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Evaluating the Competition: Research Tactics for Product Launches

Before bringing a new product to market, extensive competitor research is critical. You need to understand the competitive landscape in your niche, learn what top rivals excel at, identify gaps or weaknesses in competitor offerings, and uncover areas of differentiation that will help your product stand apart. This in-depth guide covers proven market research tactics and competitive analysis methodologies to help you effectively size up competitors and craft data-driven product positioning as you prepare to launch.

Why Competitor Research Matters

Thorough evaluation of competing products, companies, and overall market conditions provides invaluable intelligence to inform your strategy and better ensure a successful launch. Competitor research:

  • Reveals product opportunities and unmet customer needs your launch can address
  • Identifies potential differentiators to make your offering stand out
  • Allows benchmarking to compare features, quality, pricing
  • Provides insights into competitor strengths and weaknesses
  • Highlights marketing messages and positioning working well in your category
  • Flags new technologies competitors are leveraging
  • Uncovers upcoming competitor product releases to get ahead of
  • Gives perspective on market share to size up key players
  • Helps realistically forecast sales and set targets
  • Informs pricing, features, and go-to-market strategy

Proper due diligence on competitors, substitutes and overall industry dynamics dramatically de-risks product launches and improves outcomes through data-driven planning.

Conducting Competitive Analysis Across Product Lifecycle

Ongoing competitor tracking should occur across three key phases:

Pre-Launch

  • Profile key players, offerings, and market share
  • Identify product opportunities and areas for differentiation
  • Research pricing, features, strengths, weaknesses
  • Define your value proposition and messaging

Launch

  • Track immediate competitor responses to your launch
  • Identify any competitive threats requiring adjustment
  • Monitor shifts in market share and traction

Post-Launch

  • Update feature comparison as products evolve
  • Track competitor sales volumes, growth, churn
  • Identify new product releases to defend against
  • Adjust pricing and roadmap based on competition

Consistent monitoring provides early warning signs of disruption and continually validates product-market fit. Never get complacent.

10 Competitor Research Tactics and Sources

Utilize these proven tactics across the product lifecycle:

1. Monitor Social Media

Review competitors’ social media marketing across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and Pinterest. Analyze messaging, positioning, influencer marketing, pain points they address.

2. Read Product Reviews

Browse in-depth product reviews on sites like G2, Capterra, TrustRadius. Learn pros/cons from actual users.

3. Study Advertisements

Collect print, digital, TV, podcast and radio ads from top rivals. Assess messaging, offers and unique value propositions.

4. Subscribe to Newsletters

Sign up for competitor email lists to analyze offers, promotions and announcements.

5. Browse Forums and Communities

Explore discussions in subreddit, Facebook Groups, forums and communities centering your product niche. Identify complaints and desires.

6. Use Competitor Tools

Platforms like SEMRush, Ahrefs and SpyFu share intel on competitors’ backlinks, search volume, paid ads keywords and traffic.

7. Run Keyword Research

Use Google Keyword Planner and trends tools to determine keywords competitors rank for organically and through paid ads.

8. Dissect Landing Pages

Review competitors’ website and landing pages. How do they sell their offerings? What messaging resonates?

9. Compare Pricing Plans

Construct pricing plan comparison matrix including features at each tier. Understand monetization strategies.

10. Sign Up and Test Products

Experience competitors firsthand by signing up for free trials. Put products through detailed testing.

Combining insights across these 10 tactics provides a multilayered view of rival offerings, positioning and strategy.

4 Phases of Competitive Analysis

Conduct research in four high-level phases:

1. Identify Direct Competitors

Start broad. Search for providers in your product niche. Include both direct competitors offering very similar alternatives as well as substitutes fulfilling the same core user goal or need differently.

2. Profile Key Players

Select 6-10 top competitors to focus on. Create overview profiles covering product offerings, features, pricing, target customers, competitive advantages, market share, founding year, team, funding raised, press coverage statistics and more.

3. Analyze Product Details

Dive into every aspect of key competitor products through extensive hands-on testing. Document strengths and weaknesses. Assess user interfaces, implementation quality, help content, onboarding flows, reporting, integrations, mobile apps, unique selling propositions and differentiating capabilities.

4. Derive Strategic Insights

With thorough understanding of competitor offerings, identify strategic opportunities to address unmet needs, improve upon weaknesses, leverage differentiating features and effectively contrast your positioning relative to competitors. Derive pricing, roadmaps and messaging.

Continuously looping through these 4 phases ensures you keep abreast of the latest competitive dynamics as you craft strategy.

8 Key Competitive Metrics to Track

Quantify competition by regularly tracking:

Market Share

  • Percentage of total market revenue generated by each provider. Assess category dominance.

Pricing

  • Price points for plans and features. Understand monetization strategies.

Sales Volume

  • Annual and quarterly sales totals. Estimate via secondary research and modeling.

Growth Rate

  • Year over year and quarter over quarter sales growth percentages. Rising or declining momentum.

Customer Acquisition

  • New customer additions. Indicates marketing effectiveness.

