Posted by: bbannan | April 12, 2010

Competitive Research – Geof

Competitive Research

The ethical approach to competitive research involves gathering information available in the public domain. The unethical approach is often illegal or found in movie scripts. What is important, in addition to ethical practices, is being timely with this research. Essentially, any time is a good time, and often is good because events can move quickly when related events occur, such as new research, or news of a competitors successes or failures.

Kuniavsky makes a distinction between traditional competitive research and what a designer might do.  Traditional competitive research seeks to gain a “financial or marketing perspective” on competitors (p. 419). However, a designer is interested in improving the user’s experience and this will not be found there. Kuniavsky calls the ID version “competitive user experience research” (p. 419)

Essentially, nearly all of the tools a designer uses to design products for his own users could also be used to examine the experiences of the users of competitor’s products. Kuniavsky points out that because the designer is unaware of the assumptions or constraints that led to the development of the product, and focuses entirely on the user experience, it is “the purest user research of all” (p. While I wouldn’t use the word ‘pure’ to describe anything done for commercial interests, it is research done in a vacuum that a designer would rarely experience within their own product development.

Some sources present social media as being one possible public source of information about competitors. I also suspect that company blogs, public forums,  or Facebook may contain useful information posted by users. Although it might not conform to the structure of you study, unsolicited opinions are generally more heartfelt than those asked for.

Decent rundown of the traditional method, with some crossover into user experience:

As Kuniavsky said, what works for our users will work for others’:

Wow, they covered this last year! This actually came up in top ten of a google search for “competitive research” + “instructional design”. That sounds like good analytics to me.

This is somewhat of a tangent, but draws a parallel between national security intelligence and its users, and corporate intelligence gathering and its respective users.



  1. I have to admit- before this class I had never really thought about competitive research and it’s use in the instructional design field, but it makes sense to me now. It’s about the user and it’s methods help you to collect valuable research to make the product you are developing a better experience for them.

    I thought the bnet article was very informative. It mentioned SWOT analysis which I’ve heard can be a beneficial tool. Actually, I’ve seen this type of analysis used in management trainings in order to help management staff make tough decisions.

    I also want to mention a couple of companies that I know of that conduct competitive research- Corporate Executive Board (I used to work there) and Forrester.

    Both these companies conduct research for Fortune 500 companies in comparing products and services. Once they gather the research, they compile the findings into books and sell them to companies. Basically, they help large corporations “share best practices” or in other words, share the results of their competitive research.

  2. Geof:
    Your topic kinda leans into my topic, corporate culture and reporting issues. I came across “competitive research” quite often as a term strongly associated with a healthy corporate culture. It’s a practice that not only can protect the interests of the stakeholders but improve the industries and markets they operate in. As instructional designers, we improve the quality of our products and push our industry to operate in the interests of the stakeholders, the learners.

  3. Using social media for competitive user research is intriguing. Social networks can provide direct access to customers in large quantities. According to Jeff Herzog “search is the world’s largest focus group.” If the goal of competitive user research is to learn what people like or don’t like about the competition’s product, then why not ask the customers directly. On the surface, mining social media outlets for data seems like a sure bet. The response rate is better, the cost is negligible and bias is almost eliminated. Who would ever bother with a traditional focus group again?

    I find it interesting that some companies are starting to develop social media marketing strategies. Instead, of simply observing the conversation, businesses are joining in, and trying to shape it as much as possible. As this type of marketing becomes more popular I wonder if it will yield the unbiased commentary it does now or if the discussion will become more crafted. I think as time goes on some of the advantages of doing competitive research through social media may fade.

  4. During undergrad, I worked as a co-op student for Johnson & Johnson. I always thought the stories about our competitors dumpster diving and using high powered telescopes to see our monitors through the office windows was urban legend. Sadly, it wasn’t. Since then, I have seen countless lawsuits for medical devices that were aggressively reverse engineered.
    I think technology has revolutionized competitive research such that the playing field has been leveled significantly. Email and the Internet have made data mining, recruiting, and follow-up less expensive so individuals and small business can participate, perhaps as effectively, as larger firms like The Corporate Executive Board and Forrester Research, who have more resources.
    As far as the SWOT analysis goes, I think it’s worthwhile for anyone undertaking a serious endeavor to develop one. In business school, each student was required to complete a SWOT to analyze and evaluate his/her ability to complete the program. For me, the biggest downfall of SWOT as a tool is not we don’t know what we don’t know. Meaning a blind spot or area of weakness is easily underestimated by the owner, individual, or team sponsoring the endeavor. Often times, it takes an outside observer, trained or novice, to evaluate the scenario and point out room for improvement and gaps.
    Until now I had only thought of using SWOT as a tool for risk management associated with financial success, but now I see how well it applies to as a project management tool. For our Spanish app prototype, I can envision a series of analyzes based on the target audiences (e.g., student, teacher, administration) and a separate one for our EDIT 772 project itself.

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