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When, why, and how to conduct a competitive analysis for UX research

When, Why, and How to Conduct a Competitive Analysis for UX Research

The difference between a competitive analysis for UX vs market research, and how to use both together for more holistic insights.

When I think of a competition, the first thing that comes to my mind is an F1 racing competition. The air is tense with passion, filled with fans’ cheers echoing the stadium while the professional racers go over their competitors’ specs in their head and visualize the racetrack map in their heads. 

A product launch or building a new user experience roadmap is no different. Of course, there are no cars or physical racetracks involved in the UX world. But the common thread between preparing for a product launch and an intense F1 race is understanding your competitors

Competition can be scary, but also exciting. It amplifies our weaknesses and puts us in a state of constant comparison, but It also forces growth and helps us reflect on our current progress— whether you’re an F1 professional driver or a new UX company looking to outshine your competitors.

"Whether it's Google or Apple or free software, we've got some fantastic competitors and it keeps us on our toes." - Bill Gates

Whether you’re looking to create the next best SaaS product or finding new ways to improve an existing offer, looking at your competitors can be a great source of inspiration and motivation. That’s why it’s important to conduct a competitive analysis for both user and market insights.

While you can conduct competitive analyses for both user research and market research, the key differences between a competitive analysis in marketing and UX research lies in the goals: market research is more focused on information related to the sales of a product, whereas UX research is focused on how the product addresses users needs and abilities.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What is a competitive analysis for UX research?
  • Why should you do a competitive analysis for user insights?
  • How to conduct a competitive analysis for market vs. user research
  • Limitations of a competitive UX analysis
  • Market research and user research together in practice
Comparison chart of competitive analyses for UX vs market research

What is a competitive analysis for UX research?

A competitive analysis for UX research focuses on the similarities and differences between the user experience of your product or service compared to a competitor’s product.

Conducting a competitive analysis may sometimes be confused with a one-off study or benchmarking. Benchmarking is a research method that helps you compare the performance of your product, design, or user experiences or in comparison to your competitors. General research studies are usually one-off projects. 

The key difference that we want to highlight is that studies are conducted at one time, while benchmarking is a snapshot in time that’s meant to measure long-term patterns. 

Throughout this article, we will use the general term “UX competitive analysis” to refer to the collection of data about other competing platforms in comparison to your platform. We understand there are nuances to each word, but our focus is to highlight the benefits of understanding your competitors’ products, design, and experiences, and how they created them, so you can find areas of opportunity, weaknesses, strengths, and more.

A UX competitive analysis looks at various factors, including:

  • Task flows—how long they take, the level of ease, clarity, confidence, etc.
  • Specific features that exist on the site
  • Website architecture and navigation
  • The logistical requirements needed to interact with the product

Looping back to the F1 racing comparison, an F1 driver will prepare for their race by evaluating and finetuning their car’s features, changing the sprigs, anti-roll bars, weight distribution, camber, toe-in, etc. They might adjust wing levels and change the overall aerodynamic drag, or even change fuel levels to see what works best.

Similarly, a UX competitive analysis focuses on evaluating your competitors’ product features and finding ways to finetune your own product to outperform your competitors. You can evaluate different logistical requirements that affect the product or the user experience, the ease of navigating the website, or the usability of your features. 

Taking a deeper look at the functionality, ease of use, clarity, and other aspects of your product in comparison to your competitors can help you understand which factors need more attention to help you stay on the right track. 

Benefits of a UX competitive analysis

“If you don’t look at the data showing what you’re doing wrong in CX and UX, customers will leave your site, store, or app. It’s no longer a question. There are simply too many other options available to accept a less-than-stellar experience” - Daniel Newman at Forbes

Why should you do a UX competitive analysis? Sometimes, you are limited by your own perception of your product or user experience. Looking at your competitors’ products and user experiences can help you pinpoint areas of improvement.

A UX competitive analysis can help you with:

  • Gauging your product’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to the actual user experience
  • Identifying gaps or areas of improvement that you can only discover through user research, such as the ease of user interface or the time it takes to use any of the features or complete tasks using the product
  • Informing the design process
  • Providing reliable evidence when making changes to your product or user experience
  • Prioritizing areas you'll need the most optimization (your weaknesses) and helps you differentiate yourself from competitors (your strengths)
  • Revealing the biggest gaps are across the entire market when it comes to features or functionalities, which then could inform an opportunity area for your team to explore developing (something no one else has)

As amazing as your product or service may be, there are often hundreds or thousands of other brands looking to compete in the same space as you. When your user base has a myriad of choices to choose from, you need to make sure you can outshine your competitors amidst all the noise. You know the value of your products, but do your users understand your value to the full extent?

