Tag Archives: research

Competitor Analysis Hijack! – The Lost Art of Competitor Research

Sometimes it can seem like in-depth, comprehensive evaluation of competitor activities has been hijacked.  It’s all about analysing the SEO traffic and online presence of peers. And it is easy to see why – with so many clever platforms and services and the weight of Google behind it, SEO analysis is an easy and powerful win.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that an internet search on competitor analysis throws up SEO first and foremost.  And more and more blogs point to evaluating competitor content, SEO structure and social media integration as the “three easy steps” to stand-out analysis.

But this approach doesn’t give a complete picture of what companies actually do or make, how they are organised or what gives them an edge.  A focus on the digital strategy doesn’t give the full story and can detract from the real facts and complexities underlying a competitor’s advantage.

There is huge value in stepping back and evaluating competitors or new entrants in a market in a holistic, systematic and deeper way.  This means giving proper weight to the fundamentals of business performance, strategic positioning, product mapping and organisational capabilities (as well as digital marketing activities!). 

Providing an evidence base for decision making

The strongest competitor research provides evidence to support a change and is most valuable when there is a genuine business imperative driving it.  In our case, clients might be building a business case, developing a product or justifying an investment.  

The research and analysis required involves looking closely at what others in a market are actually doing, how they are doing it and whether they are successful.  But it also goes further and is driven by relentless, targeted questions about how competitors operate to gain an advantage. 

Often, the central question being addressed is quite specific.  For example:

  • How are our competitors reacting to a shift in the market?  
  • How are they addressing a new challenge?  
  • How are they structuring to deliver their offer? 
  • Should we invest in a new product/service/market?
  • What are other players doing that is different from us? 

Good competitor intelligence answers these questions directly, and almost as usefully, can often raise questions that might not have been considered.  The insight and value that differentiates the resulting analysis derives from a set of clear questions to address.

Fundamentals of competitor analysis

Ongoing (or frequent) monitoring of competitors is part and parcel of good business practice.  And this definitely includes tracking digital activities. But, for deeper understanding, an analysis of a single competitor, or group of relevant direct and indirect competitors can include consistent comparison of any number of elements. 

There is almost a pick-list, depending on the need.  It includes: financial analysis, funding, strategy, leadership and governance, organisational structure, business segments, customers, customer awareness, sales and marketing activities, regulatory context, key partnerships, product mapping and development, pricing, geographic spread, market size, market penetration … And it is likely to include specific analyses, such as SWOT analysis, Forces at Work or peer benchmarking of products or activities.  These elements are the building blocks of a thorough competitor analysis. 

No “three easy steps

Actually, that isn’t quite true, there are some obvious and easy wins.  A trawl of free and public sources will pull together the basics – company websites, financial reports, press coverage and plenty of free and paid-for sources that aggregate data (Hoovers, Bloomberg, Dun & Bradstreet).  And there is internal knowledge to gather, saving hours of research and bringing useful insight. You can quickly achieve a good, high-level view, which at times, will be enough. 

However, a more granular, evidence-rich picture that can genuinely inform real business decisions is harder to achieve.  And incredibly time consuming. It involves reading product brochures (including the smallprint), trawling websites, reading financial reports and endless press releases, checking job adverts, chat rooms, looking at conference presentations and online interviews, reading blogs and social media posts …  Volumes of information to process and pull together. There is constant validation as you work through endless iterations of the same thing, piecing together a picture and drawing out insights. 

It isn’t rocket science, but does require discipline, structure and hard graft.  Even an appetite for boredom. It takes time and capacity, something senior executives and decision makers just don’t have.  All too frequently, tasks are only partially completed or are delegated to more junior colleagues, with a resulting lack of rigour and consistency.  And possibly insight?

The real value-add

We are being a bit disingenuous here, because it isn’t just know-how and time.  There is something more that comes from the experience of analysing companies and organisations for clients in high pressure situations, time and time again. 

It’s a few things:  being comprehensive, but with a forensic eye for detail;  a consistent approach that facilitates comparison; allowing for divergence when you get a scrap of a suggestion;  and the confidence to make assumptions and triangulate these with evidence or relevant context. Our clients also value having an outside view, looking at competitors both objectively and with an open mind.  It is all of this combined that leads to the most powerful competitive intelligence. The real value-add.

At Research Matters, we are quietly proud (and rather enjoy) getting down with the detail, drilling through the data and digging for the insights.  We can sprinkle some SEO analysis in too, if need be. We draw it all together to present a forensic view of the competitive environment, with the key takeaways and actionable results.  The aim, always, is to help our clients get to grips with the real issues and to think differently about the questions driving their business development and strategic direction.  


