It is time to get out the cloak and dagger, hide in the shadows and observe what the other guy is doing. The world of competitive intelligence (CI) is a subset of market research that provides valuable insight into what your competitors are doing. This is not the world of corporate espionage, but one that provides marketers with structured data about competitive product offerings, pricing and media usage.
To provide actionable data a CI program will draw from many silos ranging from online surveys and social media monitoring to mystery shopping and disguised calls. The nature of your business and the competitive landscape will determine how many aspects you will need and whether or not portions of the program are outsourced.
A good place to start is with a blind survey of consumers in your market space. This approach works with both consumer and B2B marketing research applications. The key to this type of survey is that it be blind, so that respondents are not aware of the sponsoring organization. This will facilitate a greater flow of unbiased information. Surveys of this type will generally include measures of awareness (perhaps both unaided and aided) and perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the key competitors. This is the type of information that companies can build a competitive response strategy. In addition to quantitative research, focus groups or in-depth conversations can be added to increase the depth and value of the information.
Website reviews can provide valuable information regarding pricing, product offerings and other ‘new events’. Many companies have a ‘what’s new’ or current offerings section which is updated on a regular basis. This can often provide insight into a company’s strategic direction.
Mystery shopping is a common approach for retail-related research. This approach relies on individuals working with a researcher to get a first-hand look at the customer experience offered. In a B2B setting this can take the shape of disguised calls where trained callers contact competitors to see what type of offerings are available.
Competitive intelligence is a vital component to an informed marketing strategy. It relies on customer insights, comparisons of posted information, as well engaging the competitor in an undercover fashion.