Retention/Churn

  • Customer losses and retention rate. Shows satisfaction.

Website Traffic

  • Unique monthly visitors to gauge interest and engagement.

Social Media Followers/Engagement

  • Follower totals and interaction rates across social platforms. Measures brand awareness.

Monitoring metrics consistently across competitors gives early signals of disruption and opportunities to capture market share.

Tips for an Effective Competitor Comparison Matrix

A comparison matrix displaying competitive metrics is extremely insightful. Best practices:

  • Pick 5-10 top competitors or products to compare
  • Break out detailed features by category like collaboration, reporting, integrations etc. to understand where each excels
  • Include pricing plans with cost and key inclusions at each tier
  • Use color coding like red/yellow/green to instantly highlight strengths vs weaknesses
  • List customer and company statistics like customer count, market share, funding, founding year etc.
  • Benchmark website traffic, social media followers and online prominence
  • Add notes on unique capabilities and differentiators
  • Leave columns for rating products on criteria like ease of use, support, and implementation
  • Update continuously as competition evolves

The right competitive comparison framework serves as an ongoing strategic compass for your product roadmap, messaging, and marketing.

Uncovering Competitor Weaknesses and Opportunities

Several techniques reveal weaknesses:

  • Look for basic missing features customers request
  • Note buggy or slow performance/loading issues
  • Flag poor or nonexistent mobile apps
  • Document bad reviews and complaints
  • Assess areas competitors invest less in like support or content
  • Identify complex workflows or tasks that are needlessly difficult
  • Determine whether integrations with other tools are lacking
  • Check for weak social media presence or engagement
  • Look for outdated designs and interfaces
  • Consider ignored or underserved customer segments
  • Examine if marketing neglects certain messaging themes

Careful analysis uncovers gaps in product experience, positioning and messaging you can capitalize on.

Positioning Your Product Effectively vs. Competitors

Sharpen messaging and positioning:

  • Identify your most differentiating capabilities
  • Contrast strengths relative to competitors’ weaknesses
  • Quantify areas where you excel vs alternatives
  • Develop messaging around weaknesses you’ve addressed
  • Tailor messaging themes competitors underutilize
  • Educate customers on limitations of competitor products
  • Provide side-by-side comparisons demonstrating advantages
  • Create better versions of competitors’ most touted features
  • Spotlight excellent aspects competitors can’t easily replicate quickly

Astute positioning centers your unique value proposition while steering prospective customers’ attention toward weaknesses of alternatives.

Keeping Up With Competitors Post-Launch

Once launched, you must vigilantly track competition:

  • Review latest competitor press and announcements
  • Follow conferences and webinars competitors participate in
  • Read interviews with competitor executives and employees
  • Monitor patent filings for innovative features
  • Identify new key hires like heads of product
  • Analyze venture funding secured and reported revenues
  • Test free trial enhancements and product updates
  • Subscribe to competitor blogs highlighting new capabilities
  • Setup news alerts on competitors
  • Follow bloggers, influencers and journalists writing about competitors

Ongoing tracking provides advance notice of new innovations, partnerships, and sources of funding competitors tap to remain competitive.

Turning Customers Into Competitive Intelligence Sources

Engage customers:

  • Poll users when signing up about tools they previously used
  • Listen for competitor mentions during onboarding and training
  • Ask for feedback comparing your product to others previously tried
  • Review comments for competitor brand mentions
  • Study cancellation and churn reasons for competitor switching
  • Train support team to probe competitor insights from conversations
  • Occasionally survey users on competitors
  • Monitor sales team anecdotes on deals lost to competitors
  • Aggregate and analyze wider industry data highlighting competitors

Customers offer rich context directly from the frontlines of comparing you against alternatives in the market. Incentivize helpful intelligence.

Competitor Intelligence Mistakes to Avoid

Steer clear of these missteps:

  • Relying on a single source like website reviews alone
  • Tracking too many competitors diluting focus
  • Failing to deeply test products hands-on
  • Not repeats monitoring competitors consistently
  • Losing sight of big picture industry dynamics
  • Dismissing competitors lacking market share currently
  • Focusing only on direct head-to-head competitors
  • Overlooking conceptual competitors fulfilling needs differently
  • Neglecting analysis of substitutes and alternatives
  • Not segmenting intelligence by product line or customer vertical

Siloed, sporadic or shallow competitor intel dangerously misguides strategy and planning. Take a holistic, dedicated approach.

By continuously evaluating the competitive landscape surrounding your product using proven intelligence tactics, you gain invaluable perspective guiding both strategic and tactical decisions. Never lose sight of how the competitive battlefield is evolving based on data. Consistent competitive research allows you to persistently validate product-market fit, sharpen differentiation and craft air-tight messaging all while anticipating and circumventing external threats from new innovations and competitors. With your finger on the pulse of competition, you can confidently build products customers love and gain an enduring edge against rivals in the market.

By Dani Davis

Dani Davis is the pen name of the writer of this blog with more 15 years of constant experience in Content marketing and informatics product, e-commerce niche.

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