While competitors may be a nuisance, competition is an integral part of business. It enforces higher standards of commodities, lower costs of production, and better service delivery – what an economist would interpret as efficient use of resources. And the fuel for these leaps and strides is competitive intel, which influences business strategy.
What is Competitive Intel?
SCIP – Strategic & Competitive Intelligence Professionals – defines competitive intel as, “a discipline that enables organizations to reduce strategic risk and increase revenue opportunities by having a deep understanding of what has happened, what is happening, and what may happen in their operating environment.” Competitive intel is basically an overarching understanding of your brand position in the market.
It might not be obvious, but you rely on competitive intel all the time. Say, for instance, you’re an airline; you find out that a competing airline has reduced the ticket price for a certain route and you do the same to maintain your customer base.
Or you’re the Japanese automobile industry in the 1970’s and you realize that the smaller and more frugal American family demands smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles; so you step in to fill the gap which has hitherto been unnoticed by American companies.
Or maybe you’re neither of those but an ecommerce store, an apparel line, an alcohol manufacturer, poultry farmer, cobbler, etc. Competitive intel always applies. It offers intimate knowledge of your market, which is crucial to your longevity as a business, regardless of vertical.
During a 2021 NetBase Quid LIVE event, Cam Mackey, CEO for SCIP, shared a few tips with the audience. Tapping into a recent report, Mackey revealed that customer experience is going to be the greatest determinant of the success of businesses in beating their competition. He also urged the business owners and marketers to look beyond the immediate competitive landscape, as disruption is increasingly going to come from non-traditional competitors.
Far beyond being a collection of information about your competitors, competitive intel is market information that must be democratized, analyzed and distributed within the organization, so that it becomes a tool for competitive advantage. This tool can be used for both tactical (short-term) and strategic (long-term) decision-making.
What is it not?
Competitive intel is not industrial espionage. It’s not breaking into a competitor’s offices and stealing files. Neither is it planting spies inside rival organizations or tapping their phones. In short, competitive intel is an entirely legal discipline upheld by a strict code of ethics and advanced by professionals with integrity.
You’re collecting information that’s readily available to anyone and must then magic it into competitive intel that offers your brand a distinct advantage. And we’re going to see how this comes to be next!
Guide to Competitive Intel
In this guide, we discussing three aspects of competitive intel:
- Benefits: What do you gain from competitive intel?
- Strategy: What is the proper approach to competitive intel?
- Examples: What kinds of information would you consider competitive intel?
As an organized field, competitive intel is relatively new in the U.S. SCIP, the non-profit organization committed to the advancement of the discipline, was only formed in 1986. Since the 1980’s the field has steadily grown as businesses see its value.
These are some of the statistics that we came across illustrating the place of and developments in competitive intel in today’s business environment:
- Competitive intel (CI) increases the likelihood of success. SCIP reports, “92% of stakeholders at high-growth companies say CI is critical to success.” Further, 90% of organizations plan to increase or maintain their CI investments.
- Competitive intel uses powerful tools. CI tools like Battlecards can increase sales by upwards of 50% and techniques like Win/Loss can help boost customer retention by more than 12%.
- Watch out for non-traditional competition. Results from a prediction markets study done by SCIP suggests that there is a 77% chance that unknown competitors will pose the greatest risk to business in the future. It is predicted that up to 40% of today’s Fortune 500 companies will be gone in a decade, replaced by new firms.
Benefits of Competitive Intel
Competitive intel gives power to your organization: Power to make decisions, power to anticipate market movements, and power to satisfy your customers.
The Power of Knowledge
According to studies, more than 75% of new businesses don’t see their 15th year. One of the main reasons why these businesses fail is lack of knowledge of their markets, which makes sense as the business environment is changing at a rapid rate.
Alternative products are being created across categories which are sometimes not even correlated – and many new categories pop up all the time. And as consumers get better informed, some commodities that were revolutionary half a decade ago just don’t cut it today. To keep pace, you need to make decisions quickly and accurately.
And nothing gets in the way of decision making like lack of necessary information. Slow decision making can lead to lagging of projects or worse, going in blindly. With competitive intel, you can save time and eliminate guesswork and assumptions about yourself and competitors.
The Power of Prediction
Competitive intel helps move your business from a reactive position to an anticipatory one. In a Harvard Business Review article titled How Industries Change, Anita M. McGahan explains four trajectories along which industries evolve: Radical, progressive, creative, and intermediating.
