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3 Ways To Conduct Competitive Analysis in User Research

competitive analysis in user research

Competitive analysis is a critical component of user research that involves thoroughly evaluating your competitors’ products, services, and marketing. 

The goal is to identify their strengths and weaknesses so you can improve your offering. 

In this article, we will explore several techniques for conducting competitive analysis in user research and outline the key benefits this analysis provides.

Specifically, we will discuss conducting comparative assessments through feature comparisons, customer journey mapping, and usability studies.

With the right competitive analysis, you can gain valuable insights into the market landscape that allow you to differentiate your product, delight your users, and ultimately grow your business.

The techniques covered here will equip you to perform the robust analysis needed to stay ahead of the competition. Let’s dive in.

Techniques for Conducting Competitive Analysis

1. Feature Comparison

One of the most straightforward yet highly effective competitive analysis techniques is completing a detailed feature-by-feature and functionality-by-functionality comparison between your product and key competitors. Follow these steps:

  • Make a list of 3-5 products that compete directly with yours. These should be your top competitors that target the same user needs. Also include 2-3 adjacent or alternate solutions users might gravitate towards even if not direct equivalents. For example, if you have a task management app, include other major apps in the space but also productivity suites or analogue tools like notebooks and whiteboards users turn to instead.
  • Create a spreadsheet comparing product features side-by-side. Break this comparison down attribute by attribute including major functionality, user experience, core workflows, collaboration abilities, integrations, customizations, reporting, security measures, and any other key tools or capabilities. Use a spreadsheet with a column for each product to map it out clearly at a glance. You may want to further organize by grouping related attributes into categories like “Core Features” and “Analytics.”
  • Analyze the relative strengths and weaknesses revealed. Go through each row of the feature comparison matrix and note areas where certain competitors excel compared to others. Look for gaps where competitors are lacking in features your product has, and vice versa. Identify potential needs users have that no existing solutions adequately address. These are opportunities to differentiate and fill market gaps with unique offerings tailored to those user pain points.

The goal of this feature-by-feature analysis is to paint a clear, nuanced picture of how your offering stacks up against current competitor solutions. The side-by-side viewing makes it easy to spot where you are missing key features, have inferior implementations, or could better address user needs. 

With an honest assessment of where competitors are outperforming you, you can strategically allocate resources to improving on weak points and capitalizing on competitors’ vulnerabilities.

2. Customer Journey Mapping

A very insightful competitive analysis technique is to map out and compare the user journey for critical tasks across your product and competitors. Follow these steps:

  • Map out user flows for 3-5 core tasks your product aims to excel at. For example, onboarding new users, running frequently-used analytics, sharing reports, and administrating settings. Diagram the specific steps a user has to take to accomplish those important jobs in 2-3 of your top competitor products.
  • Look for pain points and differences in flows between the products. As you map out the user journey step-by-step for each task, mark areas where competitors create friction through confusing navigation, overwhelming interface, inefficient processes, or lack of guidance. Note emotional impact at each step – does the competitor journey make users feel lost, frustrated, or delighted?
  • Gain insights into comparative usability. Looking at the journeys side-by-side for each task, you can clearly see which product provides the smoothest workflow and experience. For example, your competitor may use confusing terminology in their reporting dashboard, while your tool’s language aligns better with user expectations. Identify opportunities in your own customer journey to alleviate common pain points competitors have, and double down on areas you excel in to further differentiate your superior experience.

For example, say one key task you analyze is creating visualizations. Your journey may involve just clicking a visualization type and dragging in desired fields, taking 10 seconds. 

A competitor’s journey may require navigating menu layers to find the right chart builder, manually configuring advanced settings, and taking 60 seconds. This reveals an opportunity to better showcase your visualization tool’s speed and simplicity compared to the friction users experience elsewhere.

Customer journey mapping for competitive analysis allows you to uncover usability gaps and differentiation opportunities by stepping into the user’s shoes. 

Comparing critical workflows can reveal where competitors frustrate users so you can delight them, or surface areas to emulate effective practices. These insights empower you to optimize journeys and deliver standout user experiences.

