👃Ahh! The smell of unmet expectations. Acrid, strident, stinging.

No one likes to feel let down, so when high hopes for promising products, after months of toil, are disappointed, there’s only one appropriate response.

Rage.

Ok, we’re joking, but if you can conjure your inner alchemist and turn despondency into curiosity, you can begin determining who and what is responsible for the shortfall.

We’ve got a tool to help you. 🧺

It’s called competitive gap analysis, and you’re about to learn all about it.

In this article, we cover:

Get to the end, and you’ll even find four handy frameworks to help you take the results of your gap analysis even further.

Ready? 🤨

What is a competitive gap analysis?

A standard gap analysis compares the results you’re actually getting with the results you expected to get. As a result, you uncover weaknesses in your strategies and identify opportunities for improvement.

A competitive gap analysis does this while taking into account your competitors’ brands and products, their strengths and weaknesses, and an understanding of the overall competitive landscape.

In other words, a competitive gap analysis aims to help you close the gap between your own products and competitor products, ultimately making yours the most compelling offering on the market. Do this, and you'll establish a competitive advantage.

Competitive gap analysis example

Here’s an example: let’s say you launched a new product last year. You did plenty of strategic planning and sales forecasting, but the product’s performance has been… underwhelming. 🫤

A competitive gap analysis helps you figure out why. The gap you’re analyzing is the one between how you expected your product to perform and how it actually has performed. The ultimate aim, again, is to make your product more compelling than competitor offerings.

For that reason, you’d take competitor activity into account during your analysis, looking at new products, or product updates, your competitors launched around a similar time, for example.

Different flavors of gap analysis 🍨

Product gap analysis, content gap analysis, competitive gap analysis… what sets these types of gap analysis apart?

Let’s examine a couple of different kinds. 🔎

Product-focused gap analysis 🍓

So, as we’ve seen, a standard gap analysis assesses the current performance of some aspect of your business in relation to expected, or desired, performance.

The aim of the analysis itself is to find out how you can close the gap and get your business performing better.

Each variant of gap analysis applies this same concept to a different aspect of your business.

A product gap analysis, for example, does this with one or more of your products. You’d look at an underperforming product, measure the gap between how it’s actually doing right now and where you’d expect, or like, it to be performing. You’d determine the factors impacting its success, then you’d figure out ways of closing the gap.

Content gap analysis 🍍

You can also run a content-focused gap analysis.

Here, you’d look at the state of your business’ content, rather than its products. The rest of the process is much the same: compare expected performance with actual performance, and figure out how to close the gap.

Screenshot of SEMrush's competitive keyword gap SEO tool
Content- and SEO-based competitive research tools like SEMrush are a great help in content-focused gap analyses

Different types of competitive gap analysis

A competitor gap analysis is broader in scope than a standard gap analysis. You’ll be looking outside your business at the overall market. That includes your competitors, of course.

With a bit of creativity, you can apply this principle to a gap analysis of almost any aspect of your business.

Competitive content gap analysis

For example, you can perform a competitive content gap analysis to inform your own measures of content success, and to identify opportunities for improvement, by examining competitor content.

As part of this competitive content gap analysis, you might ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Which keywords do competitors’ articles and landing pages dominate the SERPs for?
  • Do you rank for all of these keywords and, if not, why not?
  • Which keywords could you win fairly easily that you don’t have any viable pages for?

Figure out answers to these questions, and you’ll find the opportunities that offer the greatest return on your investment.

Competitive product gap analysis

By the same token, you can apply competitive gap analysis principles to a product-focused gap analysis. Rather than look only at internally-derived measures of success for your products, you can use competitor products as benchmarks.

You might compare product features, and speak to customers about their opinions of your products in relation to those of your competitors. This will give you a better understanding of what you could improve to increase performance.

💡
Speaking to customers will always give the clearest insights into how and where your competitors have you beat.

How to perform a competitive gap analysis

Cool, so we’re all square on what a competitive gap analysis is.

Here’s how you get one done.

Start with the customer

Like most strategic marketing frameworks, competitive gap analyses start with your customers’ needs.

That’s because, to understand what’s more compelling about competitor offerings than your own, you need to understand the people being compelled.

This makes sense too, since it’s your ability to serve customers better than anyone else that drives your business’ revenue. When you can identify strong customer needs, underserved by existing solutions on the market, you simultaneously identify opportunities for growth.

These opportunities can inform your product development strategy and tell you which direction you should take the business next.

💡
Remember: you must identify unserved customer needs by talking to customers directly. Not be simply observing what competitors are offering and brainstorming new things your product could do that theirs do not.

This might seem obvious, but it’s tempting to blindly grow your product in the direction you’re already moving. The territory of your industry can change rapidly. Keep an objective finger on the pulse by checking in with market participants regularly.

Gather intel on competitors

After the customer, it’s time to gather intel about your competitors. Products, pricing, offers, customers, market share, strengths, weaknesses, etc. It’s all important.

While you can gain a lot of insight from your customers, you and your colleagues can bring a unique perspective too.

Take a look at your competitors’ products through this lens, but be as objective as possible. Seeking out advice from customers first helps with this, because it gives you a categorical view of what the market wants, so you can’t fool yourself into dismissing a competitor’s innovation.

Consider your own position

Lastly, you must consider how feasible it is for your business to do the work. That means considering factors like:

  • Available budget.
  • Team workloads.
  • Existing priorities.
  • Potential profitability of the work.

