The Case for Continuous Competitive Research

John FlorenceCompetitive research and analysis has long been a common business practice. It is an essential part of the process to determine the landscape in which a product plays. It allows a company to determine pricing, features, and overall customer satisfaction of their offering. As businesses have evolved, especially over the last ten years, competitive research has never been more necessary than right now. Technology is in a state of constant change and refinement. Whether a company is directly involved in technology, or tangentially related, the evolving nature of tech can’t help but influence their buyer’s behavior.

Where we now find companies in a constant state of launch, applications are being updated and refined on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis. Competitive research was once thought of as a one-time activity, perhaps done every few years with a particular offering. Products can now find themselves outdated within six months or less. New features, new requirements, and the constant state of evolution have forced many to reevaluate the product life cycle and the activities associated with launch. What is necessary for a consistent and relevant product and customer experience is also evolving.

Continual research and analysis also helps companies understand the constantly changing nature of the competitive landscape. As stated above, the customer is also continually evolving. What was once considered a bonus, is now considered necessary. From desktops to laptops, laptops to tablets and smartphones, and phones to wearables, the landscape is always shifting. A few years back we used to pay for Wi-Fi (the airline industry not withstanding).

Hardware changes, other product updates, and an industry that is in a constant state of flux can quickly render a product obsolete or ‘yesterday’. Instances where competitors are acquired will definitely change the competitive landscape. Myriad examples can be found when we look at the state of antivirus, search, and location based services. Recently LinkedIn acquired Lynda.com. That definitely had an effect on the online education industry. How it affects the individual companies, only research will determine.

In order to stay relevant and aware of the current situation, it is necessary to make this type of analysis a defined and rigorous activity that sits within the launch process. A successful product is one that anticipates and understands where the customer’s needs will be. It helps to guide them and engage them with the product. More than just upgraded speeds and feeds, it helps pave the way for what is possible. A company can only glean this type of understanding when ensuring that regular analysis and research is being done. Netflix anyone?

A team of professionals who understand the tech sector must be engaged to accurately answer many of the questions that will arise. More than just a web scrape, a deeper understanding of the forces at play is necessary for information that will actually help a business survive and thrive. The web is by nature, interconnected. When a major player makes changes to their flagship offering, it affects everyone. Without a greater understanding of how things play together, or where applications sit, a company can be left behind, adrift on an ocean of outdated applications. Google just changed the way search applies to mobile. Do we think that will have an effect on anyone’s business?

It is also necessary to have a team that is able to keep up with the evolving nature of technology. More than just knowledge of a particular sector or application. More than just knowing what “we” do well. It is essential for survival to understand the “how” and the “why”. They need to be able to see where the road leads. Quality research and analysis allows a company to be proactive rather than reactive. It gives them a better chance of staying ahead of the curve, of maintaining their relevance. It gives them a better understanding of the persona of their customer and how to shape their offering to fit their customer’s needs today as well as tomorrow.

There is also a certain methodology inherent in quality research and analysis. It is very similar to the controls that are used when doing any testing utilizing the scientific method. Researchers must be vendor agnostic. They must be able to distance themselves and take a broader view. They must be able to be rigorous and devoted to their process in order to find the right results. Rather than “right” they must be looking for “truth”. Cutting corners, or skipping steps, will only dilute the quality of the research.

Interpretation of results is another important part of the research process. While the “what” is incredibly important and helps give a company scope, the “why” is what will give it direction. “Yes I see it, but what does it mean?” Good analysts are able to break this down into something that is meaningful for the business. They understand and are able to see the results of the actions and where they sit in the larger whole.

Hopefully, more companies will begin to make competitive research and analysis a more integral part of the lifecycle of their products. Rather than “oh yeah, we should do that” it becomes a necessary part of the launch and the re-launch.  I would like to see more businesses stay ahead of the curve due to relevant information and proper direction. Too many are left behind in the dust because they didn’t see the road ahead and were unaware of the fluid and changing nature of their client’s needs. Blockbuster anyone?

John Hooberman is the Business Development Director at Advaiya.

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