The great thing about competitors is that they’re a living example of what works and what doesn’t. That being said, focusing too much on what a competitor is doing shifts your sights away from your main goal — to produce a product that speaks to your users. This isn’t an arms race to see who can produce the best piece of technology, this is an opportunity to improve a user’s experience with a service.
This was precisely our thinking when we partnered with Black and White Real Estate Marketing to produce a platform where photographers can outsource their media enhancements. Their clients were already using a product that achieved similar goals, but there was so much more we could do to make users’ lives easier, and we figured that out with some good old fashioned competitor analysis.
So you’ve found your main competitors — now find out why their product works, and most importantly, why it doesn’t. Remember, you’re not trying to clone someone else’s idea and throw your name on it — I’m saying it again for those in the back — you’re trying to improve a user’s experience with a service. The question is, what do your users want that your competitors just aren’t delivering?
Applying this to BWRM, the platform their clients were using did the job, sure, but the ideas that BWRM brought to the table were revolutionary — after all, they were as close to the product as anyone could be. They had first-hand insights into where the existing platform was falling short and they knew what features needed to be added to make it a comprehensive business in a box, instead of just a service that helped out along the way.
But this is where we turn our focus, once again, back to the user. If someone’s looking to buy a sports car, you can’t sell them a helicopter just because it’ll get them from A to B faster. They’ll sit in the cockpit and say, “well this is great and all, but I have no idea how to drive this thing”. The same goes for improving on any existing product — users need to immediately feel at home with what you deliver. You need to make sure that when you’re doing your competitor analysis, you identify everything that users love about the pre-existing product so that when they’re interacting with your product, it’s a familiar experience — just that much better.
Which is exactly why the platform we created with BWRM borrowed some bones from their competitor — we took what worked, improved it with some of that TouchFoundry UX magic, added in a boatload of new features, and created a streamlined, all-encompassing product that users immediately knew how to operate.
What counts as a competitor?
All that being said, learning from a single competitor is like putting on blinders and expecting to see the big picture. Identifying competitors requires some lateral thinking — you can’t just look up other products that are providing the same services as yours, you need to look at your product as a collection of features spread across an interface and do competitor analysis for each individual component.
When you break your product down in this manner, your list of competitors expands considerably. You need to ask yourself: who’s really nailing it when it comes to UX? Whose UI drops my jaw to the floor? And of course, a million other questions depending on what features your product is offering users.
When we applied this thinking to the BWRM platform, the world became our oyster. And yes, we found some great references, some interesting table layouts, some UI inspiration, but just as importantly, we saw a lot of what wouldn’t work for our users and made sure we steered clear of it.
An ongoing process
Competitor research doesn’t stop when design and development begins. This is where your features should be locked in, but you’re still flexible with UX and UI. At TouchFoundry, we’re BIG on creating multiple iterations of everything. Slap down some designs, see what’s working and what’s not and use your insights to create scope for further competitor analysis.
Keep this cycle going whilst staying focused on your users and business objectives — create a new iteration whenever a new insight jumps out of your finely honed research. Imagine you’re working away at a piece of clay, and with each iteration, you’re getting closer and closer to the masterpiece hidden beneath.
When it came down to design time for the BWRM platform, we didn’t focus purely on wireframes but rather went with a more holistic approach by creating a visual UX experience. We looked beyond functional references and saw into the future of its styling and design patterns, without forgetting to stay grounded to the key taste and flows that we expected users to follow. Our competitor analysis was with us all the way to development, because that’s how you ensure you’ve got the best product on the market.
To sum things up
Our work with BWRM has been one of our greatest successes, and it wouldn’t have happened that way if we’d gone in blind. Competitor analysis is the map you draw at the start of your journey, and it’s the map you update as new features of the landscape are discovered. Don’t start your journey with a blindfold on — get to know your surroundings.