How to Benchmark a Product Against the Competition.
Benchmarking can be a pretty straightforward process, simply put it’s a search. In this article we’ll break it down into easy steps that will get you the answers you need to see where you stand against the competition and how to use that information to differentiate your product in the market.
Your first instinct is likely that the best outcome here is that you find nothing else like it at all. That’s not always the case. Finding similar but not quite exactly the same products can prove to you that there is indeed a market for products like your idea and that people are actually currently paying for them. On the flip side it means you may have some competition, but this is where performing a good benchmarking study can really make the difference.
Benchmarking boils down to simply learning everything you can about similar product offerings, i.e. the competition. If you know everything about your competition, you’ll know what makes them tick, why people prefer one design over the other, and most importantly… what can be improved upon! After you’ve done a fair amount of brainstorming and conceptualized a few a good ideas of what the primary concept could be (and some variations), now’s the time to really start trying to discover what’s called the “state of the art” and that basically just means “the best way that everybody else is doing it now.”
You’ll want to start your search with the retail market for products that are close to what you’ve created. This means going online and going to stores that you think would sell similar products. We recommend buying the products and taking them home for an in-depth look. Be sure to consider looking at two or more separate products that could combine to make something similar to your concept. Often a feature from an entirely different product can be incorporated into your product concept for a big improvement. A good tool to help find other related products you may not be aware of are websites that display a section on the bottom or side of the page for products that “customers who viewed this also viewed…” or a simple “similar products” section. If it’s even a little close, buy it. You might learn something!
In addition to the retail space it is also a good idea to search the patent landscape. This type of search is an undertaking all its own so we cover it in a couple of separate articles: How to use the US Patent Office Search Engine and An Expert Tip on How to Search for Patents with help from Google.
Now that you have as many similar products as you can gets your hands on, gather everything and lay it all out on a workbench, hence benchmarking (or if you don’t have a workbench, the kitchen table will do). You’ll want to dig into the details to learn:
What features are in all of the available products?
What features are only in some of the products?
What makes the market leaders stand out from the rest?
What limitations do the existing products have?
What types of materials are they using?
How many parts are there in their product?
Do they have different sizes, colors, or any other variations available?
Are there price point or quality variations?
Is it a product line, seasonal, or updated every year?
Is there a common look, style, or feel to all of the existing products?
Does style beat out pure functionality? Or vice-versa?
Do they market the product to different types of customers?
How much are they selling for at retail?
How is the product typically packaged?
How is the product typically displayed and sold?
If it is sold online, what do reviewers have to say about it?
There are a lot more questions like these you could ask in a benchmarking study but these are a good start. Once you understand what the competitive landscape looks like, you will likely find yourself updating your concept to make some improvements based on your findings. That is really the heart of and purpose for the benchmarking. To double check the math and find out what you can do to make your product better and stand out in the market place.
Discoveries in a benchmarking study can really change the direction of design concept in a positive way and can help you and your team gain a much better understanding of your product and the market. Throughout the entire Product Development Process it is a good idea to continually revisit and re-evaluate your product design against the benchmarking study to ensure any design decisions are in-line with keeping the product on the cutting edge and the design will be certain to be a front runner when it reaches the shelves.
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