3. Usability Studies

Usability studies allow you to directly observe representative users interacting with your product versus competitors’ products. 

This reveals empirical insights into real user pain points, confusion areas, and opportunities to improve upon competitors’ designs. Follow this proven approach for conducting comparative usability tests:

  • Recruit 5-8 participants from your target demographics. You want testers who match the roles, experience levels, and needs of your real-world users. Develop a recruitment screener to find the right mix of individuals.
  • Prepare a prototype of key flows in your product and choose 1-2 competitor products to test. The prototypes and products should represent critical tasks and workflows you want to compare.
  • Develop a test plan to evaluate those key tasks in each product/prototype. Craft scenarios around user goals and ensure you can capture metrics like task success, time-on-task, and errors.
  • Moderate 1-hour sessions with each participant, guiding them through the test plan and recording their feedback. Use think-aloud protocol to uncover thoughts.
  • Analyze results, looking at quantitative metrics and qualitative feedback on obstacles. Note where testers struggled with navigation, had success, asked questions, or got frustrated.
  • Derive comparative insights into specific pain points with competitors’ designs that hamper the user experience, versus areas your prototype seems to excel. Identify opportunities to iterate on your design based on these findings.

For example, if testers take twice as long to run reports in a competitor’s tool because the export button is buried, you can simplify accessing reports in your navigation. Make data-driven design choices to remove friction.

Usability testing highlights competitors’ usability gaps – issues that impact user productivity, satisfaction, and adoption. By empirically revealing where competitors fall short, you can delight users with smoother, more intuitive experiences optimized based on their needs.

Analyzing Findings and Insights

1. Identifying Market Gaps

A pivotal part of analyzing your competitive findings is identifying market gaps—user needs that current competitors fail to adequately address. This presents opportunities to differentiate your product.

  • Look for gaps across the entire user journey, including awareness, onboarding, core features, workflows, troubleshooting, and support. For example, you may find a competitor’s onboarding experience is very technically complex and intimidating for beginner users without guides and tutorials.
  • Go beyond reviewing direct competitors to explore adjacent markets. For example, surveying notebook users could reveal major frustrations with a lack of flexibility compared to rigid task management apps. This points to an opportunity to position your product’s versatility.
  • Identify strategic opportunities to differentiate by filling discovered gaps. You can build features competitors distinctly lack, like an advanced API and customization options for developer users. Or position your product messaging and guides specifically around easing a challenging onboarding journey for novice users compared to competitors.
  • Prioritize addressing major pain points or large potential target demographics not properly served. Moving decisively to delight users in these gap areas can help secure customers who find current competitor options wanting.

Thoroughly search for market frustrations not adequately addressed by competitors across the user journey and adjacent markets. Use these insights to inform an optimized roadmap, messaging, and features that set your product apart.

2. Inspiration for Features

In addition to revealing gaps, comprehensive competitive analysis provides a strategic opportunity to deeply benchmark the features, functions, and designs that competitors are executing well. Studying what resonates in the market can spark inspiration to intelligently enhance your product. Follow these best practices:

  • Closely study usage metrics for competitors’ features if available. Identify areas with high adoption and engagement. Survey and interview users to reveal what delights them. For example, a one-click reporting workflow may reduce support volume.
  • Catalogue effective interface designs, layouts, flows, and interactions you observe users gravitating towards. Note why these resonate compared to less successful areas. For example, a handy customizable toolbar for report building may reduce navigation time.
  • Dig into the details of beloved features. Document how competitors built and messaged them. But move beyond just matching by adding complementary innovations on top. For example, build on a simple reporting workflow with AI-generated templates and formatting to create higher-quality deliverables.
  • Define a philosophy for balancing borrowing, adapting, and inventing unique features. Outpace competitors by learning from them, then provide the added value they lack. Don’t just duplicate – reinvent enhancements.
  • Prioritize benchmarking elements related to your product’s core differentiators and target user needs. For example, deeply evaluate community-building features if your strength is user collaboration.

