Benchmarking: How To Conduct One?
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Benchmarking: How To Conduct One?

Benchmarking: How To Conduct One? cover

Benchmarking is done by researching your competitors and how they work with their products to understand how you should develop and act with your product in the market.

You’ve probably heard of this strategy before. But do you know how to use a benchmark to improve the development of UX Design projects?

Keep reading to find the answers!

What is benchmarking, and why is it relevant?

Benchmarking is a process of evaluating your main competitors to collect information to help make business decisions.

This analysis is essential for the company to assess the market in which it is inserted— or in which it wants to enter—and to understand what solutions and best practices its competitors deliver to users.

Given that it is challenging to start something entirely new from scratch — and that trying to reinvent the wheel is unnecessary — benchmarking becomes a fundamental process for the strategy of any organization. So, of course, it couldn’t be different in UX Design.

Note: It’s common to hear both terms: benchmark and benchmarking. Although they look like identical words, they have a slight difference. Benchmarking is the process of analyzing competitors, while benchmark is defined as a standard by which all others are measured.

Why benchmark in UX Design?

Benchmarking: the graphic image shows a woman looking at the photo of a person through magnifying glasses

The analysis of competitors, at first, can give the false impression of being a tool used only by Marketing. However, many other departments can—and should—use this analysis to improve their processes.

In UX Design, benchmarking is essential to determine how the usability of your product — app, website, software — performs compared to other UIs.

Analyzing the competition brings valuable insights into features, functions, flows, and how users feel when interacting with other products.

Therefore, benchmarking in UX Design is essential to:

  • The analysis of competitors, at first, can give the false impression of being a tool used only by the marketing area.
  • Help troubleshoot usability issues with your interface;
  • Understand where your product is located in the market;
  • Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of competitors and your own product;
  • Understand the market and know how to identify changes in behavior;
  • Collect information for decision-making in the design process.

As you can see, analyzing competitors provides an understanding of the market and other similar products; it can reveal opportunities for improving your processes and overall design.

Another important aspect is that Benchmarking in UX design can either be used to measure how your product performs compared to its competitors or to compare the performance of your designs over time.

Reading tip: Pair Design: Two Heads Think Better Than One

When to benchmark in UX?

Benchmarking is a process that occurs in the UX Research phase in UX Design projects. This means you should conduct a competition analysis as soon as possible so that the information acquired can help guide the next steps of your project.

Notice that the market and competitors are dynamic and, therefore, constantly changing. So it is essential to conduct benchmarking studies throughout a product’s lifecycle— iteratively—to ensure the competitiveness of your product.

Benefits of UX Benchmarking

The main benefit of benchmarking is supporting decision-making around new product development or existing ones.

But what information should you be looking for to support your design or business decisions? Check the following:

Identification of market gaps

The benchmarking process allows UX Designers to find market gaps that can eventually turn into positive opportunities.

For example, through the analysis, it is possible to identify that none of your competitors meet a particular need of your users. Or that competing UIs do not have a specific feature that can become a great ally in conversion and user loyalty.

Therefore, identifying these gaps through benchmarking is essential to find ways to improve the competitiveness of your product.

Development of new products or services

illustrations of wireframes on a cell-phone

The identification of market gaps can lead to the improvement of an existing product or to the decision to develop an entirely new interface or service.

This way, benchmarking helps expand the company’s product portfolio, which will more assertively meet users’ needs.

Risk reduction and value addition

Another benefit of benchmarking is the ability to mitigate risks and add value to products based on market and competitive information.

In this sense, identifying features that users did not accept well prevents the product — and the company — from investing in features that did not work out.

In the opposite direction, identifying the successful features is essential for the product to remain competitive and keep adding value for its users.

Reading tip: UX Survey: How To Collect Trustful Data

How to conduct a benchmarking study?

When redesigning a product, you can use a benchmarking study to compare your design over time to whether new changes to the UI will help achieve your company’s business goals.

For that, set some key performance indicators (KPIs) and measure how your proposed design changes affect them. A good way of doing it is benchmarking against business objectives.

But, if you’re conducting a benchmarking to compare your product’s performance against a competitor, you should run a competitor analysis. These are the main steps to follow:

  1. Clear objectives;
  2. Mapping the competition;
  3. Analyzing and organizing results;
  4. Presentation.

1) Clear objectives

Understanding why you are deciding to benchmark is essential to the success of the process.

This way, write the objectives clearly and concisely, summing up the things you want to discover at the end of the analysis of the competitors.

Keep these goals in mind and keep them within reach. That way, you will be able to consult them whenever necessary.

