Your organization functions in a given market, one that consists of customers whom you need to convince to buy from you, and competitors who want to convince those same customers to buy from them instead. While there are many elements to a successful go to market strategy, such as understanding the consumer, timing your entry into the market, and defining your sales and marketing plan, understanding the competitive element is a critical component of success.
When you gather information about your competitors, you can examine the methods they employ and the customers with whom they achieve their greatest success. By analyzing how competitors operate, you can delve into their strategies in a way that helps you discover how to best approach the market through your own company. Below, we focus on 5 key elements you need to know to unravel your competitors’ strategy and succeed with both your own customers and theirs.
Element #1: Identify Your Competitors
It should go without saying that in order to unravel your competitors’ strategy, you need to identify your competitors. This process is more than a Google search for other companies that provide similar products and services. You need to know where the competition lies: companies that sell similar products and attempt to serve the same needs as you.
Understanding the competitors means asking questions about the market, and then drilling down to:
- Who Is Selling What You Sell? You probably think of your product or service as unique. But if people have functioned without it up until now, either someone else has something similar, or alternatives have served the market up to this point. You need to understand what those market alternatives are, and who is selling them. For example: nobody knew they needed an iPod before they bought one, but after its introduction, portable CD players and the Walkman became obsolete.
- What Is the Geographic Competition? If you are selling from a brick and mortar store, you should study other businesses in the area. Who are they, and how do they operate? Similarly, online retailers may have made inroads as well. You should not discount the competition that resides on the web. Make sure you use solid and representative marketplace intelligence to understand who the key competitors are in your category.
- What Price Points Exist in the Market? While pricing might seem more like a customer component of your competitive strategy, it is also a key part of a good competitor strategy. Being able to differentiate on price eliminates certain competitors from the market. For example, those businesses selling a Rolls Royce are not likely to see a sub-compact car manufacturer as a threat. Understanding the pricing across many products in the market may help you to identify areas where competition is weak, enabling you to gain a foothold in an industry held by a weaker competitor.
The Harvard Business Review suggests using a positioning map to identify who is in the market and what price points they occupy. This provides a nice visual that places you in the context of your competitors within your market. Understanding how and where your competitors operate helps you situate yourself within that map. You may even decide to scale features up or down to fit within a particular competitive price point.
Element #2: Who Are Your Competitors Targeting?
Once you identify your competitors, you can start to develop a picture of their market demographics. Naturally, based on your price point and product specifications, a) a competitor may be after customers very different from the ones you seek or b) you may be preparing for a fierce battle over the same people. A solid competitive strategy involves understanding not only who IS buying the product, but who is LIKELY to purchase the product. By doing your research into target demographics and overlaying that on your competitors’ demographics, gaps emerge which can be exploited. Understanding the following components of your competitors’ strategy is another key to success.
- Age Brackets: You may be (or will be) focusing on a particular age group or generation in your marketing. If your competitors concentrate elsewhere, your preliminary research may show that they are missing a key segment. Alternatively, this may suggest that you have a substantial opportunity to fill a market gap—or that you are misdirecting your efforts.
- Gender Differences: Do your competitors sell more to men or women? These distinctions can significantly impact how you should direct your efforts and your messaging.
- Income Levels: Some products or services fit better with different income levels. This may be a matter of pricing strategy or social norms but understanding the relative affluence of your customers as well as your competitors’ customers helps you drive toward those most likely to purchase. Combining the income level of the consumers purchasing with your price point data in Element #1 will help you optimize the price and demographic.
- Online or Storefront: Having your product in a physical store carries higher costs as it relates to distribution, POP, etc. but it may be the price of entry into your market. Understand where your competitors are selling, and you may find additional opportunities and revenue streams.
Element 3: What Are Your Competitive Features?
In element #1, we spoke briefly about the importance of aligning your pricing and your features on your product. Your ability to compete in any market will depend in part on your ability to either a) better address an existing unmet need in the market or b) create a need in the market. Accordingly, your analysis should always look at the actual products and services with which you are competing. Most successful companies differentiate themselves not just through clever marketing, but through meeting specific needs. By first understanding the existing marketplace, you can work towards fulfilling customer needs through innovation or better featurization of your new product or existing portfolio.
When identifying the competitive features, ensure you take the following steps:
- Do your research: Once you understand the key players, find a list of their key features. Many websites have feature comparisons you can use for this task, however, don’t overlook the value of having the product in hand. Many times build quality, “fit and finish”, and other various features can’t be determined from a webpage. Go to the store and buy the product. Many companies will do so and disassemble their competitors’ products.
- Feature Matrix: Develop a competitive feature matrix which will help you to compare product at a glance. Be sure to include both tangible and non-tangible features. For example, while two action cameras may both be 1080P resolution, one may simply have a higher quality picture than the other.
Element #4: Where Are They Successful?
Once you have looked at who your competitors are and what they offer, you can start to break down how they succeed. Reasons that customers choose a particular product or service — and reasons that they do not select another — can go a long way toward helping you understand why and when those successes occur. Customers have motivations across the spectrum: from ease of purchase to careful analysis of their individual needs. Those motivating factors help create the successes and failures of each of your competitors. This type of information is available in various sources, most notably through qualitative data collected directly from the consumer after their purchase.
Again, this information can reveal trends among segments of the population. Individual variances will always enter the equation, but you can still look for ways in which groups gravitate toward and away from particular locations, companies, product features, and service offerings. The more in-depth your competitor analytic models delve into the available data, the more you can glean about the customer behavior relevant to your company.
Element #5: Determine Where You Can Add Value
The elements above organically lead to identifying the gaps in the marketplace. Whether identifying key gaps in price points, or identifying a segment of the market that is underserved, each of the elements above should be leading to one question: Where can you add value where they don’t? This more thorough analysis, of course, provides the key to identifying your best opportunities for success in the market. If business success relied solely on your being better than your competitors at doing the same thing, a bull-headed drive to win would be the only path to success—and that success would come infrequently and fleetingly.
Looking at your competitive analysis to identify gaps — in marketing, in service, in product features, or in any other element — you can find openings into which your company can fit. While you may choose to, you do not have to butt heads with larger or more established companies. Instead of fighting battles over the same customers, you can use competitive analysis to either fill an existing unmet need or create a demand in the market for a product that does not yet exist. Thorough investigation, followed by targeted action in the available market, gives you the best opportunity for success.