In business and marketing, knowledge is power. This is why so many industry leading companies dedicate large budgets and entire departments to information gathering and analysis. The more you know about your market, the better your ability to navigate the competitive terrain and strategize for success.
Though some businesses make big investments in intelligence gathering and analysis, small and medium size businesses can also benefit. You don’t need a huge budget or a dedicated team to begin this work. All you need to do is look in the right places and begin thinking analytically about what you uncover.
Competitive intelligence is the primary way you’ll gain the knowledge you need to stay ahead of your competitors. In this article, we’ll explain the concept of competitive intelligence (CI) and dig into some of the most important types of CI.
What Does “Competitive Intelligence” Mean?
Competitive intelligence is the process of gathering and analyzing information about an industry with the goal of strengthening your business strategy. The gathered information can be related to any aspect of the business ecosystem, including:
- Products and services
- Industry trends
- Economic or political conditions
Terms such as “business intelligence” and “market intelligence” are often used instead of “competitive intelligence.” While they’re related, it’s important to note the differences:
- Business or corporate intelligence examples focus mostly on data and information collected internally.
- Market intelligence examples encompass research on market conditions, market trends, and emerging markets.
- Competitor intelligence examples center on competitors within established markets.
In this article, we will stick to the term Competitive Intelligence, though we will delve into different aspects of these more specific kinds of intelligence.
Why Is Competitive Intelligence Important?
Operating a business without knowledge of the landscape leaves you vulnerable to threats and leads to missed opportunities. These blindspots are detrimental to any business, and competitive intelligence provides a solution.
Maybe your competitor is launching a new product that competes with your company’s main offering. Or, perhaps a recent event has shaped the perception of your industry in a negative way. Without competitive intelligence you’ll likely miss changes in the market, make mistakes, and experience setbacks.
As mentioned, CI is about gathering the intelligence you need to make informed business decisions over the long term. By collecting data about your market, you’ll be able to:
- Uncover market trends and position yourself for the future
- Predict your competitors’ next moves and prepare to counteract
- Spot emerging threats in your industry
- Discover opportunities for business growth
- Keep your sales reps informed and develop winning pitches
- Benchmark against competitors to better understand where you can improve
- Make strategic decisions with informed confidence
All of these points and others not listed can guide your strategic planning and give you a competitive advantage. To arrive at useful competitive insights, you first need to gather and analyze the data.
AI and the Future of Competitive Intelligence
More and more, businesses are recognizing the importance of competitive intelligence. And as more businesses begin taking competitive intelligence seriously, those that don’t are left at a disadvantage. It’s easy to see why.
When it comes to marketing and sales, a deep knowledge of the competition allows you to take advantage of their weaknesses and blindspots, and approach your customers in ways that show how you can meet their needs in ways your rivals can’t.
Historically, smaller businesses have been at a disadvantage. Because gathering, organizing, and distributing competitive intelligence across an organization is a resource intensive process, teams with smaller budgets often struggle to keep up in high-velocity markets.
Advances in AI and machine learning, however, have leveled the playing field, allowing smaller teams to keep a closer eye on the competition. With automated systems for gathering, processing, and distributing competitive intelligence, large teams and massive budgets are no longer the only solution.
How to Gather Competitive Intelligence
While competitive intelligence gathering is often time consuming, it doesn’t need to be complicated. Sources for information about your competitors are numerous, and many are easy to access.
Here are 3 places to begin gathering competitive intelligence:
- Industry-based resources—Industry based resources such as trade shows, online and offline conferences, relationships with suppliers or customers, or public financial reports.
For industry specific data, resources such as Statista, Pew, and Gartner provide a goldmine. For company financial information, try Google Finance or EDGAR, which offers a free database of company information.
- Company based platforms—Do your competitors have a presence online via websites, newsletters, or social media? When it comes to competitive intelligence, platforms like these can provide a wealth of helpful information.
Programs such as Owletter or wappalyzer help you keep an eye on competitor communications and take deep dives into their websites. As you view individual sites or social profiles, look for trends across the industry.
- Competitive intelligence software—There are a multitude of fantastic software offerings that can assist in keeping an eye on market trends, customer behaviors, and business activities. For example, to track the broad conversation about a given topic in the media, a Google alert will gather mentions of that keyword in the news.
For a close look at activities for businesses in your market, however, tools such as Kompyte can add some serious power to your competitive intelligence efforts.