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Competitive intelligence

X26_1_wrestling1.jpg Competitive Intelligence is a specialist type of market intelligence specifically aimed at sourcing and gathering information about competitors, normally on a continuous basis. The objective is to understand and react to competitive behaviour as part of an overall market positioning strategy.

Strict ethical codes should be adhered to when carrying out competitive intelligence data gathering. A rule of thumb is that information that is public and can be obtained without deception is free to be collected, but private data, commercial secrets and obtaining information by deception are not allowed. Detailed company sensitive data like number of sales, production costs, or commercial sales terms are unlikely to be obtainable.

Competitive intelligence can be difficult and piecemeal to gather. For this reason, we see competitive intelligence as on-going process instead of a one-off project. Thus, a core focus for competitor intelligence is create data-gathering structures that will enable information to be collated and reviewed in a regular and frequent fashion.

In particular, competitive information needs to be kept up-to-date with current published information, but also should capture comments and snippets picked up from customers, suppliers, partners and associates. For this reason it is important to have an internal system in place to allow this information to be collected, reported, analysed and communicated.

A basic competitive intelligence function would include

  • monitoring the press and journals for article, press releases and job adverts
  • benchmarking competitive products and services
  • monitoring and collecting promotional materials
  • taking views from customers, suppliers and partners
  • monitoring for company reports and analyst reports
  • attending exhibitions and conferences and membership of trade associations
  • monitoring patents
  • maintaining regular searches and reports on the internet
  • collecting information from competitor websites

The key is to be systematic in the way the data is collected, collated and then analysed with a view to communicating any changes in competitor behaviour quickly to those who will need to know. A classic piece of analysis is to monitor a competitor's pricing strategy and product development process to identify when and at what price their next products are going to be launched.

There are a number of tools that can help with this process. Firstly, it is important to have proper tools, such as a competitor database to collect this information.

Traditional databases can struggle with with the complexities of competitive data and competitors typically do not provide information in neat boxes to specific formats and so data is often missing, in text form or needs commenting and unpicking.

In particular, competitor information needs to be both structured and unstructured to allow for both analysis and searching. It is important that the database is flexible as markets and the information you collect can change extremely rapidly and consequently it needs to be easy to use and adapt without the need for programming resources.

The database needs to record the date, the source, a summary and details so that the data can be searched and organised to look for trend information. Ideally this will be a web based system so that sales teams can access appropriate information where and when they need to. In addition, this can also be used as a push system, notifying relevant employees when new news comes in that is relevant to their role.

Our experience of competitor intelligence gathering and storage in practice is that most businesses use informal systems and specialist personnel who get to know the competitor landscape.

Some parts of competitor intelligence gathering can be automated through tools like web-scraping and semi- and unstructured databases, but in practice insight hunting and interpretation are a key part of the analyst's job and are very difficult to automate.

Of more importance is the ability to index and aggregate disparate pieces of information in a structured library-type database for access, storage and fast retrieval. Our Notanant technologies are an example of this type of database, however, these databases are quite specialised and so relatively expensive, so many companies still use informal systems with files, folders and spreadsheets relying on the skills (and memory) of the analyst.

We have tools and experience in building competitor intelligence systems, in carrying out specific competitor intelligence projects, and in helping organisations in setting up competitor intelligence functions internally.

For help and advice on competitor intelligence gathering, or building customer, competitor or marketing knowledge systems contact

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