If the thought of doing a competitive analysis makes you want to go to lunch and never come back, we get it. It sounds tedious, overwhelming, and just straight-up boring. But if you want to build a strong, healthy brand—and own your portion of the market—it’s a mandatory exercise.
Luckily, if you’ve never done one before (or if you need to update your current competitive analysis), you’ve come to the right place. We’ve created this simple guide to complete a competitive analysis, as well as a free interactive template, to do it quickly and easily. Let’s dive in.
First, What Is a Competitive Analysis?
It’s basically a way to identify who your competition is, how they’ve positioned themselves, how they present themselves, and what their strengths and weaknesses are compared to you.
Why Do You Need to Do a Competitive Analysis?
To kick their ass—or, rather, to get an objective understanding of where they stand so that you can differentiate and position yourself for world domination. A strong competitive analysis helps you articulate the similarities and differences between your competition to help you identify the unique ways you can outshine them.
When Should You do a Competitive Analysis?
The best time to do this is when you are launching or refreshing a brand, but if you’ve never done one at all, then now is the best time.
“The greater the insight into the competition, the greater the competitive gap.”
—Alina Wheeler, Designing Brand Identity
Who On Your Team Should Be Involved?
It depends on your brand maturity. If you’re totally new or a startup, you’ll want cofounders and, ideally, anyone in the company with any brand or design experience. If you’re refreshing or rebranding, you’ll want relevant stakeholders and a brand steward (someone who is in charge of overseeing the brand, whether it’s their formal title or not).
How to Do a Competitive Analysis
Your competitive analysis can be broad or incredibly detailed. We’re guessing you’re a busy person with a few more meetings to get to (today alone), so we’re gonna go for the quick and easy route, but you can adapt as you see fit if you need a deeper dive. The goal here isn’t to write a novel about each competitor; it’s to identify and isolate the most pertinent information that helps you understand who they are, how they communicate, and how your brand compares.
Step 1: Assemble a List of Competitors
Do a brain dump of everyone you can think of in your space, including your archnemeses and people who could be perceived as competitors.
Step 2: Split Them Into Two Groups
Divide your list into two buckets: current and aspirational.
- Current competitors: Brands that are your current competitors or in a similar space.
- Aspirational competitors: Brands you wish you could compete with (the Nikes, Apples, and BMWs of your industry).
Step 3: Download Your Free Competitive Analysis Template
To save you time (and help you understand what information you should be documenting), we’ve created a handy interactive PDF template, which you can fill in for as many competitors as you need (just use multiple templates). You can also print, email, or share the template with your team.
Step 4: Work Through the Template
Now it’s time to analyze your competitors, looking at every aspect of their brand, from from their tagline, to their values, to their visual identity (logo, colors, typography, etc.). As you’ll see in the template, this includes things like:
- Brand Heart (purpose, vision, mission, values)
- Strength and weaknesses
- Value prop
We prefer to be more concise when filling out the competitive analysis, but some people like to get super detailed at this point. (This also depends on how much time or bandwidth you have to dedicate to this exercise.) Naturally, the more detailed you are, the better you can classify your competition. Just remember your goal is to identify similarities and differences, so use whatever language helps you do this.
Even if you do a high-level analysis, you’ll notice particular trends in the way your competitors do things, such as similar visual identities (e.g, in the video-streaming sphere, Netflix and YouTube both use red) or messaging (e.g., a focus on features instead of price). These are the most valuable insights to help you better position yourself.
Step 5: Articulate Your Own Identity
Document the same elements for your own brand as it stands now. If you’re a new business, you might not have every item articulated, but that’s OK. This is a tool to help you identify how and where you can evolve.
Furthermore, as you evolve your brand, you’ll want to find a balance between:
- Emulating things that brands you aspire to compete with do (e.g., compete on value)
- Avoiding things that brands you don’t want to compete with do (e.g., compete on price)
The challenge is to do this while remaining original and authentic to who you are.
Step 6: Identify Your Niche
With a general idea of every brand’s attributes, grab a whiteboard and start visualizing your position in the marketplace with a Cartesian chart. (This exercise helps you truly “see” where you lie on the spectrum.)
Do several variations, plotting your competitors based on different polarities, such as:
- Low cost vs. high cost
- Low quality vs. high quality
- Traditional vs. contemporary
- People-focused vs. automated/scalable
- Niche vs. comprehensive
By the end of this exercise, you should have an insightful understanding of your competition, as well as your own strengths. You should also be able to answer this simple (and most significant) question: Why should a customer choose your products/services instead of the competition?
Build Your Brand Strategy to Help You Win
Once you have a complete competitive analysis, you can refine your brand strategy (or build a new one) to help you effectively communicate who you are, what you do, and why it matters—so that you can own your place in the market. You can start with our guide to create a brand strategy (which also includes a free brand toolkit), or start with these next steps:
- Identify your target demo. Learn how to craft personas that help you connect with your target customer.
- Identify your Brand Heart. Download our free workbook to document and articulate your brand’s core principles (purpose, vision, mission, and values)—and share them with the world.
- Refine your brand messaging. Use our simple brand messaging framework to identify your tagline, value prop, and messaging pillars, and follow these tips to craft compelling copy that converts.
- Design a comprehensive visual identity. Follow our best tips to design your logo, typography, color—and use our visual identity checklist to ensure your identity is complete.
- Create your brand guidelines. Find out how to create comprehensive brand guidelines that make it easy for people to create on-brand content.
- Tell the right story at every stage of the buyer journey. Start by mapping your buyer’s journey to identify messaging opportunities and content gaps.