A UX competitive analysis strives to answer questions like: 

  • What are they doing well in? 
  • What are they lacking? 
  • How can you capitalize and differentiate yourself from the competition? 
  • What features of their product win over their users? 
  • How does their user experience compare to yours, from the way their website is organized to the level of ease users feel when interacting with their product?

Once you find your answers, you can offer your users a stellar user experience and build innovative products that make them choose you over your competitors.

We suggest you run a UX competitive analysis when:

  • Building a new product or feature
  • Looking to identify market gaps
  • Confirming a hypothesis to support ongoing research

Whether you’re in the early phases of finding product-market fit (PMF) or post-PMF, becoming familiar with competitive dynamics within your category helps you understand what areas you need to focus on and how to improve.

You should generally keep tabs on your competitors during all phases of a product launch to stay up-to-date with trends in your industry. It’s a great pulse check to help you learn or confirm your position in the market.

📚 Learn more about analysis for UX research in the UXR Field Guide.

What is a competitive market analysis?

A competitive market analysis (sometimes called a market audit) aims to understand how different marketing strategies affect the sales of a product in comparison to other competitors. It’s similar to a UX competitive analysis because both require understanding your competitors’ weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities for improvement. 

In comparison to a UX competitive analysis, a market analysis focuses more on go-to-market (GTM) aspects—assessing competitors’ target audience, positioning, pricing and packaging, product promise, or GTM strategy.

An effective market analysis examines the business’s strategies, goals, internal marketing systems, marketing activities, and marketing environment.

A competitive market analysis typically looks at a competing brand’s:

  • Visual brand elements
  • Tone and messaging
  • Positioning
  • Sales strategy

Overall, running a market analysis on your competitors helps you know the ins and outs of their work, and helps you identify opportunities for you to out-perform them. 

If a UX competitive analysis is comparable to an F1 driver evaluating their car’s features, performance, and functionality, a competitive market analysis is like evaluating the other team’s racing strategies, capitalizing on their weaknesses, and coming up with a strategy to ensure the best possible outcome on the track.

Why conduct a competitive market analysis?

Conducting a UX competitive analysis is a great way to fine tune and improve the actual product and the user experience, but a competitive market analysis is key to making your product visible to your customers.

Here are a few ways that a competitive market analysis can help you:

  • Catch mistakes and errors early on. This helps protect your business’s reputation and allows you to halt any marketing or sales initiatives that are not working. If you find a tactic that is underperforming, you can choose to remove it from your strategy.
  • Pinpoint strategies that are working well. Maybe you don’t realize that you’re already on the right track with your plans. A competitive market analysis can help confirm the effectiveness of your strategy in comparison to your competitors.
  • Inform your next product launch/marketing plan/sales strategy. Don’t know what to do next for your big launch? Conducting a competitive analysis will help you understand what steps you need to take next to position the product in a way that outshines your competitors.
  • Identify the most effective ways to reach your audience. How can you bring your product in front of your target audience? What messaging, visual design, or sales tactics are the most effective ways to reach your users? A competitive market analysis can help answer these questions.
  • Create a benchmark for measuring your growth. This is especially important in the early stages of finding product-market fit when you’re not really sure what is considered a win in a new space.

How to conduct a competitive analysis in user vs market research

Typically, the user research team will conduct a UX competitive analysis to inform other teams like design, product, and engineering about what actions they need to take next. 

👇 Here’s a simple step-by-step guide to conducting a UX competitive analysis for UX research.

1. Identify your goals and define your product.

What are you trying to accomplish with your product? What kind of user journey do you want to create? What are the exact features that your product needs in order to satisfy your users?

These are the questions that you should ask before creating a new product. This step usually kicks off the discovery phase of the product development cycle. You want to understand your users, their problems, and opportunities before you go and build that product.

2. Compile a list of your direct and indirect competitors.

Who else is competing with you? Do they have the same user base as you, or do they share the same goals as you?

There are two types of competitors, direct and indirect. Direct competitors are ones that offer the same product or service as you. Indirect competitors are ones that offer something different, but they could potentially satisfy the same user needs and reach the same goal.

Compile a list of both types of competitors and prioritize the ones that have the most similarities with you.

