Look at any good or famous business competitor case study examples, and one thing immediately becomes clear:
Done well, this approach to competitive analysis can help you identify your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses and your own, all while determining those crucial gaps in the market that represent a golden opportunity for your brand.
However, doing not so well and a competitor case study can soon balloon into an overwhelming waste of time which may provide you with a tonne of data on your competition yet offers no real insight on how to use that data to gain a competitive advantage.
To help ensure yours is done well, I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to doing competitive analysis the right way, outlining not only what to look for when analyzing your competition but how to take what you find and put it to work for your business.
What is a Business Competitor Case Study and Why Do You Need One?
Typically, when we think of a business case study, we think of the traditional “Here’s how a business came with a solution to a particular problem.”
For example, there’s a famous case study focusing on the multi-national coffee supply chain Starbucks. After “hitting a wall” in their sales and revenue, the brand found a solution by closing down a significant number of their stores and “reinvigorating” their branding, essentially focussing on quality over quantity.
Other businesses can learn from the Starbucks case study and those like them and, where appropriate, apply what worked to their own brand.
A business competitor case study operates similarly, albeit with some notable differences. In this case, the problem doesn’t belong to another business but your own.
That problem or challenge could be:
- How do we increase our revenues and/or revenue streams?
- How do we re-engage with lapsed/former customers?
- How do we increase our ROI in social media or digital marketing?
- How do we increase our market share?
Or it could be any number of other challenges.
Whatever the case may be, carrying out this kind of competitive analysis helps you find the solution by looking at your main competition. If growing your market share is your main priority, identifying a weakness that your competitor has can help you develop new ideas on how you can offer customers something they’re simply not getting from that competitor.
If your digital marketing is leaving a lot to be desired, surveying the landscape to see where you’re falling behind can help you pinpoint precisely where you’re going wrong.
What’s more, making effective use of this competitive intelligence can help you to identify changes in both your audience and the industry as a whole, highlighting trends you can capitalize on, new audiences you could potentially target, or simply new ways to reach and engage with your existing target audience.
5 Famous Business Competitor Case Study Examples
1. The Army Crew Team
The Army Crew Team is an all-time classic business competitor case study that has a lot to teach us about how we work as a team. The coach of West Point’s varsity Army Crew team took his eight top individual rowers and placed them together in one boat. In a second boat, he placed his eight second-tier rowers.
The team in the second boat consistently beat the team in the first boat, despite the first boat consisting of better performing individual rowers. The case study shows that, collectively, a team can be more than the sum of its individual parts and that there’s more to getting great work out of a team than simply gathering together your star performers.
For businesses looking at the best ways to get the most out of their teams, this is an essential case study to look at.
2. Malden Mills
Two weeks before Christmas 1995, the Malden Mills factory burned to the ground.
Employees feared and assumed that they’d be unemployed until the factory was rebuilt, but the company’s CEO, Aaron Feuerstein, invested $25 million of company money to ensure those employees would still have a wage and benefits while the factory was rebuilt.
In one regard, this worked out well. When the factory reopened, the employees who had been well taken care of worked harder than ever. Productivity was at an all-time high and business boomed. In another regard, the cost of paying for the factory rebuild as well as taking care of employees landed Malden Mills in bankruptcy court three times.
This famous case study is used time and time again to present an argument for the pros and cons of philanthropy and making difficult decisions regarding employee satisfaction.
3. Apple Inc.
For the longest time, Apple was known as “Apple Computers” a name that perfectly summed up their focus on the personal computer market. In 2007, however, they dropped the “computers” part and simply became “Apple Inc.” This was more than just a name change for the company, it was part of an entire rebranding a shift in focus from personal computers to iPods, iPhones, iPads, and the like.
It was a strategy that paid off for them. Apple was already a well-known company beforehand, but after their “rebirth” in 2007, they truly became not only a household name but one of the most successful and profitable businesses of all time.
This famous case study is used a lot to demonstrate the benefits of taking the company in an entirely different direction rather than trying to compete in an already overcrowded market.
The ‘Cadbury Ethical Dilema‘ is a popular case study that is frequently presented to MBA students taking part in business case study competitions. Chocolate manufacturers Cadbury had prided themselves on their strong values and fair ethical practices. So it came as a huge blow to the brand when it was discovered that child labor was being used to produce cocoa on Côte d’Ivoire cocoa farms.
