The Fastest Competitive Analysis in the History of the World (Maybe)

Beginning a new brand is one of the most exciting parts of a company’s life. The possibilities are endless. The sky’s the limit. But when we actually sit down to start building the brand position, it can feel intimidating. We get a lot of questions about where to start.

Before we start a new project at January Third, we almost always begin with competitive research. Taking a look at the category is a great way to discover unclaimed territory, whether building a new brand or just launching a new campaign.

Many clients don’t have budget for an in-depth research study, especially at the very beginning. And that’s okay. We use a too-easy-and-almost-thorough, one-hour competitive landscape analysis for those of us who are short on time but want to start from a strategic position.

These five simple tasks can be done by anyone on the team, and when looked at together, provide a sketch of the competitive landscape that can help any brand find a differentiated position.

What you’ll need —

  1. A list of 3–7 key competitors. For purposes of this article, let’s assume I’m building a new sex tech startup that might sell lube and the occasional sex toy. Key competitors could include Dame, Maude, and Unbound (three very strong brands!). I’ve only listed direct competitors here, but if you want to expand a bit, indirect competitors can be interesting to look at, too.
  2. One or two hours. Your time commitment could vary based on how in-depth you go into each of these steps, but this should be a fairly painless process.
  3. The internet. We’ll be loading images, taking screenshots, and adding them to a Keynote/Google Slides deck.
  4. And your brain!

Five parts of the ultrafast competitive analysis —

  1. Google words + pictures
  2. Homepage heroes
  3. Facebook Ad Library
  4. Brand language collection
  5. And some insights from your brain

(01) What does Google think?

Like it or not, a brand’s perception will be heavily informed by what happens when it’s searched on Google. But this analysis is not (really) all about SEO.

Start with a quick search of each competitor. Screenshot their top couple search results, looking especially for their site title. How are they describing themselves in a single sentence?

Quick tip: I’d recommend grabbing screenshots of both ads and organic search results. Ad copy is selling products, but the organic search result is selling the brand.

We’ve already started to uncover some interesting insights here, with just a quick search: Dame is leaning into engineering, while Maude and Unbound focus on sexual wellness.

Let’s try a more visual search, with the world’s most popular moodboarding tool: the Google Image Search. Try the exact same search again, but this time, in Images.

Bonus if you check out the keywords under each search, to get a sense for what folks are searching alongside your key terms.

We’re starting to see a bit of a trend here, but we don’t want to make any assumptions just yet. We’re just getting started (and Google Images is one interesting tool, but far from the best authority on visual branding).

Bonus Note: Google Trends can also be interesting to peek at in this stage. Less visual, and you’ll need to have keywords worked out, but a valuable tool nonetheless (thanks to Ben for the reminder, I always forget about Trends!)

(02) A peek at website heroes.

This next step is pretty obvious, but bear with me, it’s still quite helpful. We know a website is probably the most important brand expression for any brand, and the homepage hero module — the first thing that greets us — is the face of a modern brand. Let’s take a look.

Now we’re really starting to see some differentiation. Dame has bright pops of blue accented by cream and yellow, where Maude is much more demure, with muted, natural tones. And Unbound just looks like fun!

(03) To the Facebook Ad Library!

Let’s head over to Facebook and take a look at the social ads each of these brands is running. You’ll notice we’re grabbing a mix of owned and paid assets, to piece together each brand’s expression in both brand-building and advertising content.

To find the ads each page is running, head to the brand’s Facebook page and click on the see more button under “Page Transparency.” Then click “Go to Ad Library” and *poof* you’re viewing all the ads the brand is currently running on Facebook and Instagram.

A quick walkthrough of how to access a brand’s ad library on Facebook

If a competitor is running ads, it’s extremely valuable to be able to see each piece of creative, get a sense for the tone of voice in the copy, and peek at versioning.

Note: For sextech, cbd, and other brands who get censored frequently, peeking into the ad library can help you figure out where Facebook is drawing the line on any given day (ugh).

(04) The fastest brand voice audit

We’ve got a lot of screenshots, and visuals can sometimes overpower words — let’s make sure we’re looking at tone of voice alone, too. How is a brand describing itself in one sentence? How do they describe their products? How do they sound on Instagram?

For this portion, I’d recommend copying and pasting sentences into a plainly styled slide to remove any visual hierarchy. You can grab portions of sentences, too. Anything that feels like valuable language fits in here.

In this example, I’ve grabbed some quick key bits off the websites, but I’d recommend looking through the material you’ve already grabbed for additional ammunition here. Social is also a great place to find tone of voice examples — tweets, organic posts, IG captions and even replies.

(05) Time to put it all together.

Okay, we’ve got a lot of screenshots. And a lot of words. The first question I ask is, after experiencing so many touchpoints from each brand in the past hour or two, how does it feel to me like these brands are different?

I generally form a hypothesis or two and then go back through the research to see if my assessment is accurate — sometimes intuition gets it half right, but in presenting the findings to the team, we uncover additional and even more important insights.

In this case —

Dame feels like a modern internet startup. Bright pops of color, clean design, lots of white space, straightforward language. I’d compare it to Casper, Warby Parker or Quip, with a welcoming tone and a modern vibe. Language focused around engineering makes me think they’re definitely leading with tech.

Maude feels more like a wellness company, with self-care language, muted colors, and lush, touchable textures.

And Unbound just feels fun. A sex toy shop! That sells products for my pleasure!

So if I’m building a new, competitive brand, then I’d try to carve out unique and differentiated territory within this landscape.

There are certainly a slew of other, more rigorous research techniques to use at any given step in the process. But for us, this quick and dirty competitive analysis helps give us a sense of the category landscape with just a few clicks before we dive in to any project.

A closing note: As with everything in the entire world, this process is a work in progress. If you have questions or tips and tricks to add, please please send me a message!

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