5 Ways to Leverage Your Competition in New Product Development

New products aren’t successful when you copy competitors (or when you ignore them). Explore smarter competitive analysis strategies in product development.

Jon Gimondo
Jon Gimondo

April 14 th 2023 | 7 min read

If you’re a company that continually follows its competition and releases “me too” products, you’re unlikely to achieve meaningful market success. By the time you get to the finish line with a copycat product, your visionary competitors are already releasing something new. And if you’re not careful, you’ll end up in an infinite loop of reactionary product development that lacks any semblance of imagination or innovation.

But that doesn’t mean you should never look to your competitor’s products or ideas for inspiration. After all, if you always insist on fully bespoke solutions, you risk blowing your budget and eating into your ROI. Even worse, you might lengthen your product development timeline so much that you completely miss your window of opportunity to stand out.

Thankfully, there’s a healthy middle ground between these two extremes.

Analyzing your competitive landscape can be a powerful way to uncover your product’s unique value proposition, speed up your time to market, and ultimately outpace your competition. Here are five strategies to help forward-thinking leaders approach competitive analysis the right way.

1. Assess the Market Conditions That Will Impact Your Product’s Success

Whether you’re entering a new market or seeking to expand your existing market share, you need to understand what it will take to reach your goals. How much has the market been penetrated? Where are there still opportunities for growth? And what external factors will impact your ability to compete?

To get to the heart of this, ask questions like:

  • Have our competitors increased our audience’s awareness of a need that we can capitalize on?
  • Have they ignored a need we can meet or a user group we can reach?
  • What about the supply chain? Are the materials we’re planning to use readily available? Have our competitors run into any roadblocks sourcing those same materials?
  • How do our competitors manufacture their products? Are there challenges they are facing that we can sidestep, shortening time to market?

When you think about your next project through this lens, engaging in a competitive analysis with a critical, curious eye isn’t just a way to develop a superior product. It’s foundational to reaching your overarching business objectives.

2. Review Customer Feedback on Competitor Products

Before I came to M3, I worked for a consumer tool company. The market was saturated with the types of products we developed, which often made it challenging to find our market edge. However, by sifting through online reviews of our competitors’ products, we regularly uncovered nuggets of insight we could leverage to make people reach for (and become loyal to) our version of common tools like socket wrenches, screwdrivers, and hammers.

To employ this strategy at your company, look at any existing customer feedback you can find. Sites like Amazon, for example, are a treasure trove of free, easily accessible consumer reviews. As you comb these reviews, ask:

  • What do users like about our competitor’s product? What do they complain about?
  • Where are there areas of unmet need?
  • What are customers not saying about this product and how does that inform our product direction?
  • Are there features that exist in one competitor’s product that don’t exist in another’s? If so, how can we capitalize on the things each competitor does well and create a best-of-both-worlds solution?

This type of secondary research is a fantastic use case for AI in product development. AI tools can process large amounts of data quickly and identify commonalities, unique insights, and key takeaways for you to act on.

3. Conduct Voice of the Customer (VOC) Research on Existing Products

Reviewing online comments about an existing product is useful, but it shouldn’t be the final step in your customer research strategy. To dig deeper, you can also take your competitors’ products directly to your audience and conduct VOC research. Watch how customers use the product and ask for candid feedback on its performance in real-time. Doing so will give you tangible ideas for how to improve your own product development plans.

This can be a particularly helpful exercise if you’re still nailing down your own product’s requirements. Hearing customers’ thoughts on a competitor’s product can help you:

  • Avoid dead-end brainstorming sessions and rally your team around a winning concept more quickly
  • Reduce the number of prototypes you need to produce, saving significant amounts of time and money
  • Figure out what customers are willing to pay for the product, and which features they would (or wouldn’t) pay more for

This kind of VOC research helped M3 develop a sophisticated noise monitoring system for NoiseAware. Although there were no equivalent competitors on the market, we were aware of several IoT products with compelling features worth considering. To ensure we delivered an exceptional customer experience, we brought in some of these IoT systems for customers to evaluate in terms of out-of-box experience, installation, placement, etc. This helped us identify features that were already working well and opportunities for us to improve our device.

4. Take Your Competitors’ Products Apart and Examine the Minimum Requirements

Product teardowns should be a regular part of any product development process. What better way to see exactly how your competitors’ product works and find opportunities to one-up their design? And how else can you truly validate that your product design is superior?

When you take a product apart, take a close look at:

  • The product’s baseline requirements. What does your own product need to do to meet or exceed them?
  • Why your competitors made the design choices they did. You may find what you first thought was a critical design feature is actually a band aid for a problem you could avoid all together.
  • Their use of custom vs. off-the-shelf parts for mechanical challenges. Should you reinvent the wheel for elements like levers, gears, hinges, and springs? Or can you use your competitors’ (or COTS) solutions for basic mechanical problems like these?

Just remember: taking existing products apart should be a source of information and inspiration, not limitation. Don’t get caught up in thinking that your competitor’s approach is the only — or best — way to solve a problem.

5. Scan Existing and Expired Patents for Usable Ideas

Patents contain a wealth of information that you can use to your advantage. And before you bring a product to market, you should review the IP landscape to find:

  • Expired patents that contain design ideas and solutions you’re free to use in your product
  • Patents your competitors filed but never used, which can shed light on opportunities and market limitations you may not be aware of
  • Patented ideas that restrict your freedom to operate or require you to obtain a license for use

Many of the world’s most complex problems have already been solved. And though your designers and engineers may love to look for new ways to solve product development challenges, retreading ground unnecessarily just slows down your time to market. Remember that it’s not only smart to look for opportunities to incorporate the best ideas from other innovators into your design, it’s also more cost-effective.

On the other hand, your team might come up with ideas they think are novel but are actually already patented. That’s why you also have to review patents carefully to protect your company from the unwanted consequences of violating someone else’s intellectual property.

Use Competitor Analysis to Catapult Your Product’s Success

Looking at existing products and ideas to find ways to improve them is a perfectly valid approach to new product development. After all, Apple didn’t release the first smartphone. They found ways to release a better one — all while generating unprecedented excitement.

All that to say, you don’t have to beat your competition to market to beat them at their own game. But you do have to find your unique value proposition and give users something to get enthusiastic about.

That’s what M3’s strategy phase is all about. We love to help clients find their market advantage and develop products that leave the competition in the dust. We’d love to help you, too. So when you’re ready to get started, let’s talk.

Jon Gimondo
About the Author

Jon Gimondo – Engineering