The House of Representatives passed legislation in the US which meant that companies who could prove their chocolate was produced without forced labor could print “slave-labor free” labels on their chocolate.
Naturally, this would paint companies who couldn’t prove that in a bad light, so the industry as a whole asked for time to essentially clean up its act. When the agreed deadline for doing so came to an end, Cadbury were left with a dilemma – did they continue to stall for time or did they find another way to ensure ethical management of their supply chain?
This case study remains famous for pointing out the difficulties in managing ethical practices and is well worth looking at for considering the impact that the practices of others in your supply chain can have on your business.
5. Coffee 2016
Another well-known case study that should be familiar to anyone who ever competed in a business case study competition in the last few years. Student teams were asked to come up with ideas for improving the returns generated by everyone involved in the production and consumption of coffee from the grower right through to the consumer.
The case was famous as it has so much to teach businesses and business students alike about marketing practices and supply chain logistics.
How to Create a Business Competitor Case Study
So, that takes care of the what and the why, but what about the how? Below, you’ll find a simple nine-step process to help you get the ball rolling with your own competitor analysis.
1. Determine Which Products/Services to Evaluate
If your business offers more than one product or service, you may find that analyzing your competitors becomes much less of a headache when you focus on just one of them or at least one type. For example, if you make sports clothing, you may choose to focus on your competition in the running gear market or concentrate on developing a strategy to increase revenues from your line of sports shoes.
If you’re a digital marketing agency, you might want to narrow down your competitive research to just Search Engine Optimization or how you can improve the service you offer to a web design client.
That’s not to say that you can’t research more than one aspect of your business, but doing so may mean that you end up producing data that isn’t always relevant and doesn’t help you to make the kind of strategic decisions you really need to make.
2. Determining Your Competitors for a Business Competitor Case Study
On the whole, your business is likely to have three types of competitors.
A direct competitor is any business that sells the same product or service in the same category to meet the same need for the same audience. Your biggest competitor, the one people most closely compare your business to, is more than likely going to fall in this category, as are any others that are actively competing for your share of the market.
If you sell sports shoes to female marathon runners, another company that sells sports shoes to female marathon runners would be your direct competitor. If you run a local car washing service and another business three blocks over also offer a local car washing service, they’re in direct competition with you.
An indirect competitor is a business that sells a different product or service to meet the same need of the same audience. A common example is fast food restaurants.
McDonald’s and Burger King both sell fast food burgers (products) to hungry people (audience) so that those people can fulfill that hunger (need). If I’m hungry and want the convenience of fast food and the delicious taste of a burger, I could spend my money at either restaurant, which makes them direct competitors.
However, if I’m just hungry and want something convenient, whether it’s a burger or not, I might choose to go to McDonald’s or head next door to Pizza Hut or Subway. All three brands are in the same category (fast food), all three brands meet my need for a convenient way to satisfy hunger, but all three do so with different types of products, making them indirect competitors.
A replacement competitor meets the same needs for the same audience but using different products or services in a different category. For example, I could choose to go to McDonald’s to fill my hunger, but I might also choose to go to Target and buy ingredients to make a homemade dinner.
To go back to the car wash example I used earlier – If you run a local car wash and the auto repair shop next door sells car cleaning supplies, that would make them a replacement competition. Your customer could choose to substitute using your service to buy some cleaning supplies and do the job himself.
Potential and Future Competitors
When determining your competition, it’s worth noting that just because a business isn’t currently in your market segment doesn’t mean they won’t eventually. This is why it’s worth noting your potential and future competitors too.
Potential competitors are those who may sell the same products, even with the same category but haven’t yet entered your market. For example, a company that operates exclusively in the next town, city, or state over to you may not be a direct competitor yet, but they have the potential to be if they chose to move into your town/city/state.
Likewise, if you run a limousine hire service focusing exclusively on corporate clients and another company across town focuses exclusively on limousine hire for weddings, they too have the potential to be a competitor. A future competitor is much more likely to become direct competitors, such as an expanding national chain.
To really get the most value out of your eventual competitive analysis report, it pays to consider all of these types of clients and their impact on your business.
How to Find Your Competitors for a Competitive Analysis
There are some competitors that you don’t have to look very hard to find. You know they’re there. They are the businesses and brand names that are hard to ignore, the ones everyone compares you to do.
Still, don’t just limit your research there.
Head to Google.
Search for the kind of keywords you’d expect people to use for your business.
Who else comes up beside you?
Search for your business name.
