Knowing Yourself and Your Competition
A Competitor Analysis Framework for Enterprise UX Design
Co-Authored by Shyama Duriseti
In this fast-evolving world, a product could be rendered irrelevant if it doesn’t offer superior value and user experience when compared to its competitors. Most lucrative markets contain multiple products whose features and functions often overlap significantly. Pick a functionality, and you will typically find at least half a dozen products offering similar capabilities.
Knowing what your competitors are doing, — how they are approaching the market, their strategies, how they are crafting the messages, and their design choices — can lead to critical competitive advantages. This not only applies to product strategy and marketing, but the competitiveness of a product’s user experience will also significantly impact business outcomes.
“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” — Sun Tzu
Competitive analysis is not about replicating the features or design choices of a competitor. Competitive analysis helps teams take a step back, break free from internal standards and assumptions, define truly minimally viable products, and reframe problems to foster innovation. Through careful selection of competitors and thoughtful analysis of their offerings, product teams gain a better perspective of the entire product landscape which enables them to shape a superior product experience.
A critical part of the analysis is choosing the right competitors. Ideal competitor analysis includes four to six competitors that represent the biggest influencers in your market space. To pick the right set of competitors, consider the following framework. It begins with the understanding of -
WHO are your target customers and users?
WHAT problem is the product/feature intending to solve?
HOW is the problem being solved (Is there something unique in the technology offered)?
Typically, there are other sets of products addressing your potential customers, offering a comparable solution, or using similar technology.
The intersecting areas in these sets of products represent unique characteristics that are of great value to examine more deeply. Let’s look more closely at the overlapping regions:
Sector (1) Direct Competitors
Solving the same problem for the same customer in a similar way
Sector (2) Different Problem
Solving a different problem for the same customer in a similar way
Sector (3) Different Customer
Solving the same problem for a different customer in a similar way
Sector (4) Different Product Category
Solving the same problem for the same customer using a different approach
Additional Criteria to Consider
To help identify the competitors across a wider spectrum, and to ensure the scope of the competitors chosen isn’t too narrow; here are a few additional dimensions to consider
- Product Profile
- Gartner Quadrants
- Consumer Size
- Product Domain
This dimension helps identify simplified vs. fully customizable capabilities. For example, a “consumer” product profile would be representative of task flow requiring minimal configuration and knowledge from the user. While a similar product with an “enterprise” product profile offers a solution at scale and might be optimized to handle highly advanced configurations at scale.
This dimension helps identify the industry leaders and what sets them apart in the race. In other quadrants, it can also help designers establish the ‘table-stakes’ that has to be addressed in order to compete in the space.
This dimension helps in comparing the experience of managing a handful of entities vs. management at scale. It also opens up visibility to certain practices common in high scale setups and that may only cause frictions in workflows in lower scales.
It is important to understand the immediate products in the space that your design will be compared against. It is worthwhile to look at more than one product in your domain for analysis and how they position products and messaging against each other.
This dimension helps in exploring upcoming trends and technology in this space. It helps identify the key differentiators that new ventures bring into an established space and often exploring disruptive solutions with new technologies and automation.
World around us
Besides the regular products and competitors, there is value in exploring examples outside the domain and sometimes in the physical world outside to draw inspiration and expand ideas. These explorations could help in benchmarking the experience to compare the competitors. This could be the key to shaping an ideal experience vision that can set you apart.
E.g. Troubleshooting vs. common experience with internet connectivity issues.
E.g. Notifications vs mechanisms in small displays or almost no display systems like Nest and Roomba where there are minimal modalities to express a variety of alerts, notifications, and remediations.
- Physical World
E.g. Alerts vs. a prey warning its group about a predator.
The fun begins here! In this step, you get to play with, evaluate, critique, and learn from the shortlisted competitors. Depending on the use cases you are trying to work with, you have to source the related content of your competitors.
Identifying the resources for evaluating competitors can be a little challenging. In an ideal scenario, you should be able to get access to your competitor’s setup or a trial account. Reach out to your Product Managers or any enthusiastic Engineers. However, in a severely competitive environment, it might not be possible to get access to a demo setup.
In such a scenario your best bet would be to look out for:
- Online product demos
- Industry expert reviews
- Presentations — at conferences, and public events
- YouTube videos
- Blogs and other kinds of documentations
Once you have the resources lined up, the next step is to delve into the use cases for your study. Identify the use cases you are trying to work with for your product. This will inform the outcome of the competitor analysis ranging from defining an experience vision to even influencing the product vision by identifying gaps and new use cases.
