Why Competitor Norms Can’t Give You the Answers You Need

Feb 19, 2020

Competitor norms have long served a purpose in market research. Norms give organizations an indication of a new product or concept’s potential and the impact it could have in-market. They represent the “normal” outcome for your ad or concept based on how other ads or concepts have been tested—essentially predicting how yours might fare in comparison.

Marketing professionals have traditionally relied on norms reporting to inform creative development and product innovation. But it’s a methodology that’s largely been taken for granted. Instead of considering the increasingly dynamic marketplace and its demand for alternatives, some marketers still think norms are the only option.

It’s understandable why competitor norms feel hard to downplay if the fear is that there isn’t anything comparable to take its place. After all, there’s enough worry about the high rate of product failure today without casting additional doubt on a methodology that’s supposed to safeguard against it.

As changes in the consumer marketplace continue to accelerate, the reality is that norms reporting can’t keep up. It fails to deliver the holistic information you need to make the kind of nuanced decisions required to stay competitive. And while there may still be occasional reasons to use norms reporting—such as with low-risk projects, for example—those reasons are getting fewer and farther between as the stakes around product innovation and brand differentiation continue to rise.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the challenges with norms reporting. Then we’ll discuss what competitive benchmarks are and how they can offer a more complete and useful understanding of your product or concept’s potential and a viable response to the tricky conditions of the current consumer landscape.

What’s the matter with norms today?

For one, customer norms are too general. Norms reporting systems are usually based off a standard question template and a general population audience, neither of which may be relevant to your brand, category, product, or concept. Since norms databases aren’t compiled to reflect your specific product category or audience, they may contain such a wide breadth of products and brands that you don’t actually know what yours is being compared to. Further complicating matters, sometimes norms are based on experimental or pre-tested ads—not those that actually end up in the marketplace—which can call into question their accuracy.

Norms metrics tend to be standardized, which leaves little to no room to customize them to your specific objectives. For example, one popular norms reporting system evaluates a product or concept’s potential performance on four key metrics: Value Rating, Purchase Intent, Purchase Frequency, and Purchase Volume. But it lacks other valuable metrics that can build a much more comprehensive, integrated view of your concept or product, such as Appeal, Uniqueness, Believability, and Memorability.

Outdated information is another common problem. Norms reporting relies on historical data that cannot accommodate the unprecedented velocity of change in today’s markets, and by nature becomes obsolete before you can apply what you’ve learned. Using this methodology, you may be comparing your product or concept to others that have failed. There’s little utility in this unless you know the reasons why failure occurred and how to avoid similar failure on your end.

This brings us to the fact that norms reporting often lacks actionable insights. There’s usually no analysis or follow-up as to how competitor norms translate to real-world decisions or actions you need to take to help ensure success. Norms reporting may tell you how your ad or concept performs relative to a database, but not how you can improve that performance before heading to market.

All told, competitor norms raise more questions than they answer, and don’t give you the kind of insights you can immediately act upon.

What competitive benchmarks are and why they’re better

Competitive benchmarking compares your products and concepts to direct competitors in your category or market sector to examine your current or potential competitive position and help you develop strategies going forward. It considers factors like cost, features, quality, and service, among others. Ideally, competitive benchmarking pairs quantitative with qualitative research and uses additional metrics and tools like heat map exercises and open ends to give you the breadth and depth of insight you need to improve and optimize your product or concept.

The methodology can also be used to benchmark against an ad or concept that you know has performed well historically, or an in-market concept that you hope your new concept will outperform. You can then statistically compare your new concept against the benchmark using an easy-to-read automated scorecard output.

Unlike with norms reporting, competitive benchmarking can be customized to your objectives by zeroing in on highly specific factors, ultimately delivering actionable insights rather than high-level numbers that don’t tell the full story nor point you in the right direction. And because norms databases are often outdated before you even begin, benchmarking—especially when you partner with an agile market research supplier—can capture a present moment in the market and deliver results to you quickly, giving you a dynamic understanding of your category and consumer.

In this way, you can account for shifting consumer perceptions, media channels, and purchase considerations in the market that allow you to respond appropriately to category trends. Ultimately, benchmarking allows you to establish the right context: instead of norms reporting against a general population, you can gauge your concept or product performance against your target consumers.

Advancing your understanding of competitive intelligence

Competitive intelligence in advertising and elsewhere in your product development lifecycle is crucial to the success of your concept or product. But relying on competitor norms alone isn’t a sustainable strategy, especially as new ideas, technologies, media channels, and companies continue to emerge, and consumers continue to evolve.

Trends won’t disappear; if anything, they will multiply in number. Arming yourself with comprehensive, holistic competitive intelligence in the form of focused competitive benchmarks can position you to better respond to trends and capitalize on opportunities. In turn, this allows you to make decisions that positively impact your brand and business and drive revenue growth.

Download this report to see an example of how GutCheck leverages competitive benchmarks to provide more valuable insights.

Written By

Jacqueline Cox

Jacqueline Cox

Client Services Manager

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