lot of time and can be costly (around $ 10k to start).

Track competitors activity

Ad experiments we provide are not just based on audience data itself. It’s the process of and sifting through different kinds of data. The good ad inventory is always found in a competitive space. No matter how unique your product is, there are hundreds of other products looking for attention with the same inventory on Huffington Post, Facebook, or Reddit. Thus, it requires you to track competitive activity and avoid it to get lower costs.

What’s next?

Well, you’ve done the first series of experiments and realized that 3 of 10 audience tested show segments the best cost of acquisition on some channels. Immediately scale it with small steps until it starts to become too expensive. All good places and get channels quickly saturated. But, there might be a good spike.


Startup growth happens in spurts. Initially, growth is usually slow.
Then, it spikes traction as a useful channel is unlocked. Eventually it flattens out again as a channel gets saturated and becomes less effective. Then, you unlock another strategy and you get spike another.
-From The book by Gabriel Weinberg Traction and Justin Mares

How to protect yourself?

Be careful when using pixel tag plugins and 3rd-party companies in CMS. Make sure that the plugin with social buttons is from a trusted provider. To search quickly who has an access to your site visitor’s data use the Ghostery Chrome Extension.


Note: Ghostery is one of many data providers who has access to audience data independently through browser. Also, some internet providers sell log data from DPI. You have nothing to do with it, the digital world is transparent.

How much to use it?

Despite the fact that this is a very useful way to launch several ad campaigns at the beginning, we do not recommend to make it the key tactic of your acquisition strategy. For the best results of your data-driven experiments it is much better to combine and compare competitor targeting with other tools like Look-Alike, retargeting, or content marketing.