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Your Competitor Just Innovated: Here’s the Agile Way to a Proper Response
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Your Competitor Just Innovated: Here’s the Agile Way to a Proper Response

Mike Rotolo

Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu once said “When you know both yourself as well as your competition, you are never in danger. To know yourself and not others gives you half a chance of winning.” I think you’d be hard pressed to find a marketer or insights professional in the consumer packaged goods/retail industry who disagrees with the basic premise of this statement. That’s primarily because a foundational goal of most research is to understand the strength of our business position in a competitive context. And to assess our businesses against others, we calculate the strength of our brand affinity, measure our retail sales, and qualify our potential innovations via concept testing with normative benchmarks that predict performance in a competitive environment.


But are we doing enough to understand the potential of our competitor’s newest innovations?

Competitive innovation activity is plentiful, frequent and coming from players of all sizes. But we know a really good idea and a potential threat when we see one, right? We might, but the most common monitoring approach in those situations is to keep a close eye on the in-market performance of those innovations. But this wait and see approach relies on in-market performance, which means it has two serious flaws: it takes too long and it doesn’t help you respond.

For most categories, it takes six to nine months to collect sufficient data to evaluate the trial and repeat of a new product. That’s an eternity in today’s agile business environment. It’s also enough time for a strong competitor to cannibalize your business. And the longer you wait to take action, the more challenging it is to recover.

Then there’s the question of “How should I respond?” The key to answering this question is rooted in assessing the raw potential of the idea itself. In-market trial and repeat performance are influenced by multiple factors. This limits your ability to understand the true threat of the competitive launch. One-third of all strong new product ideas actually fail in market because of insufficient marketing support. Conversely, it’s possible to bolster a lackluster idea through aggressive marketing support that obscures in-market success at trial. If your goal is to determine what action to take—fast follow, respond, acquire, or ignore—you need to understand the idea’s base potential.

So what can we do differently? 

First and foremost, having to wait six to nine months for sales results can be a thing of the past. Tools like BASES Quick Use remove the waiting game and make it quicker and less expensive to properly assess the holistic strength of a new product. When brands leverage time-tested predictive frameworks and historical product launch data, they can reduce their timelines by one-third or more.

Agile thinking is no longer isolated to the tech world. An array of consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands are adopting faster product testing research techniques as a more agile means of assessing the strength of their own new products. But new tools like BASES Quick Use can also be used to quickly and decisively assess new competitive launches. Here’s how the process works:

  1. Outline the key questions your organization has about a new competitive product
  2. Create a competitive concept from the information publicly available on e-commerce sites and/or the competitor’s website
  3. Procure the new competitive product samples through your retail partners, or even online

That’s all you need to obtain a competitive assessment. There’s no heavy lifting involved, and the assessment is available in less than a month. That’s a far cry from the six to nine months you’d need to wait for in-market sales data. It’s a new, agile world, so why spend it waiting?