How to categorize competitors to your advantage

by Stefano Dughiero on 03/11/2015

When there are no competitors, there’s no market.

This idea isn’t often easy to digest, but it’s the way things are for any business.

However, once we’ve accepted this fact, with difficulty, annoyed resignation, or simply because on balance we’ve managed to come to terms with it, eventually it comes time to take an additional step: identifying the products that compete with our own in some way, and classifying them.

But if it’s difficult even simply to accept that competitors exist, how can we categorize them and take control of the situation? And most importantly, what advantages might we achieve?

There are certainly many ways of going about this, and I’d be very interested to read in the comments on this post about your experiences in this situation so I can compare them.

But first of all, I’ll describe for you the method that I use, because I find it very simple and effective. It’s a system called Harvey Balls. It’s certainly nothing new, but despite the fact that more than 40 years have passed since its invention, it is still absolutely effective. And most importantly, it’s simple, at least from a structural standpoint.

Simply put, this system builds a table with the names of competitors on one side and the features you wish to compare on the other, in order to create a visual assessment of each of the intersections. This is the most difficult part, because while the method can be described in just a few words, it’s vastly more complicated to identify your competitors, their features, and finally, the value of the assessment. This is because where these three elements are concerned, the greatest possible freedom from prejudice is required, both about our own product and that of our competitor, as I have already mentioned briefly in a previous post on this blog.

Here is a simple example:

The great advantage of this system is that gradually, as you fill in this table, new ideas crop up, both about the features you need to compare, and this is even more important, about those that your product lacks, or those that it absolutely must improve. Clearly, this method makes it easier to identify what point or points make your product stand out, and therefore which features you should focus on in your marketing strategy to come out ahead of your competitors.

Another advantage is the chance to compare your own products amongst themselves, to understand whether and to what extent they are actually different. You can then capitalize on this analysis to position and present them differently, each based on the characteristics that have greater weight over the others.

A final suggestion: if you’d like to try this method using a tool to get started quickly, you’ll find the Harvey Balls as a conditional formatting option in Excel.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ted giles 03/12/2015 at 4:11 PM

Nice idea. Anything which focuses the mind on creating something sufficiently different to the competition through analysis is to be applauded.
May I suggest something else which will help in that analysis?
The tool of choice I use when making decisions and indeed when sketching out complex documents, systems or even a book, is FreeMind. It’s really one of the more useful tools as it is easy to get to grips with. The visuals and comments are easily understood, so getting the subject over to others is intuitive.
You can find it easily enough on the net through
Definitely worth a look.

2 Stefano Dughiero 03/13/2015 at 12:17 PM

@Ted. I’ve installed and given a quick look at FreeMind. Really interesting. I already have an idea on how I might use it. Thank you for the tip!

3 Ted Giles 03/13/2015 at 2:54 PM

You are most welcome!

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