A competitor analysis — also called a “competitive analysis” — is used to understand your competitors’ strategies, in turn opening up new opportunities for your own business. The information you uncover can be used to inform your marketing strategy, design new product lines and select useful business tools— all of which help distinguish you from your competition.
Before you dive into any research, clearly defined goals are needed. A competitor analysis should aim to:
- Understand competitors’ strategies
- Identify their strengths and weaknesses
- Find out what customers think about them
- Develop a competitive strategy that caters for your target market
How to do a competitor analysis
Here are the four steps every business can cover in their competitor analysis to make sure no stone is left unturned:
1. Identify your competitors
You can’t analyze your competitors if you don’t know who they are — all of them. The key is to put yourself in the shoes of your target customer.
A Google search for your business type and location is how many customers will find you initially, but their search terms may differ. Let’s say you’re starting a retail business selling children’s clothes in Vancouver. A potential customer could search with a number of phrases like “Vancouver kids clothing shop”, “children’s clothing shop in Vancouver” and “Vancouver children’s clothes.”
By coming up with as many searches as possible and seeing which businesses appear in the results, you’ll get an idea of what your target customer sees when they do the same. Take note of household name brands and companies that frequent the top three results, as these are the ones most likely to win business.
Some businesses simply don’t show up in searches, usually because they haven’t listed their business with Google. If they have a brick-and-mortar presence though, they still have the chance to drive foot traffic from passersby and through word of mouth promotion. Even without your own physical store, you business is in competition with those out on the street. Take a walk around your town and local area to see what’s about.
You can remove the guesswork of this stage entirely by simply asking your customers where else they shop for similar products or services. Focus groups, questionnaires, surveys or a simple chat across the counter are all legitimate ways of finding out. You’ll also get first-hand information on how they feel your business compares to competitors’. You can also use the internet to monitor mentions of your competitors online and in social media so you can keep an eye on what they’re doing.
The final thing to do is combine all the information you’ve collected and create a list of the top 10 competitors. Even though there may be many more, a shorter list is more practical to work with.
2. Analyze your competitors
Armed with your top 10 competitor list, you can now do a deep dive into the background, location, products or services, marketing, sales and workforce of each.
What important dates and events has each competitor seen since inception? The key areas of focus are ownership, financials and organizational structure. How have these affected where the company is today?
Facilities and location
Explore the location of each competitor’s office or store as well as the appearance of their online presence. Location is a key factor in their strengths and weaknesses as it affects foot traffic, logistics and accessibility.
If you have a brick-and-mortar business, location is vital to your success. There’s a fine balance to tread. Moving into an area that’s over-saturated with similar businesses creates higher competition but an area where there’s no competition at all may be too isolated.
Location also affects the ease with which you can distribute your own products and services as well as the supplies you receive. Researching your rivals’ business operations can provide a sneak peak into the facilities you need, as well as pitfalls you want to avoid.
Product-based businesses should look at competitors to see the types of products offered, the depth and breadth of product lines, and whether they are missing any key products. You can search for the product line on the website of most businesses, or you may have to physically visit the store or cafe to see what they’re offering. Look at whether they are currently developing any new products, and whether they have any patents and licenses pending (search the Canadian Patent Database to find out).
It’s tricky to find out what your competitors’ pricing strategy looks like in detail, but there are a few ways you can build a top line understanding:
- Use online competitor price tracking software
- Check prices of products in store and online and compare these between competitors
- Take note of discounts
- Speak to suppliers and distributors
- Call up your competitor to see what deals they offer over the phone
- Speak to customers about how much they spend on competitors’ products
A clearer idea of pricing trends and anomalies puts you in good position to understand where your own price points should fall. You’ll probably notice that many smaller businesses add higher markups to their products, whereas large businesses swallow a bigger percentage of the difference.
Which channels are your competitors using to reach out to customers and what messages are they using? You might want to break down your competitors’ marketing tactics so that they’re easier to analyze. The key areas are:
The way the company presents itself to customers.
Its appearance, features (like online ordering), returns policy and functionality.
Their social media.
How they speak to customers one on one.
Their online and offline advertising.
The messages and promotions they push through display advertising or offline media such as store signage.
Their email marketing.
The style, content and frequency of emails they’re sending.
It’s not easy to get a true picture of the marketing metrics your competitors’ are using, or how (and if) they’re achieving them. What you should hope to gain from this particular analysis are insights into potential strengths and weaknesses that your business can benefit from. The number of followers a competitor has on social media, the ease with which you can buy through their website, the usefulness of the content in their emails and the strength of their branding are all opportunities for you to improve your own approach.
Understanding competitors’ sales strategies can help you make strategic decisions about where, what and how you make your own sales. As with their marketing though, you’ll find that a lot of information isn’t publicly available.
Using news resources, competitors’ websites and by following the same sales process your customers would, you should still be able to answer some of these key questions:
- What is the competitor’s annual revenue and growth pattern?
- Which online and offline channels are they selling through?
- Are there multiple locations?
- What does the sales process look like?
- Do they have dedicated salespeople?
- Do they offer discounts and is there a pattern to these?
- Do they partner with other businesses to increase or simplify sales?
- Are they involved in reselling programs?
- Why and when do they tend to lose customers during the sales process?
- Are they expanding?
Staff keep your business running, so they’re an important part of your competitor analysis. As a small business taking extra care over costs, the number of people your competitors employ, what their hours are, how much they get paid and what types of contract they have are big takeaways that can inform how you might build a strong team on a budget.
Glassdoor is a useful resource, not only for finding out the above, but for seeing what people have to say your competitors as an employer. You may find recurring themes that help you tailor your own approach to leadership and employee management.
3. Segment your competition
Once you’ve conducted extensive research on each of your listed competitors, it’s time to categorize them into primary, secondary and tertiary groups.
- Primary competition.
These are your direct competitors. They target the same audience as you, have a similar product offering and use many similar tactics. These are the businesses you should keep close tabs on.
- Secondary competition.
These competitors are similar to your business but may offer variations of your product, either at the high or low end of the spectrum. They may also have a similar target market but an entirely different product.
- Tertiary competition.
These competitors’ products are somewhat related to yours but do not appeal exclusively to your target audience. Although not a direct competitor, tertiary competition can still pose a threat if it has a better location, bigger team and so on. It’s for this reason you shouldn’t underestimate the impact of their presence in the market.
4. Determine business opportunities
With all the information you’ve gathered through the competitor analysis, you’re now ready to think tactically about how you will become a worthy rival. The questions to take a deep dive into are:
- Are direct and indirect competitors growing or scaling back?
- Why is this and what does it mean for your business?
- After exploring your products, marketing, sales and workforce, what clear opportunities do you have to differentiate from the competition?
- Are there areas where competitors are weaker and your business can stand out?
- What are your competitors’ strengths and how can you compete?
- What is your plan if competitors drop out or enter the market?
Whatever the size of your business, a competitor analysis can be used daily and in your long-term planning to grow faster and manage operations efficiently. Fledgling business owners can model their business plan accordingly and enter the market on a strong foot. While seasoned entrepreneurs can re-evaluate priorities and gauge how their business has grown over time.