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Unlike many downstream or tactical marketing projects, upstream innovation challenges are notorious for their ambiguity. Before you can craft and execute new ideas, you need to set strategic direction for innovation.
Although every innovation challenge is unique, they all require an understanding of the current situation and context within which the innovation is required. This means you’ll need a landscape analysis to set the foundation for your project. A proper competitive landscape analysis also sets direction for where the business could go in the future, and lays out immediate next steps.
Sometimes you can pull a landscape from a previous project for ideas of what to include, but it may not have everything you need. Or, you may not have a previous reference at all. To help create some forward momentum, here’s an outline that hopefully gives you a jumpstart. I’ve successfully used outlines like this as a checklist both during my time on brand teams and as a strategic consultant.
AN EXAMPLE COMPETITIVE LANDSCAPE ANALYSIS OUTLINE
There are some common buckets of information that you’ll want to include in almost any analysis. Category and competitive sections are good examples. But there are other buckets that may be optional depending on your project objective.
If your landscape is meant to inform business strategy, it will have important differences compared to a landscape that is meant to inform incremental innovation or domain expansion. That said, I had to pick one for the purposes of this example, and I chose an outline that is suitable for incremental innovation.
Here’s the outline. Numbers 1-4 and 12 can be one slide each. The rest of the numbers should be more developed sections, unless you only want to present a tightly condensed version of your landscape.
Competitive Landscape Analysis Outline:
- Title Page
- Agenda and Contents
- Project Challenge and Scope Guardrails
- Project Plan
- Existing Business/Portfolio Review
- Category Outlook
- Competitive Opportunities
- Technical Opportunities
- Consumer Hypotheses
- Recommended research, objectives, methods
- Next Steps and Timing
I made the assumption that you have yet to conduct research. If you do have consumer research in hand, then it may be stronger to move the consumer section closer to the front of the presentation (before competitive). Otherwise, having it as the last major section allows you to dovetail nicely into a research recommendation and related next steps.
Other content/nuances you may want to consider include case studies (in their own section or throughout each section), regionality, regulatory, and other macro factors.
Let’s take a brief look at each section of the outline.
TITLE PAGE, AGENDA AND CONTENTS
I won’t dwell on these as they are fairly obvious. Be sure your title page includes title, business unit or brand, and date the analysis was completed or presented.
Your agenda slide is “agenda” if you are presenting and “contents” if you are simply assembling a document that won’t be presented. List each major section (per your outline).
PROJECT CHALLENGE AND SCOPE GUARDRAILS
I usually place all of this info on one page. Keep it tight, but include enough information that your audience knows 1) why the project exists and what success look like, and 2) what’s in/out of scope. For example, certain categories, formats, consumer groups or even portfolio brands may be in or out of scope for innovation.
This slide is often visual in nature and highlights the major project steps/phases and timing. Your landscape may be the very first step, followed by consumer research, ideation, etc. The timeline can usually be high-level, where each step is anywhere from a few weeks to a month or more.
EXISTING BUSINESS/PORTFOLIO REVIEW
This section can vary in length depending on the project objective. For innovation projects, there’s a good chance this section will be on the shorter side. It could even be optional or placed in the appendix.
Key information to consider includes sales/unit velocities (how much/fast we are selling), margin (how much we make on our sales), and an analysis of key drivers (the why behind the sales data). Drivers might include taking a look at seasonality, distribution, media support/ROI, etc.
In order to help your audience remember the most important points, you can end with a single “summary” slide for the section (repeat for every major section in the outline). This last slide should highlight the top opportunities and implications (or indicated actions) revealed in that section.
Take a look at high-level information like category size and if the category is growing or not. Then go a little deeper and examine the segments that make up the overall category. Is each segment growing or shrinking? Are there other segments you could enter (i.e., adjacencies)? Are some segments more profitable than others?
Address seasonality and geography if it applies to your business. You might also consider traditional strategic techniques such as Porter’s 5 Forces. Then wrap it up with another opportunities and implications slide.