2) Mapping the competition

the illustrations shows a man in a tie with an invisible head and lots of question marks on the background, in allusion of mapping competitors in a benchmarking process

This step is when you effectively start searching and mapping all of your most important competitors.

Therefore, it is essential to understand the difference between direct and indirect competitors.

  • Direct competitors offer the same product and compete for the same market to satisfy the same customer need.
  • Indirect competitors compete for the same market and user needs but offers different products.

Pay attention to the number of competitors you are going to list. At first, the feeling is that we should list all companies or at least as many as possible.

However, an ideal number for analysis is between 2 to 4 competitors. And it should never go above 10.

Also, establish some criteria to select which competitors to choose, such as:

  • It has identical or similar functionalities to yours;
  • They are a reference in usability and user experience;
  • It’s the competitors that are always on the users’ minds (top of mind);
  • They promote innovative solutions and are well established in the market.

Don’t be tempted to choose only competitors known to be “weaker” than you.

At this stage, it is essential to carefully select who to analyze so that the information, results, and insights are decisive in improving or promoting the product in question.

Reading tip: UX Research Data Analysis: A Step-By-Step

3) Analyzing and organizing results

Now it’s time to conduct your analyses. Look for information that will help you understand your users’ experience with other competing products and companies.

  • What’s the voice and tone of your competitors? E.g., casual, formal, irreverent, serious, traditional, innovative, accessible;
  • Effectiveness of features;
  • User reviews;
  • Interactions (buttons, forms, CTA’s);
  • Information Architecture (if it’s easy to find what you’re looking for, filter options, etc.)
  • Visual hierarchy (content and images);
  • Responsiveness.

Also, as stated by the NN/g group, you should pay attention to the following UX metrics:

  • Average time to make a purchase
  • Numbers of clicks on a Submit button
  • The success rate for an application completion
  • Average ease-of-use rating for creating an account
  • The retention rate for an app (percentage of users continuing to use the app after eight weeks).

Then consider answering a few questions, such as:

  • Which user need is this competing product delivering?
  • Run a SWOT analysis: what are the weaknesses, strengths, opportunities, and threats of this product/company?
  • What can you explore from this analysis? What to consider when developing your product and what to avoid?

The answers to these questions should be written with the purpose of the project and benchmarking in mind.

Tools and methods to help running analyzes

When we talk about investigating products from a usability point of view, we can run two types of analysis:

  • Competitive Review: a usability expert will analyze other websites or mobile apps to identify opportunities and gaps that should be considered in your project. It is best to identify key areas to help focus the review and its results, like analyzing the check-out process. But you can also review the overall site experience.
  • Competitive Testing: an expert runs a usability test on your design and the designs of your competitors. Each participant should complete a series of tasks on 2 or 3 sites. Knowing what was easy or complex in each design can help you gain further insight into strengths and weaknesses.

In addition to the types of analysis above, other tools can help you in the benchmarking process:

Perceptual map

illustration showing a  perceptual map graph in benchmarking

A perceptual map is a graph used mainly by market researchers to understand how your target audience view and feel about a given brand or product.

These charts allow organizations to compare attributes important to users and identify open areas within their markets.

A typical perceptual map is a two-dimensional graph with a vertical (Y) and a horizontal (X) axis. Each axis consists of a pair of opposite attributes at each end.

For example, if the map’s purpose is to investigate how consumers feel about the price and quality of products, the map will look similar to the image above.

Reading tip: Multiple Perspective Problem Framing: Improving The Innovation Process

4) Presentation

Now it’s time to present the information collected through benchmarking and the result of the analyses.

Furthermore, add all the insights gathered during the competitor analysis process to the presentation.

The high point of benchmarking is revealing opportunities for improvement in product design and improving the user experience.

You can also build a simple table showing comparisons between the competing products.

table showing an example of UI attributes compared in a benchmarking process

Benchmarking: challenges and limitations

One of the most significant challenges of benchmarking is the ability to read data and turn those numbers into insights and opportunities.

In this sense, the quality of insights depends on who analyzes the data. Therefore, share the information collected and promote joint analysis with your team. Thus, with more perspectives, the quality of insights tends to be better.

Another point is choosing competitors that will actually bring insights and reveal opportunities. That’s because it can be common for us to choose inferior products to analyze. But this would leave us with a false feeling about our product and the market, and ultimately, it wouldn’t reveal so many opportunities for improvement.

Final thoughts

Benchmarking is a tool to improve product design and user experience based on your competitors and similar products.

Don’t forget to prioritize your product strategies through the insights generated from the analyses. This is where the fundamental purpose of competitor analysis in UX Design resides.

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