I hope this will simplify the formula for the different analysis types so that you can choose and customize your technique for whichever domain/objectives you want to achieve.
This builds up on Michael Lai's answer so please refer to it first.
There are two angles/approaches for a competitor analysis, the first is exploratory and the second is comparative.
In the exploratory approach - which Michael referred to as Competitor Analysis - the idea is to explore your competitors looking for insights, these can be strengths, channels, markets, ideas, features or anything else depending on the domain/scope of your analysis - will come back to this part in a bit.
In the Comparative approach, you already know what you are looking for, you just want to compare between how each of the candidates implements or performs those aspects.
The reason we say here candidates instead of competitors is that they are not necessarily competitors, a checkout process can be compared between two e-commerce platforms, one that sells cars and other sells potatoes, they are not really competitors still there might still be a great value to compare between them, in fact this is where interesting inspirations are typically found.
One addition within the Comparative approach, if you assign a list of metrics and a scoring criteria for your comparison, you can eventually sum them up to a total score for each of the candidates, this is when you start referring to the analysis as a Competitor Benchmark.
You might notice for the Competitor Benchmark, we went back to use the term "Competitor" instead of Candidate, why? simply because you don't usually want to benchmark non-competitors, Gmail vs Stack-exchange? it sort of does not make any real value or relevancy to do so.
Scope of Analysis
Back to the scope of analysis part, the approaches that mentioned earlier are not exclusive to domain UX, Marketing, Business or anything else, the scope is simply the focus areas.
If you are performing an analysis for UX, within the exploratory approach you are looking for insights for the UX, in a digital product these could be interaction patterns, flows, design decision, user needs, features (in some cases)...
In a comparative approach, you could be comparing between user flows, feature utility, feature simplicity...
In a benchmark, you could be looking for 3-click rule, user satisfaction rates, load time...
One last note
Personally, I sometimes feel that the namings of those activities are confusing the way they are known, to make sense out things, i choose to secretly rename them in my mind:
- Similarity Analysis (The big category, people refer to it as competitor analysis)
- Exploratory Analysis (Explores competitors, People also refer to it as competitor analysis, this is the confusion)
- Comparative Analysis (Compares competitors and other similar candidates)
- Benchmark Analysis (Compares competitors with a scoring criteria)
This structure informs the approaches of each analysis type, and allows to prepend the domain with them, so we can add UX, Market, or whatever domain you are using it for.
- UX Similarity Analysis
- UX Exploratory Analysis
- UX Comparative Analysis