Using Beta for Competitive Research

Beta testing can be a great tool for understanding how your customers interact with your product, but the usefulness of beta testing doesn’t have to stop there. You can also use your beta community, tools, and expertise to conduct competitive research on other products in your market. This is an easy way to get an in-depth view of how customers use your competitor’s product and how it stacks up against your own.

How Competitive Tests Work

Competitive testing involves buying some of your competitor’s released products and putting them into the hands of members of their target market. Aside from the fact that you’re using your competitor’s released product rather than your beta product, the fundamentals of the test are the same as a beta. You give the testers tasks to do, surveys to complete, and forums to discuss their experiences. Then you can use that data to inform your own decisions.

Why Companies Do Them

Intuitively, it’s easy to understand why companies might test their competitors’ products. It helps them better understand the product landscape and improve their own offerings. Some could argue that traditional market research achieves these goals as well, so why model your competitive research after a beta test instead?

The simple answer is that competitive tests give you the benefits of market research, plus the ability to go much deeper. Focus groups, by nature, are very controlled. They also tend to be very limited. You’ll usually only have a small window of time to interact with the respondents. Thus, they’re really great for first impressions like the out-of-the-box experience, early product interactions, and marketing effectiveness. You can also get a lot of valuable information from focus group discussions about how or why they might use the product.

A beta test, on the other hand, goes much deeper. It shows you how the product performs outside of a controlled environment and gives you people’s impressions of the product after continued use. This opens the door to a better understanding of your competition’s performance, reliability, and overall user experience. Ultimately, your ability to identify opportunities and threats in competing products is far greater with a competitive beta-type test.

Some Things to Consider

Running a beta-type test of your competitor’s product takes a bit of planning. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you dive in.

  • Who is going to run your test? Do you want to run the test yourself or hire an outside company to do it? It’s important to conceal your identity during these tests, and depending on the tools available to you that may be difficult if you’re running the test internally.
  • When will you run your test? Your goals will be different depending on what stage of the development cycle your product is in. If it’s early enough, the results of the competitive beta test may influence the development of your product. If your product is nearing release itself, your goals may be to collect information that can be used to differentiate your product in the marketplace. If your product has already been released, a competitive test can inform your roadmap for next time.
  • Will your product be involved? Some companies like to run side-by-side tests, where half of the testers receive your product and half receive a competitor’s. Then, as feedback comes in about one feature or use case, you can ask the other team their opinion as well. It gives you a true sense of how the products perform head to head.

There’s a lot you can learn by turning testers loose on your competitor’s product. Just like any other beta, you can assign tasks, surveys, and daily journal assignments. The primary difference is that, instead of searching for unknown issues, you’re probing specific areas of the product to see how it stacks up against your own. Testers might even tell you interesting things about your product or brand, thinking that they’re testing for your competitor. At the very least, it’s an excellent addition to any product team’s development cycle.

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