Most teams use competitive analysis to “keep up with the Joneses,” making sure they offer the same features and experience as the rest of the pack. While a worthwhile cause, most teams make the same mistake that actually impedes their success.
This most common mistake is to assume that the competitors are solving the right problems in the first place. After 25 years and hundreds of projects, I can claim that this is a very misleading assumption. I have never seen a client competitor that solved the right problem. The most asked (correct) question has always been “how do I know they are solving the wrong problem?”
Simple. Before conducting a competitive analysis, I always conduct some amount of research to understand what problem the users need solving. I use this to create an idealized archetype of an idealized solution and compare not only the competitors’ designs to it, but the client’s design, as well. We always get the same result; everyone is solving the wrong problem, very well.
If the competitors are solving the wrong problem, what’s the point of performing a competitive analysis, then? Just because the competitors in your market are solving the wrong problem, doesn’t mean that competitors in EVERY market are, too. Look outside your market for a company that offers a solution that fits the idealized archetype. For instance, none of the medical devices in our client’s market seemed to fit our idealized archetype description, so we looked at similar products in other markets and found one that did fit in the veterinarian space. Analyzing the veterinarian product gave us insight into a viable solution that resulted in a new, dominating design.
Before you conduct a competitive analysis, make sure you know what the idealized comparator is. It’s usually not one of your competitors’ designs. Create an idealized representation and compare designs to that, especially your own. (Even this comparison will give you new ideas.) Find a suitable comparator outside of your market that fits your archetype and use it for design inspiration. You will be surprised at how easy this is and how well it works.
Remember, if your competitors are all solving the wrong problem, any design that looks like theirs is solving the wrong problem, as well.