How to Conduct Competitor Research that’s Actually Useful in the Cannabis Industry
When was the last time you thought about your competitors? When you enter the keywords ‘competitor research’ into Google — you’ll be bombarded with SWOT analysis templates, feature grid matrixes, and other genuinely unhelpful methods.
Think about the SWOT analysis: how can you tell what the true weaknesses are that your competitors face? It’s extremely difficult and almost impossible to know the in’s and out’s of their strategy. Furthermore, traditional competitor research is challenging to turn into something actionable… even harder in the cannabis industry.
Competitor research takes a ton of time. The last thing you want is for all your hard work to sit nicely in a Google Drive folder — never to be looked at again. You want something your product team can actually use to drive better decisions.
How I conduct competitor research
There’s a lot of value in understanding how your cannabis competitors are positioning themselves. Let’s admit it, new players are constantly entering the market. What are they working on and how are they perceiving the problem they’re trying to solve? The trick is to not get obsessed, particularly when they copy you.
As a cannabis business owner, you should be continually keeping an eye out for new competitors. By arming yourself with deep market knowledge — you’re guiding the product teams, informing business strategy, and helping better position your product in the market.
A good competitor analysis will help frame the problem your company is trying to solve and aid you in understanding the ‘why’ behind your competitors.
Let your customers tell you
Your sales/success and support teams are your key intel providers. It’s foolish to think your potential customers are only looking at your solution. Research tells us that companies typically evaluate four or more products when deciding on a new product to use. Think back to the products you’ve purchased in your life. No doubt you’ve conducted comparative research to find the best solution/bang for your buck.
To pick the brains of the respective teams, I conducted internal interviews to find common names of competitors. If Slack is your weapon of choice, create a Slack channel called #competition to post links to competitors that arise. As a bonus, it provides a place you can easily access when it comes time to update your competitive intel.
Use their products
It’s an obvious one, well, one would think. Put on your cannabis customer hat and look at things such as: what’s their onboarding like? What features do they point you to first? What language and naming conventions do they use for various aspects of their product? By understanding the weaknesses in their product (and strengths) you can better develop your points of difference.
Read their About page
About pages offer seriously solid information. It’s where I go to get a big picture view of what the company is about. They can provide a sense of the company’s mission, product timeline, and vision for the company. Timelines are particularly useful to understand at what point the company might have built additional functionality in their product or shifted their focus, which is done more than you think in this very young cannabis space.
Read their press news, especially interviews
Interviews with founders can be quite telling. When reading interviews, I look for decisions the CEO has backed. Look at how they market their features, what language do they use? How they explain similar solutions helps provide more context about the problem. From this type of research, you can get a good feel for how large the company is. Are they celebrating small wins or big wins? CEO’s always (at least in my research) touch on the greater mission/drive behind the company. Look at whether that mission has shifted since the company first started.
Marketing collateral tends to be more ‘visionary.’ You can surface information like: how are they positioning their product? Are they looking to be the ‘big-data’ product? Or are they focused on current pain points in the cannabis market? Carefully look at the words they’re using to describe their offering. How does it stack up against yours? Do your value propositions speak to your mission or the problem you’re trying to solve?
Logos on the marketing website
Looking at the logos they promote on their website provides some indication of who they serve in the market (eg. SMEs, Enterprise or SMBs). For example, are all their logos of companies in Australia? Perhaps you can assume their market share is limited to one region.
Careers pages/Linkedin Jobs
I found it useful to look at their Career pages/Linkedin jobs. This gave me an idea of the areas that competitors were looking to move into. For example, if they’re hiring a bunch of Enterprise sales roles, perhaps they’re trying to shift their sales strategy. Do they seem to be hiring for one discipline? Careers pages are gold for this reason.
Reading the titles of upcoming cannabis-related webinars gives you an indication of where they might be taking the company. Are the webinars mostly product-related? Are they about industry trends and forward-thinking? If a webinar is called “The Future of the Cannabis industry” you can bet your money that the competitor is thinking about how macro trends will affect their product roadmap.
HOW TO USE THIS RESEARCH
Get your company onboard
The most effective way I found to present this research was through what I call a “Research Roadshow.” Build a beautiful, clear, concise deck and present it to different disciplines/departments. Be prepared for questions such as: What now? How can we apply this? Your team will want to know how they can integrate this into their everyday work life.
Use it in the project scoping phase
As your product teams are scoping out the next feature or improvement, you can add your competitive intel. The risk in a crowded marketplace is duplicating what’s already available. Your product needs to stand out, and how else will you know what’s out there without good ol’ competitor research.
Create competitor battle-cards that analyze their offering and how it stacks up against yours. Arm your sales team with these to help them close deals.
Regular market updates
Keep the momentum going by providing quarterly or bi-yearly updates. I’ve heard some companies deliver weekly competitive intel sessions, and others do it every 6 months. Use whatever cadence works for your company and team.
Market research is a difficult and valuable task — not only for your own marketing knowledge but also for the internal product teams. Competitor analysis gives you an ongoing understanding of how you are perceived in the market. THAT is the main purpose of it. And, remember, YOU should be your biggest competitor. Be better today than you were yesterday!