Being Intelligent

An article by Enrico Codogno – Competitive Intelligence and market research– caught my eye recently. Not for the snappy title but more for the contentious sentence at the beginning of the piece:

Market research has often cold-shouldered competitive intelligence – but could the two be complementary?

I could not help but disagree with this statement. To my mind, competitive intelligence and market research are more than complementary; competitive intelligence is, in fact, one of the many guises market research can take. I was intrigued and needed to read more.

Claims for the relative superiority of market research or competitive intelligence might be giving way to a growing consensus, especially in North America, that the two methodologies complement each other by providing different capabilities to serve the interests of clients. This maturity among research professionals may be improving the standards of actionable intelligence provided to key decision-makers.

Competitive Intelligence (Cl) is not industrial espionage. Nor is it simply gathering newswires or surfing the internet. CI is the ethical gathering and analysis of data dealing with the competitive environment (including products, customers, competitors, new technologies legislation, demographics etc.). Analysis is then used to transform this data into actionable intelligence to guide corporate executives in their decision-making.

From shaky beginnings, now we’re on the same page. Far from disagreeing with the article, I felt it went on to put forward an intelligent argument for the need for companies to gather competitive intelligence.

We all know that many factors – internal and external – impact on a company and its ability to function in any given marketplace. We also know that what our competitors do can impact dramatically on what we may need to do now, or in the future.

Competitive intelligence can look at many things, among them: legislation; the emergence of new technologies and new competitors; upgrades or new uses for established technologies; new markets; public opinion; the backgrounds of key decision-makers; shifts in demographics; the abundance or scarcity of raw materials or their substitutes; and changing client demands.

All the information gathered from any intelligence study – and at this point I should perhaps reiterate that competitive intelligence is not akin to some sneaky form of industrial espionage; indeed, ‘standard’ market research techniques (i.e. interviews with customers about why they choose one company’s products over those of their competitors) can provide a wealth of CI data – then needs to be analysed and cross-referenced in order to assess the validity of the data and to truly understand what it all means. The findings will then serve as the basis for strategic and tactical planning…or, at least, they should as long as the findings are taken on board.

As with any research, there’s no point in having all this fantastic information at your fingertips if you are going to let the report sit on the shelf and gather dust – or if you are going to disregard the findings.

Because, let’s face it: although many of us do have an impressive understanding of our ‘chosen specialist subject’, there are – sadly but inevitably – certain to be huge gaps in our knowledge. One vital job of competitive intelligence, therefore, is to challenge and dispel myths which would otherwise form the basis of a bad judgment. Competitive intelligence, as with other forms of market research, gives you cold, hard facts, which should be ignored at your peril.

To find out more about competitive intelligence, please click here.

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