Competitive intelligence, also known as corporate intelligence, is the ability to gather, analyze and utilize information that you collect on competitors and customers, along with any other factor that might give a competitive advantage. It’s a legal business practice since your data comes from ethically-sourced resources. This is directly opposed to espionage which involves gathering data on your competitors’ internal workings without their consent.
Overall, the data which is gathered for competitive intelligence meets two key factors:
- It focuses on the environment outside the business itself, whether that be on customers, competitors or similar.
- It is information gathered legally, from open-source materials or unpublished sources.
Once the data is gathered, it is analyzed to reveal patterns. These can hint at your competitors’ business strategies, expansion plans, etc, while also seeing long-term issues that might arise from your customer base.
Competitive intelligence can be split into two categories — tactical and strategic. If you are unfamiliar with the subtle difference between these two words, don’t worry. Essentially, tactical intelligence focuses on the short-term problems that might arise, whilst strategic intelligence takes a longer view of things. Neither is more important than the other, but are simply used in different ways. You’ll see tactical intelligence used more in day-to-day running, whereas strategic intelligence has its place in long-term planning.
Competitive edge for marketers
Competitive intelligence follows the age-old saying, “to defeat your enemy, know your enemy”, but is far more in depth than such a simple phrase suggests, since CI can reveal the finer details of your current position in the market and how challenges may arise. Ideally you grasp both how a problem might arise and how to counteract it before it poses a challenge, but keep in mind that no picture is perfect and there may be hidden problems your data analysis failed to predict.
Competitive intelligence research methodology
You can break down the methodology of utilizing competitive intelligence into three rough stages.
Firstly, data is gathered. This can come from a wide variety of sources, and is far more in-depth than a quick Google. Depending on your position you might want to use customer surveys, look at open-source app data or similar.
Secondly, the data is analyzed with the vital pieces of information extracted. This varies but can include things like competitor tech investment, shifting customer interests, etc.
Finally, and most importantly, you use your analysis to make predictions about future market changes, and think about how they might affect you. If they’re positive, great! If not, you need to counteract them.