… and any other factors affecting your capacity to do the work, firstly, and the likelihood of the work paying off, second.

After all, even if there’s a customer need for what you’re building, there’s a chance it’ll be so costly to the business that you never turn a profit on the work done. In circumstances like this, it rarely (if ever) makes sense to move ahead with the project.

The ideal competitive gap analysis deliverable

That’s a broad overview of what it looks like to perform a gap analysis. But what do we want to get out of this exercise?

The ideal deliverable for a content gap analysis is a prioritized list of the highest ROI quick-wins you can action right now to quickly improve your position.

Usually, this involves the areas under-exploited by competitors and open to you, that line up with customer needs that overlap with your business’ own strengths.

Here’s a process you might follow:

Get your customers to do the work for you

… Or at least some of the work.

While you’re interviewing customers about their wants, needs, and interests, get them to rank each factor in order of importance to them.

This might require a bit of cajoling, a bit of back and forth while you confirm that what you’ve got from them is a shortlist that truly reflects their point of view. When you’re agreed on what their unmet needs are, though, get them to rank them.

😀
Frame it like a wishlist. They should enjoy doing this; it’ll make them feel special (and they are - they’re the customer!).

Why this works

Getting customers to rank their lists of desires is powerful.

First, you’re able to gather more data, and more meaningful data.

When you shine a light on customer desires and work with them to clarify them, you bring them into higher resolution. Understanding these desires better helps you to shape them into categories as you go, meaning your data is structured from the start.

Second, when you have structured categories of customer-ranked desires, you can easily aggregate scores from each customer, client, or focus group.

From there, you can cross-reference this information with your competitive intelligence data and, finally, the state of your business. In other words, how feasible it is for you and your team to fulfil each of these desires.

This creates a kind of super list. 🦸

This super list is a set of the most actionable, achievable, highly valued customer desires that competitors have left a gap in the market for. You now have an ordered list of high-ROI business priorities, giving clear direction for the future.

Congratulations! You’ve got a clear way out of conceptual strategizing and towards tangible results. 🎉

4 frameworks to help you perform your competitive gap analysis

A competitive gap analysis is a daunting task if you don’t know where to start. Thankfully, there are many other strategic frameworks that can help you lay the groundwork by guiding you as to (i) what data to gather, and (ii) how to bucket that data into a useful form.

Use them wisely, and you’ll be able to take your competitive gap analysis even further, meaning deeper, more unique insights, better business decisions, and more powerful strategic plans.

We covered many of these frameworks in our article on how to perform a competitive landscape analysis, too, so head on over to that article if you’d like more info. 💁

SWOT analysis

Everyone’s familiar with SWOT analysis. The acronym stands for its four elements: “strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats”. It’s a classic strategic planning tool, and a framework that can help you lay the groundwork for an impressive gap analysis.

SWOT won’t get you all the way there, though. It’s been described as the framework that’s “a mile wide and an inch deep”, because it helps you gather an incredible breadth of information, but doesn’t make that data actionable.

To get to something you can put to work right away, you might need to apply your findings to another of the frameworks below. 👇

Porter’s five forces

Porter’s five forces is a favorite of many strategy and marketing professionals because it delves into more sophisticated factors than SWOT. It forces you to take a look at the risk presented by subtle powers like the threat of substitute products, or the risk posed by suppliers when their bargaining power becomes too great.

Like SWOT, though, this framework gives you a set of buckets to pool the data you gather into. This gives you (i) an idea of how to structure your data gathering process from the start, and (ii) confidence you’re covering many of the key factors for a solid analysis.

Growth-share matrix

The growth-share matrix is just that—a matrix. In other words, a set of axes split into quarters, or ‘quadrants’. ‘Growth’ is set on one axis, with ‘market share’ on the other. That’s what makes it a ‘growth-share’ matrix. Simple, really!

Investors like to use this matrix because it makes for an easy visual representation of what constitutes a good or bad investment. High-growth companies (or products, or competitors) sit further to the right. Low-growth products (or competitors) further to the left. Those that have a lot of the market share sit further to the top of the matrix. Those with less towards the bottom.

A handy thing about the growth-share matrix: it makes it easy to make decisions about the various products (or whatever else) you’re comparing. You can just classify each one depending on which quadrant it falls into.

High-growth, high-share products have a lot of future potential, and are the ones that are a shoo-in for further investment. When it comes to your competitive gap analysis, the four quadrants can give you firm directives as to how to view each entrant.

For more on matrices, see our beginner’s guide to the market positioning matrix.

Perceptual mapping

Perceptual mapping, just like a growth-share matrix, is a handy, visual tool. Rather than focusing so much on rate of growth and current market share, though, perceptual mapping gives you the flexibility to focus on whichever factors you want.

A perceptual map isn’t too dissimilar to a positioning matrix.

However, while a positioning matrix is focused primarily on how brands attempt to position themselves, perceptual maps are more focused on how the market perceives those brands, independent of attempts by those brands to shape that market perception.

TL;DR

Phew! We covered a lot - here are the key takeaways:

🏎️ A competitive gap analysis aims to uncover ways you can close the gap between your performance and that of competitors.

🗂️ You can apply the principles of competitive gap analysis to different aspects of your business.

🛍️ Like many strategic marketing frameworks, competitive gap analysis is best begun by looking at the unmet needs of your target market.

✅ Ideally, at the end of the process you'll have a short-list of actionable items.

🏃‍♀️ You can use various other strategic planning frameworks to help take your gap analysis even further.


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