Some tips on competitive analysis

Neo Insight’s e-newsletter on Usability topics and techniques.

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Some tips on competitive analysis

Humans have been keeping their eyes on competitors ever since food became a constrained resource. We have lots of competitive analysis methods that fit our user-centred approach. Here we offer a checklist to keep in mind as you try to define a new strategy, figure out where to start your website, product or service redesign, or address nagging user complaints. Do you feel the need to gather some competitive data? Follow your instincts. Here are some tips to help:

Start from your customers’ perspective
Find the basic needs your website or software delivers and understand the competitive alternatives your users are probably facing.

Segment the competitors according to your users’ goals
A competitor could be a website you didn’t expect, or may not even be on the web.

Look behind the financials and hype
People in big organizations don’t reveal secrets – they spin the truth. Large companies avoid disclosure of activities between divisions, business units, or cost centres. Read between the lines, and think about what your competitors aren’t saying – that can sometimes reveal a lot!

Suspend disbelief – focus on behaviour
This principle will help you see things your customers, employees and other stakeholders may not. When they tell you “there are no competitors”, look for specific evidence of a threat or opportunity in your customers’ behaviour.

Gather firsthand impressions
Look for behaviours – not just opinions. See where the money flows in and outside a company. Read the back of annual reports. Read what key people in your competitors’ organizations are publishing or inventing.

Track how your competitor got to where they are
Success is built on core competencies, which become the engine for growth and momentum. Core competencies take a long time to build – so they can help you predict where they will take your competitor. Like a big ship takes a while to turn.

Find out your competitor’s competitor
The enemy of your enemy may be a useful distraction, or may indicate some alternative strategies and responses.

Headline the competitive threat
Once you sense or see the key threat, headline it in memorable ways for the people you need to persuade. Try to help them experience the threat.

Reverse engineer what your competitor makes
The web has made it easier to observe a competitor’s design. Look for their major releases on Wayback Machine “compare”. See who sends them traffic by typing their URL after “link:” in Google. Determine their carewords or other characteristics on Compete.com. Watch momentum for those words at GoogleTrends.

Gather visual examples of competitive walk-throughs
Your audience needs to experience your conclusions – provide them with screenshots or task walk-throughs. For example, these might show purchasing a product or receiving service on a competitor’s website. Find examples in strategic areas where your audience is feeling pressure.

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World Usability Day – Let’s build on success!

Ottawa usability practitioners, web developers, project managers and others joined together to celebrate the third World Usability Day on November 8th, 2007. As gold sponsors of this event, and as organizers and participants in many activities, it was a hectic but rewarding day for us.

The showcase was excellent, delivering a series of complementary talks focused on Usability in Healthcare. The exhibit space was full, with government, academic and commercial booths, and we received media coverage which included an interview on Rogers Channel 22 a few days prior to the event.

We would like to take this event up to the next level for the 4th World Usability Day in 2008. If you think you might like to help us organize this event, do join the Ottawa Usability Consortium and email us to tell us how you would like to be involved or to give us feedback on the event.

World Usability Day logo

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Leonard Lee – A craft approach to designing medical instruments

We were very pleased to have Leonard Lee as our keynote speaker at World Usability Day. Leonard is very well-known in Canada as the founder and guiding light of Lee Valley tools, providing excellent tools for hobbyists and craftspeople for many years. Fewer people know of his latest venture – Canica Inc. His new company produces medical instruments that deliver quite amazing improvements in patient recovery time.

We were able to interview Leonard just before World Usability Day by phone, and hear some stories about his approach, as well as some of the challenges of delivering innovative products to the healthcare industry. Whilst not using mainstream ‘usability’ techniques, his craft approach informally incorporates similar activities, and the same philosophy of really understanding the needs of the stakeholders (doctors and patients) – in this domain sometimes literally a matter of life or death.

Listen to Leonard talk about subjects such as:
(27 minutes / 6.2 MB MP3)
  • How a carving knife in the operating theatre got Canica started
  • Ergonomics issues of scalpels – are they pens or knives?
  • Innovation and resistance to change
  • How budgeting determines what innovations can and cannot be adopted
  • How Canica staff get their “skin in the game” in product testing
  • How Doctors sometimes need to be steered to the real problem
  • Some significant measures of impact
  • Leonard’s next 10 years’ of product research

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Quote of the month

“Your information succeeds when you drive the action you intended to drive.”

Gerry McGovern, “Killer Web Content”, 2006


Thank you for all your comments on The Insighter! We love to hear from you. Send us an email with your comments, or usability topics you’d like to read about in future issues.

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