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Product Marketing Rule #41: Use Your Competitor’s Products against Them

Product Marketing Rule #41 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Marketing, was written by Janey Wong, Product Marketing Manager, Oberon Media

What’s missing is the information on the specifics of what makes a competitor’s product superior or inferior to your own in customers’ minds. This information is the key to creating differentiation in your messaging.

Understanding the target customer is one of the most important tasks of a product marketer:

the why, what, when, where, and how customers want to buy. But sometimes data is just not available about your target market, and with limited time and budget, typical research methods may fail to provide you with the insight you need.

So under tight constraints I suggest you employ a quick and easy shortcut I use: bring in target users to experience your competitors’ products.

The majority of research conducted—competitive analyses, benchmarks, and usability tests—tend to be primarily inward focused.

These all provide very important information needed to help you position and differentiate your own offering, but they seldom venture into detail about the competitors’ product offering and user experience.

What’s missing is the information on the specifics of what makes a competitor’s product superior or inferior to your own in customers’ minds. This information is the key to creating differentiation in your messaging.

Am I saying product marketers should focus precious time, money, and energy on gathering feedback solely about competitors’ products? Absolutely.

By inviting your own customers in for a lab test, you can gather key insights about how your target market searches for and evaluates competitive products, what features help them inform purchase decisions, and how they interact with the products.

Since an opportunity to interview and spend face-to-face time with a customer is invaluable, it’s easy to jam-pack a multitude of questions and exercises into one session.

I’d suggest strictly keeping the research duration to less than one hour by prioritizing your research objectives to focus on uncovering the most difficult-to-obtain and inaccessible information about your competitors’ products, and leaving sufficient time to hone in on the areas where you want the participants to provide more in-depth insight. For example, try to get to the root of why one competitor’s product is better than another’s to determine true customer needs and improve your positioning.

A great method for drawing out what customers want is by using elements of Strategyn’s Outcome-Driven Innovation technique that are pertinent to product marketing.

Lab tests can be intensive; they can also feel redundant to participants if you want them to compare your product against more than one of your competitors’ products.

To prevent this, design the sequence of tasks to be an interesting and positive experience for participants. They will be more focused on the tasks at hand. For example, to gather feedback on how you could best market new product features, you can brief your customers on the product enhancement goals and the rationale behind why you felt the enhancements were important for customers.

This empowers participants to feel more like subject-matter experts, encouraging them to evaluate the products as critics and to give additional consideration to how the new product features would make a difference in their personal lives.

Understanding your customers’ thoughts about your product benefits will help you make your value statements stronger.

Warning: The risk to this type of testing is your customers might discover they prefer a competitive product. However, the value is that you’ll know exactly why your customers might switch brands.

It’s the “why” that will help drive differentiation for your products against competitors in the marketplace, and assist in developing stronger key messages and go-to-market strategies.

Product Marketing Rule #40 from the best-selling book, 42 Rules of Product Marketing

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