No business exists in a vacuum. Whether it's for your own business, or as part of a client project, understanding the competitive landscape is an essential piece of any business strategy.
In a digital world, competitive research is easier than it used to be. Most companies have a digital presence which can be found, analyzed and stored. In this post; we'll talk through a template and some processes for doing precisely that.
Suppose you're a freelance consultant completing a strategy project for a new client. As an initial starting point, you suggest performing some market research and returning a report on what you find; where do you even start?
Well, if the client has been in business for any time at all, odds are their executive team has a pretty good idea of the key competitors out there. Step one: ask.
For early-stage companies and ventures still finding their market, you may be tasked with performing market research with fewer hints. In that case, these tools will be your best friends:
Do not be afraid to Google. Understand what it is your client offers, then run some basic searches looking for those services, products and offerings. If the client builds home office equipment, do some searches for, 'Best home office desks of 202X' and see who shows up. Dive deeper into the results, follow up to company home pages, try to begin building a sense of who the main players in this area really are.
I won't spend more time describing how to use search--I think this is just a basic skill of any digital working native. All I'll stress is that it can be a skill and it can be a valuable service provided; don't be afraid to Google.
So let's assume you're now more than comfortable finding competitors. The next question is: Which information should you collect and pay attention to?
Building competitor profiles can be a useful practice for trying to summarize and assess similar characteristics across many different competitors. Factors such as:
What is it, in the most concise form possible, that this particular competitor actually offers its customers?
(Hint: they will often display their best version of it on the Hero section of their website homepage)
Beyond simply their main offering--what makes them different or unique? What's special about this competitor compared to others--in their view or your own.
Who is this competitor targeting? Look for segments or populations mentioned in messaging, 'For freelancers, accountants, bakers, etc.'. Look at testimonials--who is the speaker? Who are the features seemingly tailored toward?
List the top 2-3 target segments for each competitor.
What is the specific situation this competitor sees their solution being applied? Suppose we're back to our home office equipment supplier--do they see themselves helping people who 'have just been moved to remote working for the first time?'. Do they see it as a solution for retirees? What is the scenario or situation this competitor is focused on being the best solution for?
What are this competitors key features and proposed benefits. List all that apply.
How much do this competitor's products or services cost? What is the entry price point? What is the top tier? Try to give more than one data point where appropriate.
The on-boarding and acquisitions flow is an important hurdle for every business. Look closely at what your competitors are doing. Are they offering a free trial? Do they offer a handy discount of first purchases? Do they encourage mailing list signups? How is it exactly that this competitor is solving the problem of walking their customers down the funnel...
It can be useful to also leave a note about the general style (and perceived quality) of a competitor's design efforts. What defines their brand aesthetic? After collecting many such comments in your industry, you may begin to notice some common trends--and potential gaps/opportunities to stand out, visually.
The basics. Where is the company active? When was it founded? How many employees does it have?
Who are some impressive clients, customers or projects this competitor has worked with? Sometimes, this is displayed as a brand wall on the home website--otherwise, it may take a little more digging.
Which marketing channels is this competitor making full use of? Are they active on LinkedIn; did they put up an Instagram but never post; do they have a strong SEO presence; an impressive partners program? Try to get an understanding of which distribution channels this competitor is investing in, and again keep an eye open for trends and success stories.
Once you have your competitor profiles stored and organized, you'll be in a much better position to begin connecting the dots and making larger-scale observations on trends and opportunities.
In your market research report, be sure to include:
Keeping track of your competitor research is also key. Use the linked competitor analysis template and database in Notion to make sure everything gets stored in one place, and leverage the power of Notion databases to help you sort, rank and archive competitors as needed.
And if you'd like to integrate this Competitor Analysis database with the rest of your business, you can always make a relational link between it and the DB of choice. Or, if you'd prefer to start from a premium, pre-built Notion Business OS, feel free to check out our Clarity OS model, here.