Thoughtful competitive benchmarking, both through usage data and user insights, generates ideas for impactful features. Analyze competitors’ successes and failures to inspire adaptations that provide new value. Blend the best of the market with innovative additions to stand out.

Ways to iterate and improve on competitor features

1. Leveraging Competitive Analysis to Pinpoint and Resolve Usability Issues

One of the most valuable applications of competitive analysis is revealing specific usability issues and deficiencies so you can avoid and resolve them in your product. Follow these best practices:

– Carefully observe usability test sessions with competitors’ products to pinpoint precise areas where users struggle. Document confusing workflows, hidden features, unintuitive navigation, dense interfaces, and lack of guidance.

– Conduct user surveys and interviews asking what frustrations they have with current tools. Identify the exact missing functionalities, integrations, customizations, and features requested.

– Map competitor deficiencies to specific fixes and enhancements in your product. If testers can’t locate the reporting button, design a clear singular place for it in your navigation. If API capabilities were lacking, build robust API access.

– Prioritize addressing top pain points from tests and interviews that will have the biggest impact on improving workflows and the overall user experience. Alleviate key issues competitors overlook.

– Leverage competitor shortcomings as a roadmap guide. Release features and updates specifically designed to fix those usability failings and missing elements.

By diving into the details of UX flaws and capability gaps users experience, you can craft targeted solutions to simplify, streamline, and enhance your product. Fix precisely where competitors fall short to stand out.

2. Harnessing Competitive Benchmarking For Data-Driven Prioritization and Decision Making 

Quantify how your product’s key metrics, capabilities, and workflows compare numerically to competitors using hard data. This enables data-driven decision-making.

– Compile comparable metrics across products like task success rates, completion times, satisfaction scores, adoption, retention, and others relevant to your goals.

– Establish clear performance benchmarks for improvement based on gaps between your metrics versus leading competitors. Set specific measurable targets.

– Feed insights into your development roadmap and resourcing prioritization. If analytics capabilities underperform, dedicate focus there. Double down on strengths with widening gaps.

– Continuously monitor benchmark metrics to track progress against top competitors and the market overall. Update strategy as needed.

– Make metrics easily accessible to stakeholders in dashboards to align on goals. Share reports on competitive positioning.

With the measurable context of where you lag or exceed competitors, you can confidently set robust targets and develop features precisely addressing underserved user needs and workflows. Analytics prevent guessing and provide clear direction.

3. Guiding Prioritization with Competitive User Research Learnings 

Use insights uncovered through competitive analysis techniques to strategically prioritize your product roadmap. 

– Develop new features to address deficiencies revealed, like easier onboarding flows where competitors fall short. Build on competencies.

– Focus developer resources and talent acquisition on expanding capabilities around discovered user issues to maximize impact. For example, if APIs are lacking, build more integrations. 

– Shape high-level maps and quarterly plans by systematically enhancing strengths, resolving weaknesses, and pursuing new opportunities. Channel efforts into what users need that competitors miss.  

– Revisit competitive research learnings before every roadmap cycle to identify shifts. Continuously mine data for improvement areas as the market evolves.

– Share insights cross-functionally and gain alignment on priorities driven by addressing gaps. Enable all teams to build on learnings.

Continuously factor competitive learning into planning. Transforming research into optimized roadmaps allows you to smartly evolve your solution staying ahead of market shifts. Prioritize where you can delight users.

Benefits of Competitive Analysis

1. Identify Market Gaps

A thorough competitive analysis reveals open gaps in the market where users’ needs are underserved. By conducting user interviews and journey mapping, you can uncover needs competitors are failing to address.

Identify tedious workflows and areas where users want more automation, flexibility, or customization. Analyze product feature matrices and run usability tests to reveal missing capabilities users request.

Use these gap findings to brainstorm potential new features or capabilities that would delight users by filling a void, thinking creatively about innovations competitors would not expect. Prioritize addressing major frustrations and large potential target demographics not properly served, as fulfilling unmet needs presents opportunities to win customers away from competitors who are falling short.

