Competitive Analysis 101: 25 Qualitative Factors for Comparisons, Part 1
The system described here emerged shortly after I launched Editorial Solutions Inc. in 1989. A B2B publisher with multiple titles asked me to prepare a two-day, in-house editorial workshop. One of the longer sessions (90 minutes) was to focus on competitive analysis. Part of the challenge was to create an objective scoring system that would show why one magazine’s editorial content was superior to another’s.
This assignment had a controversial aspect. Most editors would object to any system that aimed to quantify a qualitative task. I was familiar with that argument through my experience giving editorial performance seminars at Folio: publishing conferences. My claim that you could quantify the time required to handle various editorial assignments generated much heat. It was akin, audience members insisted, to quantifying qualitative work. That attitude has softened somewhat since then. Even so, many publishers have yet to launch a program offering a competitive scoring feature.
To more accurately pinpoint publication strengths and weaknesses, I created a 40-factor scoring system, involving 15 quantitative and 25 qualitative factors, that could realistically be applied during editorial match-ups. Given my editorial background, I took a position that quantitative and qualitative factors should be given equal weight collectively. Therefore, the maximum total score for the 15 quantitative factors is 50 points; the maximum for qualitative factors also is 50 points.
Now let’s identify and define the 25 qualitative factors to be scored. The following list includes the first 13 in my list; I’ll cover the remaining 12 factors in the next installment of this series. These factors are not set in stone: you can and should customize this list to reflect editorial nuances of the industry your publication serves. Many of these factors obviously apply to digital media.
- Editing quality. How many outright goofs can you find? If you think writing software has eliminated typos and even worse oversights, think again. Among other things, this factor considers foggy writing—particularly the excess of endless sentences that can make reading a struggle. Where this problem is acute, foggy writing becomes a separate factor with its own score.
- Editorial column. Is it a product of original thinking or merely a recitation of the contents page? Does the column exude leadership or suggest that the author is unfamiliar with the industry and has no link to major players? A frequent flaw in these columns is the message—or lack thereof—conveyed by the headline. This typically occurs if the author is chained to some bizarre graphic concept that dictates no headline will run longer than two words. Last but not least is an introduction that launches with an unrelated anecdote.
- Presence at events. Where is the evidence that editors cover key conferences? Even more important is coverage indicating the editor participated as a speaker, moderator, or panelist.
- Geography. Is reader input coming from around the country or solely from a limited geographic area? For some projects, a detailed direct quote analysis based on at least six issues of your magazine and its competitors provides useful data for a promotion piece. This is a particularly potent weapon in those cases where editors spend most of their time interviewing suppliers and advertisers rather than the core reader group of end-users.
- Professional columnists. Do they have something new and important to say in every issue, or is it sometimes apparent that they are scratching for an angle?
- Writing by the chief editor. An important qualitative fault is when a publication’s most knowledgeable editor rarely writes anything beyond a regular personal column. There is a perspective missing that may not readily be offset by contributions from subordinates, no matter what their experience level. Equally damaging are those situations where the editor, in an effort to maintain visibility, takes a byline on humdrum content. A typical example is the bylined article consisting of a few opening paragraphs attached to a series of product item rewrites based on press announcements.
- Scoops. How much does news coverage reflect investigative reporting or exclusives? Some publishers actually use “scoop analysis reports,” comparing which magazine broke what hot story first. This exercise is especially useful in those situations where the opposition is biweekly and your publication is monthly.
- Reader involvement devices. These consist of problem-solving columns, IQ tests, e-mail and online surveys, or other content that reflects subscribers’ voluntary contribution of editorial material.
- Sequence. Is there a smooth sequence from front-of-book departments and columns through features to back-of-book material?
- Story-telling graphics. This entails consistent use of creative layouts and illustrations rather than all-type pages. Here is an interesting case where a qualitative factor can be quantified. For example, I recommend that all-type pages account for no more than 20% of all pages carrying editorial content.
- Letters to the editor. Are they compelling and clearly responsive to published material?
- Awards. Does the publication have a track record of winning Neal awards, ASBPE competitions, or similar events sponsored by industry associations?
- Format variety. A poor score is awarded to publications that hold to a standard formula for content presentation that is devoid of variety. Diversity studies conducted by Editorial Solutions Inc. are based on possible use of at least 18 forms of format diversification. A weak publication may use only three or four of these, while a strong one may have eight or nine in every issue.
Visit Editsol.com next week for a discussion of the next 12 qualitative factors.
Previously in this series