Real Competitive Analysis is About Learning to Love Your Competitor

Competitive analysis must inform strategy

An effective strategy enables you to more easily make difficult choices between good options. How and whether to react to competitors is an integral part of that.

Competitive analysis 101

When product people are first cutting their teeth they are generally asked to do a few things, probably for hazing purposes, including the ‘traditional’ competitive analysis. Basically, the creation of a series of checkboxes that puts our next set of features in a better light than our competitors.

Hello darkness, my old friend, from here.

The best competitive analysis enables you to avoid competing altogether

As strategy was originally conceived and utilized during military conflicts, the biggest misconception is that you need to plan for an actual clash with your enemy. The great strategists from Sun Tzu to John Boyd advocated not fighting, but instead finding a way to bypass or otherwise make your enemy inconsequential to your goals altogether.

How to do competitive analysis

There are real benefits to understanding how your competitors perceive the world and how your (potential) customers feel about them. It revolves around which problems they’re choosing to solve and how they think they can solve them particularly well.

  1. Use the competition’s solutions
  2. Read press about them, especially interviews
  3. Synthesize their strategy

Talk to customers

The main reason for talking to customers is that you won’t really know who your true competitors are. It isn’t who your boss, client, or even who you think they are…

Talk with your customers! Your competitive model can come only from them. Models of competition and markets that don’t come from customers are almost guaranteed to be wrong.

Jobs to Be Done methodology makes a great point that even though you may consider yourself in competition with a particular business, your consumers may not feel the same way.



Use the competition’s solutions

Now that you know who your competitors are, it isn’t about pulling together a list of features that they have. It is about gaining a deeper understanding of very key aspects of their business.

Read press about them, especially interviews

There are a lot of interesting things that you can learn from the people that are behind the competitor. They put their mark on every decision that is made at the organization.

Synthesize their strategy

After you have immersed yourself in their solution you should think about some very hard questions:

  • What does your competitor believe about the world that you don’t? Are they wrong?
  • How does this change the problems they go after and the way they solve their problems?
  • What bets are they making on the future?

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.”

Final boss

John Boyd, a famous military strategist, thought a lot about how competitors change the way that we strive for our own goals. The concept he popularized around the OODA loop talked about making decisions faster than your competition as a way to win. It was also key to understanding what your competitor values so you can find other ways than fighting directly.


Product Management Insider

The exclusive data and insights that enable 8,000+ product managers to win. Subscribe via email at productmanagementinsider.com. We are powered by Alpha.

Chris Butler

Written by

Chief Product Architect at IPsoft

Product Management Insider

The exclusive data and insights that enable 8,000+ product managers to win. Subscribe via email at productmanagementinsider.com. We are powered by Alpha.