One of the more strategic steps in our R&D process is the competitor analysis. This exercise allows us to see how our clients measure up against their competition and what they can do to stand out. Identifying strengths, weaknesses, and areas of improvement are all desired outcomes, but before we can see what the competition is doing, we must first figure out who the competition is.
Competition can be seen as either direct or indirect and it's important to understand, not only the difference between the two, but the benefits of analyzing both.
A direct competitor offers the same service or product to a similar or identical target audience. In higher ed, these are the other schools your prospective students are applying to, organizations that are similar to yours in size, location, cost, academics, religious affiliation, and more.
In the example below, I will be identifying direct competitors for my alma mater (and current KWALL client), Laguna College of Art + Design. Since LCAD is a private, non-profit, 4-year arts school based in Southern California, I will be looking at other small, (mostly) private, (mostly) non-profit organizations within the state that offer the same degrees & programs.
Indirect competitors are more like influences than rivals. They are worth checking out for inspiration, especially when it comes to the tone of your brand or the look & feel of your site. These influences can be grouped into two categories: market and industry.
- Market: Offers a different product or service to the same target audience. In higher ed, this could include a variety of brands & companies, such as a corporation that employs a large number of your graduates, or a non-profit that shares the same values as your school.
- Industry: Offers the same product or service to a different target audience. In higher ed, this could include any number of other colleges & universities. For example, just because your target audience consists of aspiring engineering students doesn't mean you can't look at a nearby liberal arts college for inspiration.
For LCAD, indirect market competitors include art museums, festivals, and publications while industry competitors include nearby colleges & universities in Orange County, CA.
Now that you can identify your competition, you're ready to conduct an analysis, an integral exercise in strategizing the redesign of your higher ed site.