Marketers' guide to competitive intelligence
What is a competitive intelligence program (CIP) and why do you need one? The collection and analysis of data about your industry, marketplace, competitors, and their products. The results demonstrate competitive activity and enable strategic decision making. Let's look furher...
Before you dive in, take a look at our simulated brand report demonstrating how Tesla used competitive intelligence to measure and analyze its share of voice in the auto industry.
If the communication silos in your organization aren’t broken up, insights will be lost. If your teams are stockpiling data and keeping it close to their numerous chests, you’re losing your competitive advantage and not fully understanding the importance of competitive intelligence.
Crayon’s 2018 State of Market Intelligence shows that the success of competitive intelligence relies on having total coverage of that digital footprint. 77% of businesses said intel on every aspect of a businesses’ marketing, products, sales, services, customers, etc., is vital if you’re looking to outsmart your competitors.
Use a tool like Quick Search to check out your competitors. Comparing market impact, you’ll see if you’re missing any opportunities to grow your online community.
Tesla competitive intelligence report - Twitter channel comparison (simulated report).
Competitive intelligence example - Honda finds a gap in the market
Harley, Indian, Triumph - big, gas guzzling motorbikes dominating the US market. Honda, looking to expand its business to the US, used competitive intelligence to analyze the competitive market and found a niche it could fill. Small bikes. Honda’s success in Japan, meant it could increase output and reduce costs. Its small, affordable, fuel-efficient bikes were a hit with US youngsters looking for a cheap alternative.
Table of contents
- Competitive intelligence definition
- What are the benefits of competitive intelligence?
- What is competitive intelligence?
- Kicking off your CI program
- Metrics to measure for effective competitive intelligence
- Competitive intelligence tools & beyond
- How to do competitive intelligence
- Competitive intelligence techniques
- Free brand report
CI is the action of monitoring, gathering, analyzing and sharing intelligence about competitors, products, customers. Similar to competitor analysis, but CI goes deeper. It's a way to improve the competitiveness of your business, relative to its entire domain - competitors, technologies, customers, distributors, and macroeconomic data.
Information => intelligence => action
- Information is the starting point - stuff available to all of us - numbers, data about competitors, stats, company info, product intel, marketing strategies
- Intelligence is information that’s been analyzed, with insights squeezed out to enable decision making, such as whether to discontinue a product or which audience segment to target
It's assumed that competitive intelligence and competitor analysis are the same thing. This would be an inaccurate assumption.
The definition of competitive intelligence is the act of describing, gathering, analyzing, and sharing intel related to competitors, products, customers. Anything that will help when making strategic business decisions.
You're looking for the unknown. Things occuring outside your organization that could affect your business. Check out Porter's 5 Forces later in this post. While this is similar to competitor analysis, competitive intelligence does more.
You’re developing the competitiveness of your business, relative to its industry - technologies, distributors, customers, competitors. And macroeconomic data - unemployment, growth rate, gross domestic product (GDP), and inflation.
The insights you pull from this analysis should then be shared across your organization - R&D, marketing, sales, PR, strategic planning, HR, product - in order to make informed decision as one team.
Competitive intelligence cycle.
Your team can use your competitive intelligence program to stay current on the company’s strategy. Topics being discussed in your industry. User-generated content surrounding your products. Internal communication from customer-facing teams. Your goals.
We’re suffering from information overload. The amount of content being shared online alone, is overwhelming. Having a competitive intelligence program in place in every organization is the only way to tackle this heap of data. And, it should be used by all teams - R&D, HR, sales, PR, product, marketing, customer service - to help them :
- Find new markets to enter or increase presence
- Predict competitors’ actions
- Improve product development
- Beat competitors to market
- Improve and personalize consumer interaction
- Give consumers what they want and increase market share
- Find new products and tech that will disrupt the competitive landscape
- Identify legislative or political issues
- Stand out from the crowd with a distinct corporate identity and tone of voice
Competitive intelligence example - Japan’s auto industry arrives in US
In the 1970s, Japan’s automotive industry analyzed the US car market looking for a way to enter and compete. Analysis revealed that high gas prices and increased numbers of smaller family units, had created a demand for smaller, fuel-efficient cars. Japan used CI techniques and was able to base manufacturing decisions based on the results, successfully infiltrating the US.
A competitive intelligence program (CIP) is a formalized process that evolves. Used by brands to monitor and analyze the evolution of its industry. Tracking the behavior of competitors so as to maintain a competitive advantage.
Monitoring and analyzing competitors’ communication and performance, so as to understand their strategies and share of voice. Your marketplace and industry to stay on top of trends, topics being discussed, and new initiatives. Data sources can include the press, focus groups, social media, blogs, forums, review sites, etc.
Quick Search - Pepsi vs Coca-Cola for 30-days.
