Mind games: using competitive intelligence to stay ahead of your rivals

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Despite the shift in the business world towards collaboration, competition is one of the founding principles of business. For many, the cut-and-thrust of the marketplace and engaging in daily healthy competition is why they chose a career in business. The aim of the game: get, and stay, one step ahead of your competitors.

The phrase ‘knowledge is power’ has long been a mantra of many a business leader, and in today’s hyper-connected, data-driven world, knowledge means numbers.

The dawn of competitive intelligence

As companies strive to find out as much information as possible about the marketplace, competitive intelligence has become increasingly relevant.

Competitive intelligence is essentially market research, but market research for the digital age involving micro-levels of detail and analysis with the aim of discovering highly targeted and specialized information.

MBA graduate Mikal Lewis is an example of how competitive intelligence can be as effective for small business as large corporates. Lewis was involved in a race-to-market with a rival software company; both were testing a web application designed to make company meetings easier, Inc. reports.

Using skills picked up at a course at the Academy of Competitive Intelligence, Lewis tracked his competitor’s movements online – including monitoring blog posts, CEO tweets, and email blasts.

By recording all of this information in a spreadsheet, he recognized a pattern of heightened online interaction and positive messaging that signalled they were moving into launch phase. Armed with this supercharged market research, Lewis and his partners took the decision to release a limited version of their own software to their product and name out first and get a head start.

This move saw Lewis’ company steal a march on the competition and boost brand awareness by being first to market.

Highly-targeted market information

Competitive intelligence acts as an early warning system for any major changes in the landscape. A nuanced look at the data available online can give organizations valuable insights on the future direction of a company. For example, will a new website be followed by a new product set? Or do your competitors have scope to increase prices?

This demonstrates how the role and importance of IT within strategy is still expanding, as the accuracy, speed and precision of IT systems means digital can be turned into a competitive advantage. This has seen competitive intelligence grow as an industry in and of itself, much like it’s predecessor, market research.

Customer at the computer

Digital touch points are another related area of increasing importance. Customer-driven IT is ever more central to businesses as it becomes clear that IT can have a big impact on the quality of service being offered by organizations.

A study by Gartner found that four of the top five factors for business success were customer related: customer-facing IT, unified IT organization and process framework, exceptional use of CRM, and customer-centered innovation.

Professor of Marketing at Hult International Business School, Marco Protano, sees a clear link between the rise of the customer and the increasing importance of having detailed and accurate information about the marketplace. Speaking at an alumni summit in London, Protano said: “If you think market research is expensive, try ignorance.”

The digital age has coincided with the age of the customer, and now businesses are really competing for who can please the customer the most. Competitive intelligence can play a vital role in understanding how others in the marketplace are attempting to do that – and then doing it better.

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