What are other businesses paying for Google ads around your business?
What about social media? Who are people talking about?
You can also use tools such as the Audience Overlap tool provided by Alexa, which helps you to not only track down your competition but develop and deliver on your entire competitive intelligence project. Don’t discount offline methods either. Magazines, trade publications, and even asking your target audience directly via focus groups, surveys, and so on can all prove helpful.
3. Start Your Research
Although Google can be a very powerful tool for finding out about your competitors, don’t just limit yourself to a quick search or browse their website. Yes, that’s important, especially if you’re both predominantly online brands. If your competitors have a physical presence, it’s important to check that out too.
You may want to treat this the same way you would a typical market research project and get a group of people to experience your competitor’s business, their customer service, sales experience, products, and so on. That way, you get a much wider range of opinions and can look for trends and common themes that can influence the strategic decisions you need to make to gain a competitive advantage.
4. Analyze Your Findings
With the research done, it’s time to collate what you’ve found into your competitive analysis report. This may take the form of graphs, charts, written insights, anything that can help you present a compelling business case as to why your brand needs to be made.
5. Identify Action Points
Speaking of which, the point of analyzing your competition isn’t to pay attention to how many social media followers they have or how they compare to you in terms of brand recognition; it’s to provide you with actionable steps that you can take to achieve your business goals.
So with that in mind, figure out what you’re actually going to do due to your competitor research. Will you be rethinking your price points? Revamping your customer service? Starting again with a completely different digital marketing strategy?
6. Take a Snapshot of Your Business Pre-Changes
Before you implement those steps, be sure to look at how your business is currently performing.
Consider your main KPIs and any data relating to how you’re currently doing. After all, it’s going to make it much easier to determine if the steps you’ve taken have been effective when you’ve got some real, measurable statistics to play with.
7. Implement the actions
This next step may sound simple, but it’s where the real work comes in. Whatever actionable steps you decide to take, whether it’s coming up with a brand new social media plan, establishing yourself as a market leader, or simply ensuring that every client receives first-class customer service, now’s the time to make that happen.
8. Measure the Results
When you’ve made your changes, measure your results.
Compare where you are now to where you were when you took that snapshot in step six.
9. Repeat as necessary
Last but not least, it’s important not to fall into the habit of thinking that competitive analysis is a one-and-done affair.
If there’s one universal truth about the business landscape, it’s that things change constantly. New trends emerge, new customers arrive on the scene, once loyal customers become former customers. As such, it’s important to analyze your competition as a regular component of your overall competitive strategy.
What to Include in a Business Competitor Case Study
You’ve now got a complete strategy to put your competitive analysis report together, but what exactly should you include in that report, and what aspects of your competitor’s business should you research?
The following are essential aspects that will help you to put together the most effective competitor case study.
Starting with the basics, look at your customers’ product or service, which competes with yours, and note all of its features. For the best results, do this for each competitor and add your findings to a spreadsheet. This will make it easy to compare products and see what you’re missing.
It may even show you what your competitors are missing, highlighting a hidden advantage that you may not have previously capitalized on.
2. Market Share
Determining their market share will help you identify who your main competitor is and who you and who you may need to focus your attention on.
3. Price points
Pay attention to what the competition charges and consider what insights you can gain about your own pricing.
4. Marketing types
Your competition’s SEO marketing strategy, where they invest their ad spend, the kind of social media marketing tools they use are all important.
What keywords are they using to draw traffic?
How do your competitor’s websites compare to yours?
What are their PPC campaigns like?
All of these questions will help you determine their strengths and weaknesses from a digital standpoint.
Don’t forget about other forms of media, either.
Do they advertise in print publications? If so, which ones?
What about TV, radio, and other advertising platforms?
5. Online popularity
How do they fare in terms of social media engagement and website traffic? How does that compare to your own online presence?
Here, you’re looking more at quantifiable numbers. Likes, follows, mentions, page views, etc., should all be taken into consideration. They may not be the most important factor for some aspects of your business, but if you’re looking to up the game with your marketing and communication strategy or your SEO strategy, these numbers are worth considering.
6. Public perception and reputation
Here, we’re focusing on quality over quantity. One company may have more social media mentions than you, but if all those mentions are negative, it’s a different story. Social listening tools can be a big help in discovering what people are saying about your competitor’s brand online and can prove to be a valuable way to discover the perception of your competitors from a client perspective.
Away from social media, you might also want to consider news releases, blogs, and news articles as a means of discovering what kind of reputation your competitors have in the wider media.
