Plaudits for audits: Conducting a competitive product audit in four steps

Running a competitive product audit is about identifying the positioning and campaign strategy of a company’s competitors by examining the way they present their comparable offerings. It’s like an act of augury: your incisive analysis cuts through the flash and pop of product marketing to expose the messages and intentions underneath, from which you glean the insight necessary to prescribe a potential course of action for a company that allows it to become a high-level competitor in the market.

So how do you do this? Start big. Then go deep.

1. Look at the top-line messaging

The slogans and bold proclamations: make note of them. Scan the supporting messages—the paragraph-blocks of copy that propose the value the product supposedly delivers. Every bit of writing on the product page is oriented to convey specific notions about the product. At this stage of the audit, your job is to identify those notions. You do that by isolating individual elements of the product’s presentation and inspecting them until you find what, exactly, they are trying to say.

What does it mean when a company markets their product on the speed with which it can accomplish certain tasks, the convenience it provides users, or the ease with which it can be set up and integrated with other workflow tools? How about a company that markets their product based on its efficacy, or the advanced technology that it uses, or the breadth and scope of its utility beyond what can ordinarily be expected of a similar offering? Does an offering position itself as a tool to help people do their job or a solution that can take users further than they would be able to go otherwise? Ask these sorts of questions to yourself as you go. View every aspect of the product’s presentation as deliberate—because it is. If every detail of the presentation is the result of an intentional decision, it’s up to you to consider why that decision was made.

2. Examine market differentiators

Identifying and examining market differentiators is one of the most important aspects of conducting a competitive audit because it suggests how a company views not only its own offering but also the offerings of competitors.

How does the company distinguish the product from others? Why would a customer choose this option instead of all the others? Some organizations are more explicit about what sets them apart than others. While direct comparisons to named competitors are rather rare, companies use a variety of subtle and not-so-subtle methods to separate their products from the pack. A product’s key selling points are often the same points that set them apart from comparable offerings. For instance, a company that promotes the speed and adaptability of their product may highlight those features—or the technical innovations that grant their product those features—as what differentiates them from their competitors.

All that said, companies are fallible; they may not have the capacity to enhance their product’s presentation, or they could be working off outdated or faulty assumptions that muddy their marketing. In these cases, you may find that several competitors all seek to distinguish their product with identical selling points. Other times, you might find that a company has a unique offering but makes seemingly no attempt to highlight where it stands out from the competition. All of this information is valuable and should be factored into your analysis.

3. Explore additional details of the product’s presentation

After you scan the main messaging and value propositions of the product, it’s time to examine the more peripheral elements: distinctive imagery, complementary offerings, proof points, data. This material is critical for rounding out the scope of your research and adding nuance to your analysis.

Data points and customer testimonies illustrate the intended value of a product. If certain features are repeatedly mentioned or depicted in a data model, the company likely sees those as the product’s strengths. The imagery, meanwhile, can provide clues as to the intended customer base or the identity the company desires to embody. These details, while valuable on their own as particular elements of a product’s presentation, also serve as another avenue through which the company’s positioning can be examined.

4. Bring it all together

The final step of an individual product audit is bringing all your notes and observations together, formulating overall takeaways, and identifying the white space where the company can distinguish itself. This is when you discern how the competitor positions itself with the language and rhetoric of its marketing and the intention underneath the messages,
synthesizing all the connections you have drawn in your analysis into usable insights. Noting where competitors succeed or fail in their presentation is important for understanding the field, but try not to dwell on personal opinions about the competitors’ messaging.


A competitive analysis reveals opportunities and shows the scale of competition. With the results of the audit in hand, companies have the power to single out campaign concepts that can challenge the market and help cut through the clutter.

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