If you can pinpoint the kind of change that is happening within your industry, you can confidently anticipate changes in your market and acclimate successfully. McGahan advises, “It is easy to become distracted or confused by conventional wisdom, customer demands, and competitor’s moves. To ensure accuracy, your analysis must be focused and systematic.” And, lacking in human bias. Competitive intel allows you to see things clearly, paying attention to what matters and avoiding distractions.
The Power of Customer Satisfaction
Let customer satisfaction be your guiding principle. This is your ultimate competitive intel advantage. Research by Gartner reveals that for 81% of marketers, customer satisfaction is the main area of competition. And they are not wrong: According to PwC, 59% of customers stop buying from a company if they have several bad experiences and 17% leave after only one.
If you are well informed about what customers need, want, and expect, these are challenges which will never pose a threat to your business. You can get this knowledge through methods such as customer satisfaction surveys, Net Promoter Score (NPS), and the all important, sentiment analysis.
The underlying benefit of competitive intel is that it helps you serve your customers better, leading to higher customer retention and loyalty, increase in your market share, and ultimately revenue growth.
Competitive Intel Strategy
The main challenge in competitive intel is not that there isn’t enough information, but that there is too much information. As noted above, it’s easy to get distracted because not every bit of information that’s available is important to you. You need a strategy detailing your objectives, sources of information, and the process.
The Objective: What to look for
There are five categories of competitive intel that you should look for. Applying them both to your own brand and to relevant competitors.
- Current activities: You want to know what is happening right now. What are the trending topics in your category and how are other brands approaching these issues in relation to your approach – and which is resonating? This information can help you interpret future strategic movements, as well as make predictions about the market.
- Strategic moves/baseline intel: Be on the lookout for activities that suggest shifts in strategy. If it’s your first time doing organized competitive intel gathering, then you want to create a solid baseline before you can have a true estimation of what you have been missing. This will also help you interpret similar activities in future. Consistent measurement of metrics will be key here.
- Consumer sentiment: What are the consumers’ perceptions about your market? Find out how consumer perceptions vary across different commodities, brands, or even people in the market. It will help you improve customer satisfaction and identify consumer pain-points that competitors may have missed.
- SWOT: You will want to discover the strengths and threats that can affect your business as well as the weaknesses and opportunities you can exploit to bolster your position in the market and grow share of voice. Again, creating a baseline of this analysis and consistent measurement is crucial.
- Market/influencer prospects: The market and its key players are always in motion. Your competitive intel strategy needs to reveal the current direction and who is leading the charge, letting you anticipate the inevitable changes and shifts in power.
The Source: Where to look
Everything you need is available online, but supplementing intel with proprietary insight you’ve captured about the market and consumers is important here. Other potential sources of competitive intel include:
- The social web, including every social media channel, websites, and apps that can reveal current conversations and shifts in sentiment.
- News media offers a supplementary perspective, with strategic moves, strengths, and threats detailed in articles. There are also earnings calls and other analyses to consider.
- Product analysis by uploading reviews and forum intel for analysis.
- Customer surveys and comment data.
- Industry events, conferences, and trade shows revealing market prospects.
And all of it should be seamlessly and automatically uploaded into your business intelligence tool for analysis.
The Process: How to look
To complete your strategy, you need a process starting at the very beginning with your decision to acquire competitive intel right to how it’s used in your organization. Turns out, it’s not a very long checklist:
- Planning: What are you looking for and why? What do you already know that can improve your search? What is the cost of finding that information?
- Collecting: Who is responsible for collecting the information you need and where are they going to find it? Are there tools to improve the collection? How will you maintain legal and ethical standards?
- Analyzing: What did you find about the market? What did you find about your brand? How will this help you improve your business?
- Distributing: What criteria should you use to share the intelligence across the organization? How will you ensure efficient use of it? How will you store the information?
Understand the potential power in your hands – few of those who have access to such information can derive insights to their advantage. They’re left stuck in the weeds and can’t extract actionable insight. You need the right tools to find high-quality information that is accurate and timely. And you need a team to find the insights and distribute intelligence across the organization.
Leveraging technology and strategic partnerships, NetBase Quid’s clients can more clearly see the environment in which they are operating and make decisions free of guesswork and assumptions. Reach out for a demo to see how your business can get a better look of the competitive intel defining industry – and prosper.