7. Search Engine Optimization
An SEO marketing strategy is vital for just about any business in the digital age, but how do the strategies of competing businesses compare to yours, and what can that teach you. Here’s where keyword research and looking at their inbound marketing strategy, their approach to content marketing, and technical SEO aspects will all be important.
What makes other businesses in your market unique? What do they promote as being their reason for standing out from the crowd? Along with any sales literature, you might want to look at their mission and values statements and the kind of language they use in social media bios to get a good idea of their USPs.
9. Strengths and Weaknesses
Any good business competitor case study will feature a list of competitors’ strengths and weaknesses and insight into what opportunities this presents for your business.
Just as you might do a SWOT analysis for your business, a similar approach may help you analyze what other brands do well, how that influences the things you need to improve on, and what they don’t do so well, and how you do can capitalize on that.
In this regard, when we talk about geography, we’re not just talking about the town, city, or region your competitors operate in. Although that’s important, it’s just as important to note whether they have physical bricks-and-mortar venues in those towns or whether they’re a strictly eCommerce or digital-only operation.
What are the Advantages of Conducting a Competitor Analysis?
Identify your own weak spots
Competitor analysis doesn’t just identify your competitors’ weaknesses and gaps in the market. It may also highlight gaps in any areas for improvement in your own company. By comparing your brand to others, you get a different perspective than you’d get from standard SWOT analysis, and this can pay dividends when it comes to driving your company forward.
Improve your marketing and SEO efforts
Competitive strategy analysis isn’t just about products, services, and customers. It can also identify the SEO techniques used by competitors and come up with appropriate keywords to help you improve your organic search results.
Define your Benchmarks and Fine-Tune Your KPIs
Input your findings into a competitive analysis template, and it will soon become apparent what areas your business needs to be focusing on. This can prove invaluable when it comes time to determine your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and decide what -and how- it measures.
Identify gaps in your talent pool
A competitor case study really influences every aspect of your business beyond the direct products or services you sell. Your HR team can use the information to help identify gaps in your talent pool. If there’s a newly emerging market trend that you lack the talent to capitalize upon, your team can use this information to help with the recruitment needed to fill that gap.
What are the Disadvantages of Competitive Analysis?
Too much data, not enough analysis
It’s easy to get so overwhelmed with the sheer amount of data you can unearth on your competitors that you forget that it’s the analysis of that data that really makes all the difference. It’s important to think about what meaningful conclusions you can draw and what actionable steps you can take as a result.
The impact is lessened if not kept up to date
The landscape of business is constantly changing. It’s not enough to assess the competition when you first start out and then never update it. Industries change, new trends emerge, new competitors arrive on the scene, all of which demand that market research on your competitors remains a key part of your competitive strategy.
Benchmarking performance based on competitors is not always the solution
Comparing your own performance against your competitors may not work so well if your competitors do things wrong or badly. Sure, it’s great to be an industry leader, but if the overall performance of that industry lacks compared to what the market actually demands, you may need to come up with a brand new strategy.
Frequently Asked Questions About Business Competitor Case Study
Question: What is a business case study competition?
Answer: A business case study competition is an event in which student teams compete to develop the best solution to a particular business case study. Though such events aren’t always exclusively for MBA students, most of them are as case study competitions can be a great way to inspire creative thinking and develop skills.
Question: How often should I do a competitive analysis?
Answer: Ideally, competitive analysis should be performed monthly, but if that seems like overkill for your industry, commit to at least once per quarter.
Question: What should be included in a competitive analysis?
Answer: Every competitive analysis report will be different depending on the nature of your business and your industry. However, as a general rule, it should identify who your competitors are, your competitor’s weaknesses, strengths, and overall strategies.
Above all, it should provide insight into how you use their strengths and weaknesses to your advantage, whether that’s making improvements where you’re lacking or highlighting to customers what your brand does better than a rival’s.
The Final Word on Creating a Business Competitor Case Study
Whether you call it competitive intelligence gathering, competitive analysis reporting, or compiling a business competitor case study, there are three key points that I want you to take away from this guide:
- Competitive analysis is about identifying your own strengths and weaknesses as much if not more than your competitors.
- All the research and data in the world is unhelpful if it doesn’t provide you with insights into what you’re doing right and what you could be doing better.
- This isn’t a one-and-done project. Analyzing the competition is something you should be doing regularly to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of your industry.