Building Customer-Focused Products: An Insider’s Guide to Market Research, is a series compiled by product owners with decades of experience in creating and launching successful subscription products. The series is full of specific tips, checklists, examples and tools as well as best practices and foundational knowledge that will help you select the suppliers that are the right fit for your business.
This series is written with the beginner in mind. The content is explanatory and foundational, designed to give someone new to product leadership the practical tools necessary to build a product in a timely and efficient manner.
Building Customer-Focused Products: Competitive Analysis
We all know who our competitors are. Or do we? In the world of GPS systems, Garmin thought TomTom was its competitor; when Google got into the act, both businesses were nearly obsolete overnight. NBC kept an eye on ABC and CBS, then HBO came along. And then Blockbuster. And then Netflix.
So Who ARE My Competitors?
It’s impossible to either identify or monitor all possible competitors. Further, if someone like Google decides to take on our business model, very few of us could hold them off. But maintaining a list of – and information on – our various competitors can be done by identifying Direct, Indirect, Substitute, and Potential Entrant businesses.
- Direct: These are competitors who go after the same audience, with a very similar business model, such as Time and Newsweek.
- Indirect: These competitors offer a similar product, but with a business model different from ours. A good example would be a publication that’s subscription-based, versus one that’s advertising-supported.
- Substitutes: Competitors here offer alternatives to subscriptions, that fill the same needs but in a different way. For subscriptions, this could mean topic-themed cruises, hands-on activities or classes.
- Potential Entrants: Often these are businesses that complement our subscription offerings, but then decide to expand their offers into our core subject area. A sports magazine that starts a runner’s weekly news magazine, for example.
What Information Should I Gather?
Whether it’s one hour each quarter or one day each month, set aside regular time to review key competitors. Establish specific questions to answer on each visit, such as:
- New or discontinued products.
- New pricing, shipping or bundles.
- New drop-down menus – why?
- New tone in the marketing? Have they gone from an informal, playful tone to more serious?
- New endorsements, advertisers or affiliates?
- What are their subscribers saying in their endorsements? What do they like; what are they frustrated with?
- Google your customers – are they in the news? At tradeshows? Speaking at events?
- Be sure to look at their company Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
Setting aside regular time to gather information on our competitors is critical, but it’s also critical to know when something big happens with a competitor as soon as it happens. What are some easy ways to make sure you stay on top of important events in your competitors’ organizations?
Customize Google News:
This is easily done by clicking on the “Personalize” button on the home page of Google News, then typing in the names of each competitor.
Lastly, be honest about your competition. If our product can’t compete, we need to find a way to make it do so, or find another market to enter.
Set up an RSS Feed:
While the death of the RSS feed was predicted when Google shut down its reader in 2013, there’s been a minor resurgence in both apps and use of RSS feeds. They are still a great way to easily gather timely updates on multiple competitors.
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. In short, a way companies enable interested people to keep up to date with what’s going on with them via a feed of information that’s pushed when something new happens.
- Log on to your competitor’s website.
- Do they offer an RSS feed? Not all of our competitors will. If they do have an RSS feed, it’s usually found at the bottom of the home page. It will be an RSS icon like that above, or the letters RSS.
- Click on the RSS icon or the letters RSS. This will take you to the website’s RSS page.
- Follow the instructions on the RSS page.
- Then, install a news reader that will display the RSS feeds you sign up for. Free and nominal fee readers include Feedly, Feed Wrangler, Feedbin, and NewsBlur.
Sign Up for Newsletters
While this is my least-favorite option because of the low volume of meaty data versus marketing and selling pitches, getting your competitor’s newsletter will provide a window into their marketing and sales strategy as well as products and pricing models.
The Most Difficult Competitor to Beat: Doing Nothing.
Understand how important your product is to your markets. The vast majority of us fall into the “nice to have” category. There’s nothing wrong with that – according to TheNest.com, 30% of an average individual’s after-tax income is spent on discretionary items! But, in that “nice to have” category, you should think about how emotionally important your product is. One good rule of thumb: the more specialized, complex and integral to your subscriber’s way of life your topic is, the likelier your competitive position against “nothing” will be.