And I can already hear why not to do this.
- I don’t want to stalk others.
- We should just focus on our own product and idea instead.
- We are unique and have great ideas, so we don’t need anything else.
- Everyone knows our competitors; there is no need to research common knowledge.
- There is no time for that!
Many product people usually think this way, but after a while they face reality and look around at the market. They then learn a lot and come up with great new ideas. They learn from other’s mistakes, the cheapest way of learning. And in the end, they can put together a long-term strategy which will lead to victory.
Let’s face the harsh truth quickly: it’s a competitive world and everyone is constantly trying to find information on how their competitors work. Competitor analysis establishes what position in the market you occupy and helps you explore new opportunities to work on.
Grouping competitors based on value propositions and features
How to start researching the competitors?
Start off easily with the basic things. Google still serves as the best tool for competitor research. Just sit down and start searching for different keywords related to your product. Also search the app store and other marketplaces for different solutions.
Competitors can be grouped into two main categories. The direct competitors solve the same problem, with the same value proposition for the same target group. The indirect competitors usually have similar value propositions, but for a different audience, or they target the same audience with different value propositions.
The biggest search engines provide basic examples for direct competition. Google Search and Bing offer the same solution for the same set of users. An encyclopedia, which works in a different way, also contains special pieces of information, so in this example it counts as indirect competition.
Also, for indirect competitors, think about how a business class trip competes with Skype or how Netflix competes with a movie theater. In the first case, the user wants to talk to somebody, in the second case to see a movie. So in a way, they aim for the same thing but in hugely different ways.
People usually use a part of an indirect competitor’s product to solve a problem if they don’t have a better tool built just for them. It’s important to know the workarounds people apply to a problem. That’s where a new tool can succeed.
So collect all competitors in a spreadsheet. Also look around and collect information about their companies and products. Trying out all their products works best.
Collect the following information about each competitor:
- Name, url, direct or indirect status.
- Summary: The main findings, the company’s value proposition, the target audience, the product, the big picture and the most interesting findings.
- Pros: The advantages to their product or marketing, good solutions or design details to learn from.
- Cons: Everything they suck at, usability issues, missing features; support forums and customer reviews are a good source.
- Their revenue streams and marketing channels.
- Numbers: Try to collect some data such as number of website visitors (Alexa, Compete.com, no problem if they are not accurate, they still compare each other), app downloads (AppAnnie, AppFigures, MopApp), social media followers (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube), prices.
Example from a competitor analysis spreadsheet
Competitor analysis is not about copying others’ solutions
Although getting to know the competition gives invaluable help, think about their solutions and add more depth to the findings if time allows. Avoid mindless copying; no solution fits every product. One site’s high usability standards doesn’t necessarily translate to another’s designs.
Test everything in the context of its own target audience. Using design decisions because a bigger company made them can cause real harm in the long run. Also, good designers draw inspiration from others but don’t copy them.
User testing can reveal the problems right away. It can deliver rewarding information about issues the competitor has, but users can also give feature requests and other insights with a quick interview in addition to the actual testing.
What to look for in the gathered data?
After exploring all the competitors and assembling a huge spreadsheet full of data, do the analysis. First just scan through everything collected and try to mentally piece together the big picture. Look for three things:
- Market gaps: An underserved segment, a problem that came up during product discovery and unsolved by others, or a new combination that would make sense.
- What strategies work: From the numbers, guess how each company performs; what are the product or marketing strategies they use; why do the others trail behind?
- New ideas: Does anything from other industries or apps suit this market; what idea or new solution does this market lack?
After considering all these things, define the product strategy, or if it sounds better: The Master Plan. It identifies pains to solve, the competitive advantage on the market and steps to take to get there.
Aim to create value innovation. This happens in creating something better than the current solutions at a lower price.
Competing only with lower prices cannibalizes business. Someone will always do it cheaper. As prices drop and profits shrink, running the business gets harder and harder. Instead, create something better than the current solutions, or find a new market and build something for them. But the ultimate success comes with the two together: a better solution at a lower price.
Examples of great value innovations
Uber managed to deliver lower prices than traditional taxi companies while also providing a better experience. The app shows where the car is coming from, allows driver ratings, and simplifies payments after receiving your card details the first time. Its huge success is no surprise. AirBnb works similarly: they provide a better experience, renting a normal apartment with a kitchen for less money than a small hotel room.
A clear industry overview and defined product strategy require thorough competitor analysis. Make time for it. Insights about the competitor’s whole product story do more. This information makes entering a new field with a product easier. So collect the direct and indirect competitors, get those spreadsheets up and running and gather the necessary data. And remember, design inspiration can help, but only use best practices when they really work for your target audience. If your strategy makes you happy and you feel fired up to start designing the product, that’s all right. We just have to do a few UX workshops to align the team and then we can let the fun begin.
The five basic steps to competitor analysis
Let’s do a quick recap! Remember these few steps and start conducting your own competitor analysis with ease:
- Use Google to search for keywords related to your idea, learn about the other competitors on the market;
- Group competitors as direct and indirect;
- Try out their solutions;
- Collect the basics about them in a spreadsheet;
- Scan the collected information to get the big picture;
- Share your findings with your team and hold a workshop to define your strategy together.
Have any experience or tips about doing competitor analysis? Please share them in the comments below.