Coca-Cola have a 9.4% market share in South Korea, which Pepsi should target.
You must also listen and share internal comms from across your organization, collecting intel from customer-facing teams.
Competitive intelligence vs industrial espionage
It’s market research of your competition.
Traditional market research would tell you what consumers think is a fair price for your product. CI market research identifies your competitors’ pricing strategies and margins.
It’s ethical research. You’re studying data that’s available to the public. Data about your industry, products. Data from customers, shareholders. Publicly available financial reports. Press releases, blog posts, social media channels, forums, government databases, public records.
Basically, your mum could find it.
From walking into a competitor’s bricks and mortar shop to online multi-channel monitoring, it’s all about collecting intel on your business rivals.
Plenty of companies put in the hours collecting data, but have no clue what to do with it. Here’s a simple process to get you started:
Identify your competitors
While I’m sure you know how many and who they are, you have to do regular checks. I do mean daily. Are there newbies starting up? Ones you’ve missed?
Keep up to date by chatting with your team and customers. Monitor social media, industry press, set up Talkwalker Alerts and be notified in real-time.
Keep things in proportion. If you’re running a small bookshop just launching an ecommerce site, is it realistic to consider Amazon as a competitor? A competitor may not even be in the same industry as you. Remember, you’re competing for page ranking in search engines for your chosen keywords.
Establish your metrics
Keep your metrics simple at the start. Don’t track all the traffic hitting your website. Segment into traffic coming via organic search, social media, referral, email, etc. Then, you can fine-tune social into traffic from Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram. Other metrics could include:
- Social media conversations about customers and competitors
- Press coverage of customers and competitors
- Keyword rankings
- Page rankings
- Company growth
- Employee churn
Organize your data
Clean it. Organize it. Consolidate it. Having all your data in one place means you can categorize, compare, and pull out valuable insights.
Visualize for clarity
Create charts and visuals so your data is easier to understand and analyze. Live data - share of voice, search data - can be displayed on dashboards that update in real-time. Time to fire up your command center so you can track multiple data sources - your competitors’ and your own.
Share data with other teams
If the data never leaves your desk, it won’t help anyone. Share it across your organization so the entire team can benefit from your competitive strategy. Knowing and understanding your competitors’ - past, present, and future plans - is vital. This knowledge will fuel sales pitches, long-term marketing strategies, product development. Again, your command center should be displayed throughout the company so you’re all on the same page.
Battlecards ready. Product launch competitive intel completed. Now you have to measure, prove that your CI program is working. What does the sales team think of your marketing content? How is it used? If not, why not? What’s its impact on sales performance?
Whether you trying to improve your existing CI program or build a new one, you have to understand your baseline metrics. Following are the metrics you’ll need to comprehensively evaluate your competitive intelligence.
What does the sales team think of your competitive material?
What does the sales team think of your competitive material? Helpful? Is it working? Are they even reading it? Which battlecards have proved successful and closed a deal? Talk to them and collect their feedback. You need to understand the following:
- How do they use your content?
- Do they use your content on a regular basis?
- For which specific deals did they use your content?
- Are they missing anything that you can provide?
Sales teams are customer-facing. This means that often, their intel is more current than yours. Use the sales guys as part of your competitive intelligence program.
How accurate is your competitive intelligence?
Time to evaluate the accuracy of your intel. I said above that sales often hear news about competitors first. Confirm that you’re collecting intel from the right data sources, and that reporting is done in real-time. Chat with the sales guys and compare notes - competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, wins and losses. If there are discrepancies, you’ll need to find better sources of data. And, include sales in your competitive intelligence program.
Which competitors are you up against most & and how often do you win?
Win rates. What are they? Which of your competitors are most present? These are questions that sales will have to help answer, as it’s not always apparent who you’re competing with in a deal or RFP. You’ll need to be able to identify:
- Which competitors are you facing most frequently?
- Which competitors pose the biggest competitive threat?
- How is your competitive material helping sales to win deals?
How quick are deals closed?
Measure how long it takes for the average sales cycle length. The goal of your competitive intelligence program would be to reduce the time it takes to close a deal.
What’s the size of an average deal?
A good CI program will have discovered how your competitors pitch to prospects and what prices they’re quoting. This intel means you can push your value, increase or reduce your prices. Your average deal size will increase with a comprehensive CI program as you’ll retain contract value.
Are discounts losing you revenue?
If you can identify the average discounts offered by your competitors, the sales team can minimize discounts and dodge pricing battles.
How much revenue is your competitive material bringing?
Track how much revenue has been brought in for the deals where your competitive material has played a part. At what point during the sales cycle was your content used. This will give you an idea of what content proved successful. If you can’t prove the value of your CI program, why should your company’s board support it.
In the past, competitive intelligence was collected manually from newspapers, journals, etc. Now, with the mass of online content, there are new sources for CI data. There’s a huge range of tools for CI because there are so many different metrics to track, and so many places to look.
Social media analytics
Using social media analytics and listening means you can track and analyze conversations online and find out what consumers are saying about you, and your competitors. You can track specific brand names, sentiment, audience demographics, topics, trends, hashtags, specific accounts, websites, etc.
Competitive intelligence - compare multiple competitor brands.
Quick Search is a powerful social search engine that will help you find content ideas, discover new influencers, understand consumers, spot new trends, and… it’s the best competitive intelligence tool on the market.
- Compare multiple brands or topics
- Identify KPIs - engagement, volume, sentiment, demographics, and geographies
- Unlimited searches and results going back 13 months
- Ultimate global coverage - social media networks, news, blogs, and forums
Quick Search competitive intelligence of Nike, Adidas, and Reebok showing share of countries.
Networking at industry events & trade shows
Prospects, experts, competitors - more than you can shake a stick at.
An excellent way to find out what your competitors are up to is networking at industry events. Establish what you want to find out before attending, and target the relevant people. Chat to competitors, their customers, grab their marketing material, attend their presentations. But remember, they’ll being do the same to you.
Out in the field
This depends on the industry, but if possible visit the bricks and mortar location of your competitors. Check their prices and product promotions. Look, listen, learn. Failing this, Google. Check out every detail of their website, their social media accounts, their support site.
Competitive intelligence example - airline industry competes with pricing
Major airlines are constantly updating their fares. We’ve all seen it, comparing prices over several sites. Return to your first choice and the price has increased. Why? They’re monitoring their competitors, who are upping prices for certain routes, days, time of day. They have to follow so they can secure higher margins.
Airlines also identify and track users who repeatedly search and book the same flight - regular trips. Overtime, the price will increase because they know that the traveller will keep coming back.
Mailing lists & newsletters
Sign up for your competitors newsletters and get on the mailing list. Every single one. There’s a heap of competitor intelligence to be found - new promotions, marketing strategy, tone of voice, company updates, events. Download all the reports they publish, sign up for their apps, use their RSS feed, follow all their social media accounts.
SEO & search engines
Google - undisputed king of the search engines - is driving traffic to your website. Use Google Analytics to track your traffic and identify where it’s coming from, where users are landing, what pages they’re looking at, how long they’re staying, and where your conversions are happening. You’ll get a feel for what content is working, what content is sending users to sleep. CTA placement, conversion rate, bounce rate, and more.
Google Analytics - find out what’s working on your website and what isn’t, then compare.
Ahrefs - SEO auditing, content marketing analysis, keyword ranking.
Use competitive intelligence tool Moz to perform an SEO audit on your rivals’ sites.
SEMrush will show you your competitors’ organic search results and AdWords campaigns.
You’ll learn how they rank on search engines, the levels of their traffic, what keywords they’re using and ranking for.
Check the press
Good or bad coverage, you need to know what’s being said about your rivals. If they’re getting good press, why? What did they do? How did they do it? Can you replicate? Use this information to improve your own strategy.
Bad press? Is it possible to exploit the situation with targeted content?
Talkwalker Alerts is a free tool and the best way to track brand mentions. Your mentions and those of your competitors. Set up alerts and you’ll be notified in real-time of potential risks and opportunities related to your brand and your competitors’.
Talkwalker Alerts - real-time tracking of potential risks and opportunities.
You can pump your own customers for competitive intelligence, and your competitors’. Getting them to answer your questions isn’t always easy, so use tools like Google Forms and SurveyMonkey to create surveys and questionnaires.
SurveyMonkey - extract and share actionable insights with your team.
Google Forms - responses automatically collected with real-time response info and charts.
To identifying intel about your competitors means knowing where to look. Starting with the obvious, check these types of competitive intelligence:
Competitors in your face!
Check them regularly, follow, sign up, download...
- Social media channels
- RSS feeds
- Track web metrics, keywords, page rankings
- Talkwalker Alerts for mentions
Win & loss analysis
Find the motivation behind purchasing decisions by interviewing new customers. Plus, if possible, prospects that you lost to the competition.
What did they expect from the product? Why did they choose your brand? Why didn’t they choose your brand? If - meh, it happens - they chose one of your competitors, ask them why. Nicely.
- Were your marketing messages clear - did they hit their target, did they resonate, engage?
- Were there issues with the sales pitch - clarity, too techy, too dumbed down?
- How do your product features compare to your competitors’?
- How do your products’ USPs match up to those of your competitors’?
Learn from the experts
Your team know all about the competitive landscape. Encourage them to share their intel - market trends, discussion topics, competitors’ behavior, new products emerging.
Contact external industry experts too - bloggers, influencers, public speakers, journalists - for industry gossip.
Set up your own wiki or intranet
All the information that you collect must be stored in a database that’s accessible to your entire organization. This data is crucial for launching new campaigns, developing products, answering RFPs, etc. It has to be kept up to date, to be of any use.
Don’t cheat, don’t lie
Do not ever be tempted to call your competitors and pretend to be a customer, prospect, student, or researcher. It might be a quick way to find out their pricing, roadmap, technology, but it’s a real no no.
Industrial espionage or theft of intellectual property will see you in court.
Forrester, Gartner, etc. - data collected from industries and vendors - you and your competitors - that analyze strategy, rate products and services, monitor market share and growth.
Review sites are a great source of content shared by consumers about your and your competitors - G2 Crowd, TrustRadius, etc. SWOT from consumers, you’ll read great reviews and not so great. Be strong and learn from them.
Porter’s 5 Forces
Porter’s Five Forces.
Heard of it? It’s a business intelligence model created by Michael Porter, a Harvard Business School professor. Originally published in 1980, it still holds water. Porter believed companies should look beyond competitors’ actions and examine other factors with the potential to impact the industry. He found five forces with the power to shape every market and industry in the world. The forces can be used to measure the intensity of the competition, attractiveness, and profitability of an industry or market.
Competition in the industry
- How many competitors do you have?
- How much power do they have?
- Who are they?
- What’s the quality of their products and services compared to yours?
New entrants in the industry
- How easy is it for a newbie to enter your market?
- How easy would it be to compete with you?
- How much would it cost?
- How strictly is your sector regulated?
Power of suppliers
- How easy is it for your suppliers to increase their prices?
- How many potential suppliers do you have?
- How unique is the product/service they offer?
- What’s the likely cost of changing supplier?
Power of customers
- How easy it is for your customers to drive your prices down?
- How many customers do you have?
- How much are they spending?
- Do they have the power to force your hand?
- How much would it cost a customer to change to a competitor
Threat of substitute products
- How easy would it be for a competitor to substitute one of your products/services?
- How much of a threat would it pose to your business?
Understand and use this methodology. Then adjust your business strategy to work more effectively and generate higher earnings.
Ask yourself the above questions and add your answers to my free competitive intelligence template.
You’ve done it for your business, and it’s a great place to start when evaluating your competitors. SWOT - strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats - an analysis that identifies internal and external factors that determine a team’s future performance. Strengths and weaknesses are internal factors. External factors are opportunities and threats.
SWOT analysis - strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.
Looking at your competitors’ SWOT will help you understand their businesses. How can you exploit their weaknesses? Make like you’re one of their customers and ask yourself:
- Why did I choose them?
- Is it because they’re - better, cheaper, local, offer more choices?
- Why them and no one else?
- If another brand made changes, would I be prepared to change?
SWOT analysis should be done hand-in-hand with TOWS.
SWOT is a way of auditing and analyzing. TOWS is for strategy generation and selection. At the start of a planning process, you’d perform a SWOT analysis, TOWS helps you decide how to move forward.
There are four TOWS strategies:
- Strengths/Opportunities (SO) - strengths exploiting opportunities
- Weaknesses/Opportunities (WO) - overcome weaknesses, exploit opportunities
- Strengths/Threats (ST) - exploit strengths to overcome potential threats
- Weaknesses/Threats (WT) - minimize weaknesses to avoid possible threat
TOWS is subjective - results depend on how honest you’ve been with your data.
STEEP analysis measures how the external environment will impact your company’s strategic plan, while remaining competitive. It brings insights into the past, current, and future during:
- Times of uncertainty
- Times of information overload
- Times of disorganization
It’s not unusual in business that a decision has to be made super-fast. Using STEEP analysis gives you a detailed overview on how external factors are driving trends. The results will also predict what may happen in the future - how the market will react to changes in particular elements.
STEEP analysis - impact from external environment.
- Social - analyze society and the trends to avoid negative impact your your strategic plan.
- Technological - monitor and measure how changes in the tech environment will impact your product development strategies.
- Economic - assess how consumers will react during changes to the economic environment and you should ensure your strategy remains competitive.
- Environmental - examine ecological environment of countries where you offer services and products to avoid fines and loss of right to operate.
- Political - understanding the political and legal environment of countries and regions where you operate.
Surprisingly, there are many brands that aren’t monitoring and analyzing their competitors. The Crayon 2018 State of Market Intelligence report stated that 93% of respondents claim to monitor their competitors’ websites, only 14% do it every day.
A comprehensive competitor intelligence program can:
- Predict your competitors’ behavior
- Reveal new competitors
- Identify political, regulatory, legislative changes that could impact your business
- Foresee changes in your marketplace/industry
- Help you learn from the successes and failures of your competitors
- Find new products, technologies, and processes
- Open up doors to new business ventures
Download this awesome, simulated brand report about Tesla and its share of voice in the automotive industry. Drive your brand to success!