Competitors analysis is a marketing agency term meaning the assessment of strengths and weaknesses of existing and potential competitors. In our case, it also includes spotting patterns and defining best practices for a particular type of software. Learning about solutions for the specific field would help you to get nuts and bolts of the design for this kind of products and avoid reinventing the wheel.
When it works best
Though it’s not a research method per se, this exercise is the only thing which is mandatory for all projects. I recommend to do it before the kick-off meeting, so you’ll be able to ask vital questions right away (and look savvy).
Tip: don’t hesitate to look into indirect competitors as well. For example, designing a cryptocurrency trading platform, you may want to check out traditional currency or stock trades. Creating a mobile app for event planning, make sure you’ve explored corresponding features on social networks, e.g., Facebook.
Which tools to use
Aside from screenshots of your competitors’ products, you may also use some stats for reference. In this case, here’s where you go:
How to conduct
This little study can be very beneficial if done with particular goals in mind. Here’s my list:
Learn the subject area
When you absorb a great deal of material in a short time, you get able to reverse-engineer the requirements and understand the subject area a little bit. It won’t equip you with universal knowledge, but that’s a good start.
Define common patterns and features
Familiar patterns don’t take much time to get used to, so they feel intuitive. Putting together a little library will help you to find optimal solutions fast later on.
Note the insights
Right down good ideas. Explain why you think they work better than any others. Log your thoughts, but don’t get overly attached to them — what looks great on paper may be technically or legally impossible to implement.
Mark questionable solutions
Maybe, those little flaws are an opportunity for your company or clients to surpass the competitors by providing handier tools. Or perhaps they are red flags for hidden complications in a business process caused by technical or legal reasons. Investigate.
How to deliver results
Since it’s not the most sophisticated research, deliverables don’t need to be extensive as well. I suggest putting together mini-deck with your notes illustrated by the most demonstrative examples. Don’t overdo it, though: one screenshot for one point is enough.
When it fails
This method is pretty simple, which makes it entirely bulletproof. The only way to fail is to skip it. Though not documenting your research would not be the best idea either. Even if all the apps or sites of your competitors look alike and all the solutions are apparent to you, make sure you noted that for future references. In writing. With screenshots.
Tip: even if you believe this part is a default, don’t hesitate to add the report of it into the deck. Designing anything at all, I start with an exploration of the stuff, even distantly related to the topic. But I never considered presenting my findings to stakeholders until now — it felt very “backstage” to me. And guess what? I got rejections twice (once — after the onsite interview for my dream-job-at-the-time) specifically for the “lack of research” in my take-home design challenge. Ironically, my deck has results of a somewhat thorough survey in which I’ve put a lot of effort. It just didn’t match expectations. To sum up: one slide dedicated to competitors won’t take too much time to present or review. Nevertheless, it will fully cover you on the research side during the job interview or the first presentation to your clients.