We typically start with three categories:
- Baseline Use Cases
Use cases that are directly mentioned from the PM/Eng Requirements or PRDs.
- Hypothesized Use Cases
Use cases that are assumed and typically intend to reduce user effort or offer seamless end-to-end experience.
- Discovered Use Cases
Use cases that were discovered during the analysis that were not part of the original requirements.
Example: Troubleshooting in Enterprise IT
In the enterprise world, troubleshooting is one of the more complex areas. There are a ton of products out there trying to help IT admins solve complex problems rooted in multi-layered and multi-dimensional environments. As an example, when designing for such an area, you could map the use cases into these broad phases in the journey. These start to lend a structure to the evaluation. Capturing these use cases in a spreadsheet will help in the listing, prioritizing and following up in future to track the progress during the project execution time.
Now that you have identified resources and targeted use cases, it’s time to deep dive and analyze the competitors on a common set of parameters. This helps in benchmarking UX by comparing and learning from the strengths and weaknesses of the identified competitors. You could use the following structure for the analysis.
- Describe the Product Profile and Positioning: Brief summary about the competitor, domain, size, scale of operations, revenue, target customers and unique value offered.
- Identify the Feature and Capabilities: List, describe and prioritize the key features and use cases you will use to evaluate each competing product.
- Work through the High-level Workflows: Evaluate each competitor based on the use cases and create/capture the findings in one or more of the following ways: Flow diagrams, annotated screenshots, and videos.
- Feature completeness: Rate the overall product on a scale of 1–5 for completeness and note what makes it complete/incomplete.
- UX Assessment: For each product, rate the workflows on a scale of 1–5 using the following heuristics.
- Discoverability, Learnability
- Effectiveness: Time-To-Task, Clicks, etc
- Assessment: Visual Design, Visualizations, Voice and Tone
- Micro-Interactions, Notifications, and Alerts
- Help & Support, Customer Reviews
You could add more heuristics as you deem necessary for your product and organization.
Experience benchmarking is a great way to synthesize your findings from the analysis phase. This aids in setting an experience vision for your product and suggests how you might be able to most effectively leverage design.
Benchmarking for UX Completeness
With the data and insights captured, create an ideal experience for your product. Integrate any newly discovered use cases gathered from competitors with your baseline and hypothesized use cases. Besides learning from competitors, bringing in a real-world understanding of how customer delight can be achieved in the context can be a differentiator.
Then map the competitors on this ideal end-to-end experience to indicate the stages and use cases they support and how well they do in them. This is a money slide as acknowledged by our product and engineering leadership.
Benchmarking for UX Quality
You should also map competitors’ performance on other dimensions like UX Quality for visual, content, visualizations, etc. Having benchmarked all these dimensions provides a great summary of the competitive landscape.
Capture Gaps and Opportunities
One of the key outcomes of the experience benchmarking exercise is identifying gaps and opportunities for your product area to focus on in order to evolve into an industry leader.
Essentially, competitor analysis should help in identifying new use cases while also validating the baseline and hypothesized use cases you identified earlier. Update the spreadsheet to capture the use case with any newly discovered use cases. This makes it easy to replicate, share, socialize, gather further feedback, and track progress against your findings.
Next Steps after Analysis
The competitive analysis provides invaluable insights backed by clear evidence to make a strong case for addressing gaps in the product capabilities and UX. It also provides the raw data for a product roadmap that aligns with business goals, prioritizes features and describes what a product with significant competitive advantages might look like.
You’re not done until the insights and proposals reach the right stakeholders and influencers. Ideally, your immediate product and engineering teams should have been collaborating with the designers throughout the analysis but be sure you craft a clear, data-driven message for the team. Once your immediate product team is aligned on the findings, share your results with all leadership levels you need to get support and executive buy-ins for your plans.
Do share your finding with fellow designers, content writers and visual designers who will benefit from your insights and assist them in conducting their own competitive analysis.
How to Do a Competitive Analysis: A Step-by-Step Guide:
Competitive Analysis: How To Conduct A Comprehensive Competitive Analysis
Stop copying, and start doing competitor UX analysis properly
Stop Ignoring Your Competitors And Learn How To Do Competitor Analysis Instead
Novus Business and IT Training Program: https://www.slideshare.net/NovusProgram/lesson-18-competitor-analysis-final