3. Choose a competitive analysis method.

There are various ways to gather information about your competitors. Some methods might take more time than others, and they all vary in complexity. Our suggestion is to do a combination of a few UX competitive analysis methods to gather the most relevant information for your needs. 

Here are some examples of UX competitive analysis methods:

  • SWOT analysis: Identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
  • Using a competitor’s product: Get to know their product as if you were their target user and see how their product compares to yours.
  • Reading a competitor’s reviews: Want to know how their users really feel about their product? Read through real feedback from real users. A great place to start is G2 reviews.
  • Comparison chart of the competitors’ product features: Map out the different functionalities, features, and services that come with their product. A great example of this is our Tools Map, a report on the current tools available in the UX landscape.
  • User journey comparison: Take some time to identify gaps or opportunities within your own user journey by comparing it to your competitor’s. A great way to visualize your users’ perception of your product compared to your competitors is a perceptual map.
  • Usability test on competitor’s prototype: Usability testing is key to knowing how effective your product is. Simulate your competitors’ user experience or product and run some tests on it to measure its performance.

4. Present your findings and identify action items.

Once you’ve gathered all your data, it’s important to share these insights and create an actionable strategy from what you’ve learned.

Potential action items include: 

  • Giving direction to your design team about what design aspects could be improved
  • Providing insight for the engineering team about what front-end or back-end infrastructure needs improvement
  • Informing the product team with new insights about the product’s features and performance

A competitive market analysis will focus more on the strategy of bringing a product to the market. Although a market analysis is not as focused on the UX side of things, this type of competitive analysis provides deeper insight into business-related factors that can help supplement your user insights.

👇 Here’s a simplified view of what a competitive market analysis looks like:

  1. Identify your marketing channels, strategies, and activities.
  2. Identify your goals and objectives.
  3. Gather data.
  4. Make a comparison.
  5. Identify issues and gaps.
  6. Create an action plan.
  7. Repeat.

Limitations of a competitive analysis

A competitive analysis, whether for user insights or market insights, is a great tool to help you understand how your product and your brand stands in relation to your competitors. But it’s not the only solution to all of your UX or product issues.

In order to truly create an innovative user experience or product, it’s important to focus on how much value you’re bringing to the users themselves. If you constantly compare yourself to other competitors, it’s easy to fall into the illusion that you’re doing well as long as you’re doing better than someone else. 

Avoid becoming so clouded by the thought of competition that you lose focus on your true goal: to make great products and experiences for the users.

Market research and user research together in practice

Market research and user insights are better together. Whether your company is more product-focused or more marketing-driven, it’s best to find a way to share these insights across teams and find ways to combine efforts.

A UX researcher might not have the expertise to understand how various marketing elements like tone and messaging or visual branding can affect a product. That’s where competitive market research comes in to help provide insight about these factors.

On the flip side, other teams need the help of a UX researcher to uncover competitive user research insights that point them in the right direction of usability, effectiveness, and the entire user journey with a product.

Best practice is to combine market insights with user experience insights to effectively optimize and position your product. Doing so will help you address both internal bottomline goals and users’ intrinsic needs or motivations — against your competition.

Here’s how to combine both market research and UX research:

  • Find the overlap in your overall business and UX goals: Sharing goals between researchers and other teams provides the opportunity to share relevant insights. This helps you avoid duplicate research efforts and ensures you don’t miss out on important insights.
  • Connect the right teams with the UX research team to keep communication open: Ongoing research and insights should be visible to all teams, not just the user research team. Periodically share research insights with marketers, designers, product managers and more to keep them up to date and share relevant insights.
  • Plan your research alongside the product development cycle: Knowing when to apply the right insights in the right phase of a product launch is key to helping your organization stay aligned with your goals. From the discovery phase, validation and testing, to post-launch listening, the user research team should continue to update other teams with the right insights to stay on the right track— and vice versa.

Understanding your competitors should not be intimidating, but rather an inspiring and self-reflective process of getting to know your business or product’s weaknesses, strengths, and opportunities. 

Competitive analysis is just one piece of the puzzle. Start talking to real people today. Recruit from our participant pool to gain fresh insights into market needs and opportunities, or manage a panel of your own customers to learn more about their needs and pain points to keep them happy. 

Rachell Lee
Copywriter at Seamless.AI

Rachell is a SEO Copywriter at Seamless.AI and former Content Marketing Manager at User Interviews. Content writer. Marketing enthusiast. INFJ. Inspired by humans and their stories. She spends ridiculous amounts of time on Duolingo and cooking new recipes.

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