Case Study: Bespoke market segment analysis for specialist health care provider

We have recently finished working on a really interesting project with a not-for-profit provider of specialist health care.  We were able to produce a single, consistent and qualified view of market and competitive dynamics for four target segments.  These were niche areas that are not usually covered by published ‘off the shelf’ market research.  By deep diving and focusing on what matters for our client we produced work that was tailored to meet their specific requirements.  The case study describes our approach and the impact we had for our client. You can download our case study here: Case Study: bespoke market research


3 reasons why rigorous research should underpin your thought leadership

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Rigorous research is one of the important factors in creating high quality and effective thought leadership material, according to research by Source for Consulting based on interviews with some of the best authors of thought leadership in the world. Research helps authors position and challenge their ideas to create thought leadership that is distinctive, resilient and outward-looking, and importantly, most likely to deliver a return on investment. Here’s how:

Make it distinctive

You will know your field and have well-thought ideas about what you want to say, but can you root new insights in an objectively researched and structured context? Research can capture and distil existing material by academics, business leaders and competitors. Considering what others are saying, assessing the quality and drawing out what is typical (or bland!), what stands out and where there are gaps helps you frame your own thinking and identifies where there is potential to make your mark.

Make it collaborative

Identifying external experts or organisations to consult or partner with can bring valuable kudos and authority to your thought leadership. Five years ago, Research Matters identified an academic at MIT who was talking about our client’s area of expertise in a completely fresh way. Our client, an international professional services firm, reached out early and they went on to collaboratively develop the thought leadership initially and then a new service line.

More than this, you can quickly reach out to new potential markets and clients through a partner’s own networks and audiences. Links can also be made with opposing viewpoints, exploiting discussion and debate across social media as a key, free marketing tool.

Safeguard your reputation

Due diligence to make sure you are not saying something someone else, or worse still a competitor, isn’t already saying is a critical reason to invest in upfront, external research. You may think you know your area, but views and opinions change fast and some level of systematic checking is crucial.

It is also about making sure your thought leadership is as good as it can be. Fiona Czerniawska, a founder of Source, has said: “Thought leadership is a complex and crowded area. Done well it can really strengthen a consulting firm’s brand, and done badly, it can actually be quite damaging.” Investment in research is part of your risk management and ensures that thought leadership becomes a valuable B2B marketing tool.


Distinctive thought leadership can transform an organisation’s knowledge and experience into a powerful way of differentiating themselves. The best thought leadership combines original thinking and client need with solid internal and external research. “Get ahead of the game and look at the research needs which the market is facing before you produce your thought leadership” is advice reflected in the report from Source for Consulting.

Click here to read Source’s free report, What do authors of the best thought leadership in the world have to say about why and how it’s created?

Ten years, ten tips – launching researchchatter

RM Icon_5 200pxWe are marking an amazing ten years in business for Research Matters – a good time for a refresh (new branding, new website, new blog …) and a moment to reflect.

We’ve been thinking about what we’ve learnt after our first decade … Obviously, there is all that’s involved in running a business, especially in a technologically changing and enabling world, but more than that, here are some of our “so what’s” so far …


Research matters

Time and again, we have seen deep, thorough, objective, scrutinised research combined with client engagement, systematic thinking and intelligent insight help businesses and organisations make better decisions. We want our research to make a difference, sometimes small, sometimes more significant, so we work hard to make sure it hits the spot.  Research matters – this is what we love to do and it’s why we do it.

‘Start with why’

Knowing our clients is the first priority, personally where possible – we always try to meet people face to face. But more importantly, understanding what and especially why they are need to know something is the starting point. More about Start with Why to follow…

Working with integrity means saying no

Not as a rule, but when we know we can’t do work as well as we want to, we’ve learnt to say no. We’ve also found solutions much more quickly than expected, resulting in curtailed projects and reduced revenues.

McKinsey ethos is fundamental

We rely on our shared McKinsey ethos and experience. It has proved invaluable and transfers well enough from a global strategy consulting firm to our small business of two! The professionalism, ‘client first’ mantra, rigorous research, clarity of communication and relentless focus on ‘so what?’ are the cornerstones of our approach and enjoyment. It gave us a great network too!

Work comes

Not usually in a nice, even flow, quite the contrary, but it always comes. That doesn’t stop us getting anxious when times are leaner, but that is the nature of small business.

Good work is the best marketing

When the work speaks for itself, repeat business and recommendations follow. So it can be worth going that extra mile or just being.

Don’t apologise about price

Let the work do the speaking again!

Education and health are our favourite things

For Research Matters at least. So many interesting issues and sectors researched, but all our client work on education and health has been especially satisfying and fascinating. These have become ‘themes’ for Research Matters, as well as areas of expertise and from time to time we will post or retweet about these.

Girls matter too

We’re women in business, working with other women in business. And we’re Mum’s of girls. We’ve done lots of research into the impact of education for girls at one level, to issues around the glass ceiling for working women at the other end of the spectrum. Here’s another important ‘theme’ for us that we support and will raise from time to time.

Home is best

We love visiting clients around the country, especially in London, but it’s great coming back to York and Yorkshire!



So mostly, our learnings are about having confidence, knowing what we’re good at and loving what we do – it’s that increasingly hackneyed idea of working authentically (Why have we become so obsessed with the pursuit of authenticity?) What have other small businesses learnt about working in ways that feel right and work well (or authentically?!)?