Your competitors aren’t the benchmark for great work online.
Industries tend to move at varying rates when it comes to digital adoption and if you’re stuck focusing on yours, the odds are you’re already behind the pack.
At the onset of a new brief I invariably find myself in a room where people are laser focused on direct competitors. They’re ‘going deep’, trying to see what’s being done well and where the opportunity to do something better is. Automotive brief, “let’s look at car websites”, Banking sector “check out the big four”, FMCG brand “what are our US counterparts doing?”.
Sounds like a pretty reasonable thing to do right? It is, but it’s limiting if we stop there.
A customer’s scale of how silky smooth, intuitive and useful your website is, isn’t measured against what your competitors are doing. In the fifteen minutes they were online before arriving at your site, they might have searched for a new car, bought a pair of shoes and downloaded a recipe for some gluten free cookies.
How many times have you checked here to see how the experiences being offered measure up against your site? Odds are they have some similar objectives to you and may even be doing a better job of achieving them.
When we scratch beneath the surface online, it’s amazing how many unsuspecting products and services from entirely different industries are solving the same problems with a different approach. Designers are great at identifying this. Several months ago I was working with a team that were researching high end road bike websites as a reference for creating a new credit card comparison webpage. The products are completely unrelated yet they’re identical in their need to have infinite specifications compared simultaneously.
More recently the same team found a parallel between choosing university degrees and choosing travel destinations. Another designer had a cross industry light bulb moment when she found a way to carry across learnings from sporting attire websites to the redesign of a logistics website. All of these were categorically unrelated yet yielded brilliant results. They were comparing by problem, not by category.
To cultivate more and more aha moments, looking outside your digital pond for insights and inspiration is invaluable. If you’re on the agency side of the fence, it’s likely you’re already doing this (I hope so) – it’s your job.
If you’re on the client side there’s a chance you also look through this lens, but it’s your job to know your category better than anyone else and this can make it harder to zoom out. This said, I work with lots of clients that do manage to crack through their industry lens and they’re the ones who brief better work and get better results.
I’ve done my fair share of direct competitor reconnaissance and I’ll continue to do it, however I think the magic happens when we look elsewhere. A great way to get started is by asking yourself these two questions:
At its core, what is the problem we’re trying to solve with our website? Who else has this problem?
You’ll be surprised where you end up and what there is to learn.
Looking at work from outside the category you’re in forces you to look at your own work differently. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result then a great way to start doing things differently is to stop looking in the same places.
This article originally appeared on Mumbrella on June 9th 2015.