Has it been a while since you’ve tuned your competitive positioning relative to others in your market? Time to prime the competitive tool of choice—a SWOT analysis.

A SWOT analysis is a competitive analysis framework, structured into a 4-quadrant matrix. In each matrix, you collect the relevant information about the ways your competitors’ offerings compare to yours in four attributes. These are where the SWOT acronym comes from—Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

This is how you identify the significant factors that make up the perception (and reality) of each competitors’ offerings. And when you do, you’ll find your positioning—and the product messaging that supports it—in the differences.

SWOT competitive analysis breakdown

If you have four primary competitors, you’ll end up with five SWOT tables. One for each competitor, and one that assesses your own product against the rest of the market. So pick a competitor, make a simple 4-cell table, and start writing.

  • Strengths: The product’s or company’s known advantages, capabilities, resources, activities, attributes, and other positive aspects. No opinions allowed.
  • Weaknesses: The product’s or company’s lacks, limitations, needs or obstacles that prevent success in certain areas. Again, no opinions allowed.
  • Opportunities: Business activities or decisions your company can undertake to maximize gaps between your strengths and the competitors’ weakness; these can be sales processes, partnerships, bundling, etc.
  • Threats: Unprotected gaps your competitors can exploit to achieve the advantage in a place you traditionally haven’t looked or can’t address; for example, fluctuating exchange rates, defection of channel partners, etc.

competitive positioning example

SWOT analysis shows how you stack up

In SWOT format, of course, a competitive analysis doesn’t overlay your competitors with each other. It doesn’t output a dazzling visual data visualization with a bright flashing neon arrow pointing at your obvious position. But that’s the great thing about SWOTs. It’s an analysis, not a prescription. Ticking checkboxes won’t determine your positioning and messaging. However, exploring the competitive landscape and the opportunities available within it will. You and your organization can begin to look at patterns that weren’t obvious before. You can weight them based on which—or whether—competitors can act on them. And you can determine marketing, product, and business strategy given the resources and expertise you have in your organization.

Tips for a strong SWOT

  • Be objective, as an analyst would be in a blind comparison.
  • Use only documented, supportable facts—not hearsay about upcoming layoffs or grumbling from an ex-employee.
  • Be concise. You can start out capturing every minute detail in “brainstorming” fashion, but plainly, there are factors that just won’t make a difference. Cull the lists until only truly significant attributes remain that can help you make decisions about positioning strategy.
  • Be honest. It can sometimes be tough to present and defend a competitive comparison that doesn’t paint your product as clearly superior from every possible angle. But you can’t find your competitive positioning “sweet spot” if you don’t adequately portray your competitors’ advantages.

What not to do: feature comparisons.

Feature comparisons might be able to help you develop a roadmap. But they can’t help you make strategic decisions about competitive positioning and messaging. There’s too much volatility in your own feature list, not to mention the multiples of competitors to compare it with, to make a reliable analysis.

There’s a lot more to disparage about feature comparisons in positioning and differentiationmarketing content, and competitive sales tools. You can acknowledge feature superiority (if it’s truly a factor) in a SWOT analysis in a few other ways, though. Inventory strengths such as patent library, innovation center, generous R&D budget, high-profile suppliers, and so on. But if you think a feature is a strength, just know that someone else can come up with the same feature in the next dot release and erase the differentiation.

Create competitive positioning from your SWOT

So where do competitive positioning and messaging come in? Easy: in the strength gaps left by your competitors – and in the opportunities you can capitalize on that are available only to you. Where are patterns in your competitors’ weaknesses where your leading strengths are maximized? Find these, and you’ve found what buyers in your market most likely think of as your differentiator. Now you can create a position around that strength. Where are the opportunities for your product that others in the field don’t have? Identify these, and you can create messages that highlight those scenarios for buyers. In fact, doing a SWOT should be one of your first steps in a positioning and messaging strategy for two gigantic reasons:

1) Positioning can’t happen by itself without having a picture of the market landscape first. SWOTs give you that picture. They allow you to assess and prioritize every factor that lines up position your product in the customers’ mind.

2) Messaging strategies can’t happen without articulating your differentiated value. And you won’t know what truly differentiates you until you place the inventory of your directly competitive factors into a meaningful context.