2. Inspiration for Your Product

Studying competitors shows what resonates in the market, inspiring impactful features. Carefully analyze usage metrics and user feedback to learn which specific competitor product features users love and widely adopt.

Catalog smart design patterns, interaction approaches, and development solutions they implement that bring value.

Brainstorm creative ways to build on competitors’ successes by expanding beloved features with complementary innovations. Blend this inspiration with your vision and continuously evolve product designs leveraging ever-emerging competitor benchmarks, user expectations, and technical capabilities.

Wisely leverage competitor insights beyond just playing catch-up, adding your own innovations on top of expected table stakes.

3. Benchmark Product Performance

Quantifiable competitive context helps you set robust yet realistic targets for success. Research competitors’ product metrics like user satisfaction and growth.

Identify areas they excel in and where you have an edge. Set specific, measurable goals for improving your metrics based on current competitor performance, pushing past their benchmarks.

Regularly compile benchmark reports to track your progress against top competitors over time, gauging market penetration and category ownership gains. Share reports internally to align on strategy driven by surpassing competitors on key metrics. Hard data prevents aimless development and provides evidence-based direction.

4. Strategic Advantage

Ongoing competitive analysis, coupled with innovation, enables continuously identifying and seizing opportunities to better serve users where others fall short.

Outpace competitors by not just matching features but learning from, improving upon, and complementing them. Combine market understanding with creative engineering.

Listen to user needs to identify capabilities missing from current tools and be first to deliver desired functionality competitors lack. Analyze the market landscape to craft positioning highlighting weaknesses you address and differentiating by filling gaps. Sustain advantages by perpetually exploring competitor offerings, listening to users, and pivoting to address untapped opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Q: What are the benefits of conducting competitive analysis?

A: Competitive analysis helps you identify market gaps, gain inspiration for product features, benchmark performance, and gain strategic advantages by learning what competitors offer and where they fall short. It provides insights that can guide your product roadmap.

2. Q: When should you perform competitive analysis in the product development process?

A: Do competitive analysis early when ideating concepts and continue referencing it throughout product development to identify new competitors, features, and trends. Update analysis regularly.

3. Q: How do you identify direct and adjacent competitors to analyze?

A: Research companies offering similar products or services targeting your same user segments. Also consider indirect substitutes users could leverage instead of your product.

4. Q: What methods can you use to collect data for competitive analysis?

A: Methods include product teardowns, user interviews, surveys, journey mapping, usability studies, online reviews, app store data, product comparison matrices, and more.

5. Q: How much time should be allocated for conducting competitive analysis?

A: Competitive analysis is an ongoing activity, but initially budget at least 2-3 weeks for thorough upfront research when starting a new product.

6. Q: What are some best practices for analyzing competitive data?

A: Best practices include synthesizing key insights, creating comparison matrices, identifying major gaps and weaknesses, and presenting findings visually. Share results internally.

7. Q: What are some common mistakes to avoid when performing competitive analysis?

A: Avoid only looking at superficial features, not involving your users in research, failing to benchmark metrics, and not revisiting analysis over time as market evolves.

8. Q: How can you use insights from competitive analysis to guide product strategy?

A: Learnings can inform your product roadmap priorities, positioning, and marketing. They help you build better features and user experiences.

9. Q: What metrics are most valuable to track for benchmarking against competitors?

A: Valuable metrics include user satisfaction, adoption and retention rates, task completion efficiency, feature usage, and more.

10. Q: How often should competitive analysis be updated over the product lifecycle?

A: Revisit your competitive analysis at least quarterly to account for market shifts and new product releases from competitors or adjacent players.

11. Q: How do you know if you have conducted enough competitive research?

A: You have enough data when you have a comprehensive view of competitor offerings, user needs, market gaps, and areas requiring more research.

12. Q: What factors determine the level of depth required for competitive analysis?

A: Depth is determined by market size, rate of change, your capabilities and resources, development stage, and how differentiated your product is.

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