Friend or Foe (Competitive Assessment)

October 28th, 2010 by Marcus Tewksbury

As Sun Tzu, historical author of the Art of War, once said, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”  When considering any marketplace it’s critical to understand the competitive landscape.  You need to know not only who the competitors are, but also the axes of competition and relative positioning along them.

The first order of business is to identify the relative importance of different axes to the market.  One competitor may have a dominant position on one axis, but if that is not what the market values most they may be vulnerable.  Identifying the right points to compete on is largely based upon the understanding developed studying the marketplace to begin with.  You need to try and put yourself in their shoes and visualize how they would perceive various offerings.

Moving from there you want to try and triangulate the relative strength of competitors.  Are they bootstrapped startups?  Or cash rich incumbents?  If they are publicly traded, some of this is easy to come by, if not you need to get a little creative.

Funding – Funding information is often published and widely distributed.  Scanning the ranks of VC’s can reveal a lot as can the company’s press releases

Advertising – Lots of associations and trade publications in the advertising world prognosticate about the various spending levels at different brands.  Even if your direct competition isn’t listed it may help give you a gauge about the right level.

Customers – Many companies are very forthright with their customer list.  Getting a raw count and sizing of the customer base can be insightful.  If they operate through a channel model it gets harder to estimate.

A final attribute you may want to consider is competitive horse power.  Specifically, you want to assess the experience and track record of the executive team.  Do they have folks who have done it before?  Or have well developed personal brands?  Beyond the numbers, success is often dictated by the horses themselves.


•    Identify and prioritize the axes of competition
•    Evaluate positioning on key competitive points
•    Estimate overall war chest or capabilities
•    Follow the influential thought leaders


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