You, too, can do genius competitive analysis: Here’s your six-step checklist

As marketers, one of the most important things we can do is analyze our competitors. The problem is we don’t do it. Or if we do, we do it poorly.

There are a million reasons we kick the can down the road on competitive analysis: not enough time, not enough staff, no access to competitors’ products, too much to do, it’s too much of a moving target. These may be true, but we don’t have a choice. If we don’t do at least some level of ongoing competitive analysis, others will do it for us. Yikes!

So consider this your kick in the pants. Below is your essential, six-point checklist, plus some useful tips and frameworks for doing it well (or at least less poorly).

TL;DR: 1. Use consistent requirements to evaluate competitors; 2. Take stock of competition and how you stack up; 3. Know why you’re doing analysis; 4. Based on your “why,” prioritize your analyses; 5. Clarify deliverables and pull in your stakeholders; and 6. Validate your work and make it sustainable.

1. Start with a requirements framework

It’s hard to analyze competitors if you don’t have a consistent measuring stick. Start with an objective set of mutually-exclusive, collectively-exhaustive (MECE) requirements for your market. Don’t confuse this with an exhaustive list of product requirements. I’m talking about the 3–5 high-level requirements based on where your market is headed. Several years ago I worked in cloud security. One market dynamic at the time was that business users were increasingly accessing cloud services from many locations and devices. So, one of the requirements we used to evaluate ourselves and our competitors was an architecture that enabled security regardless of location or device. Yes, it was self-serving, but it had the benefit of being objectively the right approach for the market. For more on this, check out the Three reasons people buy your product, especially the Use Cases section.

2. Take stock of your competition

Take stock of your competition and how you stack up. Experts identify three categories of competitors: direct (same sector, same product); indirect (same sector, different product); and replacement (different sector, different product). That’s useful, but perhaps more relevant for our competitive analysis is to know your position — whether you’re ahead, behind, or on par, and why. Some dimensions to consider are sales, customers, product, market positioning, and brand awareness. Don’t do this for everyone! Prioritize top competitors and maybe even group similar competitors into segments.

3. Know why you’re analyzing competitors

After you think about the market requirements and how you stack up, take a moment to consider why you’re doing competitive analysis. This rough guideline can help you prioritize.

Decision guidelines for competitive analysis

4. Do the right type of competitive analysis

Now that you know what competitive analysis you need to do, use this framework to organize your work. There are four types of analysis: inventories, assessments, reviews, and trends.

In your side-by-side inventories, you may simply describe the difference or assign quantitative scores to each item. If the latter, use a rigorous and consistent scoring methodology throughout and be sure to include proof points and examples. Others who rely on your analysis need to be able to back it up if challenged. Don’t underestimate the value of visual evidence!

Inventories

Types of competitive analysis: Inventories

Assessments

Types of competitive analysis: Assessments
Types of competitive analysis: Assessments (continued)

Reviews

Types of competitive analysis: Reviews

Trends

Types of competitive analysis: Trends

5. Clarify deliverables and engage stakeholders

Now that you’ve organized your work and know what’s involved in each type of analysis, put a plan together for actually doing the work. You can download and use this creative brief template.

Partial view of creative brief

Doing a creative brief helps you set expectations with your stakeholders about which competitors you’ll analyze, the type of analysis you’ll do, key deliverables and their format, and what you need from them.

Don’t do this work in a vacuum! Engage early and often with your stakeholders. Use the brief to gather input, negotiate tradeoffs, and ultimately agree on deliverables. Use hallway conversations and more formal checkpoints to test ideas and solicit feedback along the way. Your stakeholders should buy into this work so they will support, contribute to, and ultimately use this analysis.

What deliverables should you create and in what formats? Consider things like how and when the analysis will be used, how often you’ll change it, and whether it will be internal vs. external.

Here are a few deliverables I’ve seen teams use with success:

Competitive analysis deliverables

6. Validate your work and make it sustainable

Good marketing assets end up in the dust bin for one of three reasons: 1. They’re hard to find; 2. They’re outdated; or 3. They haven’t been validated (or validated enough). Don’t let this happen to your competitive analysis! First, make finding stuff drop-dead easy. See the creative brief template for a sample folder architecture. Remind people where competitive assets are every chance you get (on company portals, in Slack reminders, in all-hands emails, in sales training sessions, etc.). Your goal is to repeat yourself, repeat yourself so much that every single person knows where they are. You’ll only know you’ve succeeded when people start rolling their eyes when you remind them. Seriously, this is the single biggest problem and it is SO FIXABLE!

Second, keep your materials up-to-date by making them “living” documents. Choose a format that allows for frequent editing, update them when new information becomes available, and invite stakeholders to review and comment on them on a regular basis. As a backstop against letting materials go too long, set periodic calendar reminders for yourself. And no response from stakeholders when you reach out? Do not let it go. Pick up the phone!

Finally, continually validate findings with stakeholders and external sources. Unsure whether a finding is valid? Enlist stakeholders, including your sales team. They will appreciate being involved, are likely to buy into the answer, and will trust you more because you’re transparent about the confidence level of your analysis.

Special thanks to Anita Pandey for contributing to this article.

Listener. Learner. Pot stirrer. Lover of the serial comma. Die-hard Monty Python fan.

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