What would a competitive landscape analysis be without a “competitive” section? Here you’ll examine who’s competing in each of the segments and analyze how well you are positioned versus competitors. Look at brand market share, specific products, claims and price points. And don’t forget to note if there are any recent innovations from competitors.
Once you’ve laid out the basic information, look for and call out competitive gaps or weaknesses that could be exploited to your advantage. Then clearly call out opportunities and implications on the last slide (notice the repeating pattern?).
There are a few ways to gather trend information. One approach is to pay a vendor or partner to do a custom look. If you have time and money, great. Otherwise, an alternative is to first purchase existing data. There are a number of companies that offer trend reports for purchase. This method will save time and be less expensive.
If you have no budget, you can still gain trend insights by examining what’s in market. Go on store walks and start taking pictures. Look beyond your scoped category and note the latest and greatest that’s happening outside your category. Look for patterns. In addition to store walks, look at online retailers, brands, publications, blogs and articles.
You can use this information as inspiration for ideas and potential future directions. Then summarize the important points in your final slide: opportunities and implications.
This is where you get into the details of technologies, ingredients, processes and how your product or service works. You’ll want to call out what your technical points of difference are today – where you win and the related technical drivers.
Then note other key technologies, ingredients or processes you have access to that you could use to extend your offering. You could also include farther out technologies that you may be able to develop or get access to.
It helps for you to personally experience how the product or service is “made.” Go on a plant tour, work service lines, or observe behind-the-scenes. You will better understand any current limitations the business has. You’ll also begin to notice opportunities that might arise from current practices. For example, can you reapply a current asset or process in a new way?
Final slide: opportunities and implications.
In this section, you would typically include important consumer (or customer if you are B2B) takeaways that could be relevant for innovation. But, in many cases, you may not have conducted much research yet. If that is the case, you can at least state what you think could be true. These become your hypotheses to take into the research you’ll conduct in the future (possibly in the next project step).
- Whether you have actual insights or hypotheses, consider the following in your analysis:
- Who’s buying today?
- Who is the target?
- Are there under- or over-met needs?
- Potential tensions, pain points and problems to solve?
- What are the emotional needs of your customer/consumer?
- Are there any observed behaviors that are insightful (e.g., compensating behaviors)?
- What are the key need states (needs/occasions)?
- Look at the opportunities you’ve identified in the previous sections. Many of them should prompt hypotheses and questions that you can now bring together here.
If your consumer section is mostly hypotheses, your opportunities and implications slide can state what you want to learn/validate in upcoming research. What questions do you want answered?
RECOMMENDED RESEARCH, OBJECTIVES AND METHODS
If you’ve wrapped up the previous section with your insight gaps and desired learning, then it should be pretty straightforward once you get here. Turn your unanswered questions into research objectives, list the lead methodologies to get the answers, and serve it up for alignment.
Consider budget, timing and partners if you need to include it as part of the discussion. It really depends what you already have alignment to do and who your presentation audience is.
NEXT STEPS AND TIMING
List the next major milestones/action items, owners and expected timing.
DRAFT, COMPLETE, EDIT…EDIT
That was a lot to go through. So, where to start? Use the initial outline to create slide flow and placeholder slides. It sometimes helps to focus on writing the headlines first. It will give you a sense of direction for your analysis. Then, work to fill in the content of each section.
Through the analysis itself you’ll see where you should adjust the key points and rework headlines. Think of it as more than just a “competitive landscape analysis,” and instead think of it as a story. Edit, edit, edit your story. Then edit some more. Don’t be afraid to eliminate information that isn’t meaningful. Delete slides (or move them to the appendix) if they do not offer a strong point to be made. Less is more.
Your final check is to read only the headlines on each slide in sequence. Can the headlines stand on their own and tell a story? If not, edit some more.
Finally, keep your objective in mind. The landscape doesn’t have to have all of the answers. It helps set a baseline of what you know now, and points to your next steps in the project. If the landscape ends and the presentation audience knows what to do next, you’ve achieved success.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow/connect with Kevin on LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter.