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by Michael Knowles
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There are few documents that get the attention of product planners and marketers the way that a competitive analysis does. A good competitive analysis is a scouting report of the actual market terrain that your company must navigate in order to be successful. And there is no person better equipped to write one than a market-savvy technical writer.
To write a good competitive analysis, you must:
If you're like most successful technical writers I know, you have these skills already. So, how do you put these skills together to do the job?
A competitive analysis covers five key topics:
A List of Competitors
The analysis begins with a list of your company's competitors. Most of the time, such a list is comprised of what your company cconsiders to be its chief competitors. However, there may be other companies that indirectly compete with yours, ones that offer products or services that are aiming for the same customer capital.
You will also want to include information on companies that may be entering your market in the coming year. Once you have compiled the list, you can highlight those companies that will be the greatest challenge.
Competitor Product Summary
Analyze the competition's products and services in terms of features, value, and targets. How do your competitor's sell their wares? How do they market them? Customer satisfaction surveys conducted by the trade press can help you tremendously. How do customers see your competition? Ask your sales force for information -- they can be your best source of information about your competitor's customers.
It's likewise important to include information on how competitors distribute and advertise their products. You will want to talk about product quality and, where possible, find out how they are staffed.
Competitor Strengths and Weaknesses
As you put together the list of competitor strengths and weaknesses, be objective. You'll do your company no good if you allow bias toward your own products and services to cloud your judgment. Try to see the competition's products as though you were the competitor. What makes their products so great? If they are growing rapidly, what is it about their product or service that's promoting that growth?
You can find this information in a variety of ways. Certainly there are numerous Internet resources you can use -- the competitor's Web site is always a good start. The trade press is an invaluable resource, but don't do all your research through the Internet. Make some phone calls, talk to the journalists and consultants who are active in the industry. These people are a lot easier to find than you'd think, and they are often happy to share facts and opinions with you.
Competitor Strategies and Objectives
Observe how your competitors market themselves through press releases and advertising. Quarterly and annual reports reveal a great deal of information, too. But more than likely you'll have to do quite a lot of footwork to nail your competitors down.
Interviews of journalists and consultants can be valuable. You will have to go to many different sources to get a complete picture. What about your competitors' customers? Good sales people will know who they are and can help you get this sort of information. It takes practice and a little shrewdness on your part to piece together a complete picture of strategies and objectives. Focus on the facts, be persistent, and trust your intuition to help you.
What is the market for your company's product like now? Is it growing? If so, then there are likely quite a few customers left to go around. If on the other hand the market is flat, then the competition for customers is likely to be fierce. Your company will find itself scrambling to win market share. Is the market splintering -- is it breaking up into niches?
The outlook portion of your analysis may seem like prognostication, but it's really a measure of trends. By the time you've done most of your research, you'll have enough information to determine what the outlook really is.
Writing a competitive analysis can be a challenging and interesting piece of work. You'll learn a lot about your industry and in the process become a more valuable resource for your company or clients.
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Michael Knowles creates technical materials that help companies market and support their products and services. He also writes nonfiction, and poetry, publishes the weekly WriteThinking newsletter, and is working on the third draft of his first novel. He lives in North Carolina, with his wife, two sons, and six cats. And he laughs. A lot.