Competitor analysis is a method for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of competing products or services before starting work on prototypes.
The analysis could focus on a comparison of features, content, visual style, or usability.
This method may also result in a list of desirable features that the new product could include.
The main objective of the planning phase is to obtain access to competitor products. Depending on your goals and the number of competitors, you might focus on a single product or multiple products. Obtaining access to some competitors' product might not be possible because of legal issues so it may be necessary to get legal advice about conducting competitor analysis.
The first question is always: what is a competitor? A context of use analysis of the intended product is important as it will identify the users, the tasks, and the context in which the product is planned to be used. A product is a way of satisfying a user need. A fundamental mistake in competitor analysis is to focus on the enabling technology and not on the user need to be serviced. What products or services are already on the market which satisfy the user need you are interested in?
If you are dealing with web-based products or products advertised on the web then a useful methodology is as follows:
If your results are too diffuse (i.e., there are no clear winners) then your set of terms is most probably too vague. If your results are too clear cut (i.e., all the search engines agree) then your set of terms is most probably too conventional.
This method is useful for identifying not only web based but also desktop products. However, using it for identifying desktop products only results in a list of products; using it for websites results in a list of URLs (some of which may require registering to access).
If the products cannot be identified on the web then you must use conventional search and current awareness techniques to identify the competitors: look in the latest trade magazines for instance.
It is also useful to ask domain experts or the marketing department to review the list of competitor products to ensure that the most important competitors are represented.
This stage ends when you have acquired access to the most popular competitor products (i.e. if they are software you have to purchase them and possibly also get licenses; if they are web sites you may need passwords for some of them.)
Running a Competitor Analysis
Using this method, the set of stakeholders involved in the project are the basic expert panel. Their direct opinions on the strengths and weaknesses of the competitors are elicited during a meeting that should last half a day (3 hours maximum.)
In preparation for the meeting:
Unless the applications are extremely large, each guided tour should not take more than 10 minutes.
You are now ready for the meeting. At the meeting, outline the methodology you have used, and show the presentations. If you have preferences for particular applications, make them explicit and explain why, so that the meeting can form their own opinions. After each presentation, guide the discussion as follows:
At the end of the presentations, encourage the meeting to go back and review the applications, in order to arrive at a series of short statements characterising the competitive field.
It may be useful to look at applications of limited popularity at this stage to check that the assumptions generated about the most popular applications are correct, but this may take up too much time and the interest of the meeting may be lost.
Problems of access to competitor products are usually the over-riding consideration in deciding how competitor analysis is carried out.
If you have access to marketing survey expertise, then a market survey involving questionnaires, interviews etc., is a good alternative method. The survey should seek to find out (a) what are the most popular products, (b) why are these products popular, and (c) what are the issues the popular products do not address.
If you have access to a sample of established users of a good representative range of competitor products, then a usability survey, including a standardised user satisfaction questionnaire, is recommended.
It is possible to do formal usability tests of competitor products that will also establish baseline usability requirements, but as this is resource intensive it is usually only possible to test a limited number of competitor products.
Data Analysis and Reporting
The basic minimum reporting is a
This should be circulated to all stakeholders and be made part of the project documentation. Depending on the level of formality required in your organisation, the following items may also be included as part of the reporting:
After a competitor analysis, the project should be able to move to requirements and prototyping activities.
Sources and contributors:Nigel Bevan, based on UsabilityNet entry by Jurek Kirakowski.