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How do you create a Competitive Analysis? What is a competitive analysis? July 24, 2011

Posted by HubTechInsider in Product Management, Project Management.
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How do you create a Competitive Analysis document? What is a competitive analysis?

Competitive analysis documents can be found as a primary product management deliverable in most every industry, and even the simplest competitive analysis document displays two critical dimensions: the competitors and the criteria, or the competitive framework. The purpose of the competitive framework is to present the analysis data in a way that makes it easy to compare the various products, companies, or services across the different marketplace features or comparative criteria.

Elements of an effective competitive anlysis

Competitive analyses vary along two dimensions: competitors and criteria, and so it is common for most competitive analysis documents to provide a visual mechanism for representing two or more products or services side-by-side with the differences showcased. The specific nature of those differences will vary depending on the competitive criteria the analysis author has selected. These competitive anlysis documents can vary in size, with some much longer than others because they their authors have elected to highlight more product features or more marketplace competitors on the analysis document.

“Two-by-two” competitive analysis plot

Every competitive analysis document shares three essential elements: a purpose statement, the competitive framework, which is the competitors and the criteria, and the comparative data. The analysis document may also provide more details about the overall products, the competitors and their market positioning, or the method behind the comparative analysis results.

The purpose of the competitive framework is to present the data in such a manner as to make it easy for a reader or viewer to compare the products or service offerings across the different comparative criteria.

When the competitive framework takes the form of a table, the competitors or products can run along the top of the table and the comparative criteria along the side. The criteria can vary from the very general to the very specific.

A typical table competitive analysis

A different kind of competitive framework is known in MBA programs as the “two-by-two” graph or plot. The “two-by-two” plots competitors or products on a simple grid depicting only two comparative criteria.

In a two-by-two competitive framework, the number of criteria is down to two, so the analysis tends to be much broader than a traditional competitive framework. The “two-by-two” competitive framework is excellent at turning subjective information into objective information. Although it is technically possible for a “two-by-two” competitive analysis author to use real numbers and actually plot along the scale, most two-by-two presentations are ideal for very broad criteria that might not lend themselves to hard numbers. This type of plot is useful to help identify holes in a market or competitive landscape. Competitors that are clustered around certain areas of the two-by-two plot may indicate that there are opportunities for a competitive product or service to fill those vacuums.

A “two-by-two” competitive analysis plot

Some research organizations use a modified version of the “two-by-two” plot format. Sometimes you may see competitors plotted out on a single square, with “waves” or “bands” of features, strategies, or market postions illustrated as areas of the single square. This format is equally effective, and it has the advantage of being an excellent format for the creation of a catalog of different one square competive analysis plots, one for each area of focus within the competitive landscape. So you could for instance have a single square plot for market positioning, one for revenue or scale of business, one for pltting out competitors’ different revenue situations, etc.

An example of a “wave” or “band” single-square plot

Yet another competitive framework that appears in competitive analysis documents and especially comparisons of different sites or user interfaces: the “small multiples”. This term was coined by information architect and data visualization guru Edward Tufte. In Tufte’s “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information”, he states, “Small multiples represent the frames of a movie: a series of graphics, showing the same combination of variables, indexed by changes in another variable.” In other words, “small multiples” are a series of graphics that allow the viewer to easily compare similar sets of information. In the case of user interface design or information architecture for the web, or graphics design for print or interactive media, this approach is most effective for comparing online and offline page layouts or interactive storyboards.

“Small multiples” chart comparing web site detail pages

Sometimes a competitive analysis will take the form of a table, with various stages of detail added as comparative criteria for each competive category. Great care should be taken by the author of the competitive analysis document that the length of the analysis does not become too unwieldy. Consider breaking up long competitive analysis documents into sections or categories.

Try to use as many graphic elements as possible in your competitive analysis documents. Graphs, charts, plots and tables are all excellent ways to present your competitve analysis data, and you should leverage these artifacts into your presentations and marketing communications.

The data is of paramount importance in a competitive analysis. The data can be as simple as yes-no values, indicating whether a product or service or competitor meets a particular criterion, or it can be descriptive, going into some detail for each criterion.

Yes-No values are a very common way to provide differentiating data in a competitive analysis. You’ve seen these kinds of competitive analyses on infomercials where the product in question is lined up with “other leading brands.” For each feature, the product gets a check mark while its competitors get an X, to show you how versatile the product is.

Feature comparison table

Spelling out your process can help address any possible methodological inadequacies. You might want to spend some time in a section of your competitive analysis document rationalizing the selection of competitors and criteria to increase the impact and veracity of your conclusions.

Explanation of a competitive analysis methodology

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You’re reading Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a blog stuffed with years of articles about Boston technology startups and venture capital-backed companies, software development, Agile project management, managing software teams, designing web-based business applications, running successful software development projects, ecommerce and telecommunications.

About the author.

I’m Paul Seibert, Editor of Boston’s Hub Tech Insider, a Boston focused technology blog. I have been working in the software engineering and ecommerce industries for over fifteen years. My interests include computers, electronics, robotics and programmable microcontrollers, and I am an avid outdoorsman and guitar player. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, follow me on Twitter, follow me on Quora, even friend me on Facebook if you’re cool. I own and am trying to sell a dual-zoned, residential & commercial Office Building in Natick, MA. I have a background in entrepreneurship, ecommerce, telecommunications and software development, I’m a PMO Director, I’m a serial entrepreneur and the co-founder of several ecommerce and web-based software startups, the latest of which is Tshirtnow.net.

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