There is a lot you can learn from your competitors. There is also a lot you must learn if your product is going to continue to succeed in the market. The way to learn is through a competitor analysis.
A competitive analysis can be as simple as quickly mapping the landscape and reviewing the marketing material of close competitors. Or it can be as deep as using their product, analysing their financials, and conducting a strategic analysis of each competitor as though you were in their shoes.
This Competitive Analysis Playbook gives you an approach to learning from your competitors that you can customise to however deep or light you need it to be.
- Key Concepts
- Key Inputs
- Key Activities
- Key Output: Template
The key concepts you want to be aware of before doing a competitor analysis are:
- Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas – to see how you compare on key factors
- SWOT Analysis – to assess your competition through
- Customer Value Proposition Canvas with Jobs-to-be-Done – to understand the key factors you need to analyse competitors through
Ideally, before you start, you will already have an understanding of:
- Customer Value Proposition
- Business Drivers you’re focused on
The key activities for doing a competitor analysis are:
- Map Competitive Landscape
- Identify Key Comparison Factors
- Shallow Dive on Competitors
- Revise Key Comparison Factors and Competitive Landscape
- Perform Side-by-Side Comparison
- Deep Dive Into Key Factors
- Give an Overview
Each of these is covered in more detail below.
#1 Map Competitive Landscape
This is where you do a scan of the industry to find direct, indirect and related companies. You are really just trying to get them down on a page and list them out with a brief summary. Then you may want to group them.
Often you will be able to find a competitive landscape already prepared. CBinsights, for example, is a great source for this.
Here’s an example from CBinsights on the AI landscape:
#2 Identify Key Comparison Factors
Before you get too far into the comparison and deep analysis of competitors you need to work out the factors you will use to do a comparison.
A strong customer lens is ultimately what matters, so the Customer Value Proposition and Jobs-to-be-Done needs to be your first reference point for any comparison. Use your customers’ key pain points, benefits, values and segments as key factors that you consider competitors through.
After that you can lean on the Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas, your own business goals and any other key points you see as relevant.
Keep in mind this is your starting point, you can revise the factors after you have completed some of the analysis.
#3 Shallow Dive on Competitors
This is where you look briefly at the competitors you have selected as most relevant from your market map.
You need to look at them briefly through the factors that you identified as most relevant in the previous step. You also need to provide a little bit of background and context so someone that isn’t close to the company can understand a bit about it.
#4 Revise Key Comparison Factors and Competitive Landscape
Now that you’ve taken an initial look at the competition, you are in a position to revise the factors you will use to compare them with as well as the landscape.
It’s important to revisit this here. Your initial research into the competition will likely have yielded some insights that affect how you think about your product, your customer, and the market.
#5 Perform Side-by-Side Comparison
The side-by-side comparison is where you compare each competitor against each other on the key factors that you’ve selected.
At its simplest level it could be a feature comparison, like the ones you are used to seeing on a product’s website:
But usually you will want to move beyond features and look at more relevant factors.
If you want to go deeper on how to present comparison tables and think about them, the Normal Neilsen Group has a detailed discussion of comparison tables.
#6 Deep Dive Into Key Factors
If you have the time to do so, you may want to deep dive into the key factors you identified. This could be a deep dive on financials, user journeys, key features, performance, or strategy – anything you think is important.
Deep diving on each is a bit beyond the scope of this playbook but for our purposes here you may need to allow time to go deep.
One of the most frequent examples is going deep on their user journey. This usually means taking the time to sign up and try to use the product in anger. While this isn’t usually mentally challenging it is time consuming.
Make sure you capture the work you do here in detail. Often it’s the first time executives and stakeholders will see detail on their competitors so they will find it useful and insightful.
Personal experience note: I’ll never forget walking the eight person board of a $1bn company through videos of their product versus their competitors. Their competition had a signup and first-use journey that took under five minutes, while their process was so clunky it couldn’t be completed in ten. After a few minutes of showing both we were asked to “stop this, we get the point.” They’d never seen how poor their product was in comparison to their competition yet were wondering why they were getting slaughtered in the market. Through these videos they found the motivation to invest heavily in creating a genuine competitor.
#7 Give an Overview
Now that you have completed your analysis it is time to give a summary of the insights you’ve discovered.
As with any summary, keep it to one to two pages. Focus on the key outcomes and provide only a little information on the process you followed.
You may want to customise this playbook a bit depending on the time you have available and the speed you need to move. The main ways to customise it are to reduce how deeply you dive into each competitor, how rigorous you are with your side-by-side comparison and how many key factors you go into.
Some of the activities and outputs you may want to add or remove are:
- Competitor financials
- User journeys
- Any other special areas of interest
- Competitor strategy analysis (i.e. their SWOT)
- Whether to do side-by-side comparison or just market map
Key Output & Template
The key output here is a Competitor Analysis deck. We’ve created this template for you.
Below is a discussion of some of the sections to help you use the template.
This is a brief map of the market and the competition in it. You will ideally want to break the competitive landscape up into key sectors or competitor groups.
You can get more advanced with this slide and show relative positioning of the different groups visually, perhaps grouped into key areas. However, to start with, simply identifying the groups and key competitors is enough.
Side-by-Side Comparison: Background
You need to understand and give context around the competitors you’ve selected as most relevant. How big the company is and who it is targeting.
Side-by-Side Comparison: Key Factors
This is the crucial side in an overview of how your competitors compare. You take the key factors that are most relevant to your comparisons.
This could be:
- One or more key features (if many features consider using the Side-by-Side Comparison: Key Features slide)
- A key pain point from your Customer Value Proposition analysis
- How well it fulfils a Job-to-be-Done that you identified as important to your customer
Side-by-Side Comparison: Key Features
This is where you list your key features down the left hand side and then compare each competitor against the key feature. It will look something like what you are used to seeing if you are looking at a pricing page for a product comparing the different features their different subscription options contain.
When doing the S.W.O.T analysis the biggest challenge is putting yourself in your competitors shoes. Write the SWOT like you were them. This exercise is important because it will help you understand their position better and how you can compete with them.
Creating a Blue Ocean Strategy Canvas is a great tool for creatively thinking about how you can differentiate your offer from competitors, and can be an easy visual to bring stakeholders together to see why an initiative might be important.
And here’s our competitive analysis template again, to help guide your research and make sense of your findings.
CEO & Founder
Scott has been involved in the launch and growth of 61+ products and has published over 120 articles and videos that have been viewed over 120,000 times. Terem’s product development and strategy arm, builds and takes clients tech products to market, while the joint venture arm focuses on building tech spinouts in partnership with market leaders.