Competitor analysis identifies the strengths and weaknesses
of competing products or services before starting work on
prototypes. A 10 minute tour of each of 4 to 10 of the most
popular competing products showing how typical tasks are achieved
is presented to a half day meeting of stakeholders. The competitive
advantages of each product are discussed, and a short summary
of the market position is generated at the end of the meeting.
Alternative methods are market surveys or lab tests of competitor
- To discover the strengths and weaknesses of competing
products or services,
- to develop a list of issues that need to be addressed
in order to compete effectively
- to gain consensus among a group of project stakeholders.
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 four to ten competitor products.
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
If you are dealing with web-based products or products advertised
on the web then a useful methodology is as follows:
- obtain a set of keywords which describe the service you
intend to offer
- search the web using at least ten different search engines
with this set of keywords
- make a list of the top ten sites from the results of the
different search engines
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
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,
- Establish a general set of actions you will do with each
product or site, based on the context of use analysis.
- Carry out these actions with each application. Deviations
from the basic sequence will be inevitable as each application
will have features that differentiate it.
- Take frequent screen-shots as you go: doing even a well-rehearsed
demonstration with a live product is time consuming and
distracting. Clips of action sequences can be used but they
often provide too much detail.
- Insert your screen-shots into a presentation application
such as PowerPoint.
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
- What is the unique selling point (competitive advantage)
of this application?
- What is done very well in the application?
- What are the flaw(s) of the application, and why do they
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
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.
The basic minimum reporting is a
- statement of the conclusions from the meeting
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:
- detailed minutes of meeting
- transcript or summary of your presentation at the meeting
- copy of your presentations.
Nielsen, J., and Mack, R.L. (Eds.), Usability Inspection
Methods, John Wiley & Sons, New York, NY, 1994.
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,
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
After a competitor analysis, the project should be able to
move to requirements and prototyping activities.
The development of the Usabilitynet site used a version of
Competitor Analysis. The report and conclusions may be found
For information on marketing plans, see http://www.marketitright.com