Understanding the Trajectory of the Competitive Landscape

by Mike Shipulski

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If you want to gain ground on your competition you’ve first got to know where things stand. Where are their advantages? Where are your advantages? Where is there parity? To quickly understand the situations there are three tricks: stay at a high level, represent the situation in a clear way and, where possible, use public information from their website.

A side-by-side comparison of the two companies’ products is the way to start.  Create a common set of axes with price running south to north and performance (or output) running west to east. Make two copies and position them side-by-side on the page – yours on the left and theirs directly opposite on the right. Go to their website (and yours) and make a list of every product, its price, and its output. (For prices of their products you may have to engage your sales team and your customers.) For each of your products place a symbol (the company logo) on your performance-price landscape and do the same for their products on their landscape.

It’s now clear who has the most products, where their portfolio outflanks yours and where you outflank them. The clarity and simplicity will help everyone see things as they are – there may be angst but there will be no confusion and no disagreement. The picture is clear. But it’s static.

The areal differences define the gaps to close and the advantages to exploit. Now it’s time to define the momentum and trajectories of the portfolios to add a dynamic element. For your most recent product launch add a one next to its logo, for the second most recent add a two and for the third add three. These three regions of your portfolio are your most recent focus areas. This is your trajectory and this is where you have momentum. Extend and arrow in the direction of your trajectory. If you stay the course, this is where your portfolio will add mass. Do the same for your competitor and compare arrows.

You now have a glimpse into the future. Are your arrows pointing in the same directions as theirs? Are they located in the same regions? How would feel if both companies continued on their trajectories? With this addition, you have a glimpse into the stay-the-course future. But will they stay the course? For that, you need to look at the patent landscape.

Do a patent search on their patents and applications over the previous year and represent each with its most descriptive figure. Write a short thematic description for each group like themes and draw a circle around them. Mark the circle with a one to denote last year’s patents.  Repeat the process for two years ago and three years ago and mark each circle accordingly.

Now you have objective evidence of the future. You know where they have been working and you know where they want to go. You have more than a glimpse into the future.

You know their preferred trajectories.  Reconcile their preferred trajectories with their price-performance landscapes and arrows 1, 2 and 3.  If their preferred trajectories line up with their product momentum, it’s business as usual for them.  If they contradict, they are playing a different game. And because it takes several years for patent applications to publish, they’ve been playing a new game for a while now.

Repeat the process for your patent landscape and flop it onto your performance-price landscape. I’m not sure what you’ll see, but you’ll know it when you see it. Then, compare yours with theirs and you’ll know what the competitive landscape will look like in three years. You may like what you see, or not. But, the picture will be clear. There may be discomfort, but there can be no arguments.

This process can also be used in the acquisition process to get a clear picture a company’s future state. In that way, you can get a calibrated view three years into the future and use your crystal ball to adjust your offer price accordingly.

image credit – Rob Ellis

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shipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.

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