You probably already know all about SWOT analysis. You might even have your oppositions target demographics, market share and sales figures on hand. But have you ever applied the same type of stringent methodology to analysing your competitors' visual presence in the marketplace? A graphic design audit is a fantastic and relatively easy way to get a clear picture of how your competitors are perceived, what key messages they are communicating and how you look when placed alongside them. It's also a valuable exercise that informs you about the type of communication your customers are receiving on a regular basis from your key competitors.
So how do you do it?
The first step to a graphic design audit is to compile every piece of sales and marketing collateral you can find from the competition. This includes trawling through their website and taking screen grabs of key pages, subscribing to their mailing lists, getting your hands on their brochures, purchasing their products so you can have a look at packaging etc. etc.
According to Peter L. Phillips author of "Creating the Perfect Design Brief - How to Manage Design for Strategic Advantage", one of the best, least expensive and fastest methods is to attend all industry trade shows. There is nothing illegal, unprofessional or immoral about this practice. Business is merely a game we are playing to win after all!
Mr Phillips also suggests using your sales force members to find out what the competition are up to.
As they come into direct contact with customers every day, they can often pick up competitive literature from the customer. They only need to know what you need and of course why you need it.
So once you have compiled the information, what do you do with it?
The best way to start is by putting your competitors' information up on the wall and analysing them one by one. Invite as many people as possible from your sales, marketing and business teams to give their individual opinion on what design elements are working very well for the competition, and what weaknesses they can see. By starting your analysis on your competitors first, you will build up a bit of objectivity so you can then turn the same harsh critique onto yourself.
Look for ways the design and language make a document unique. Do they have a friendly look and feel that reflects more personalized service? Do they look more professional than you? Why? Is it because the page is less cluttered, the colours are more toned down or some other reason? Is their website easier to navigate than your own? What do you think their reasons behind these choices were? Is there anything you can learn from them? Most importantly, how are these competitors using design for competitive advantage?
Now for the hard part - using the same analysis on yourself. Reassure your staff that this is not an exercise where they need to defend their work, it is merely a way of gaining useful information that could give you a competitive advantage that improves your bottom line. This aspect of the audit sometimes proves a bit tricky so you might need an independent opinion from a graphic design firm that understands the process to help you out.
It is amazing how much strategic information this process can generate. It will give you new ideas and a fresh perspective that can influence the entire way you approach your marketing for the year. And considering a lot of businesses think of graphic design as an annoying inconvenience, if you are the first to use this more strategic approach you will find it is another tool to help you stay one step ahead of the competition.