Competitive intelligence: The complete guide for marketers
Competitive intelligence can seem more like a to-do list item than a business function. You might read analyst reports, check some CRM data, and maybe do a once-over of your competitors’ social media presence and websites. From there, you might even create battle cards for the sales team and update them once a year. But strong competitive marketing intelligence—the kind that impacts marketing and communications strategy for years to come—is more than checking a box.
Competitive intelligence is one of the most crucial pieces of data you can use to inform your strategy. Keeping a close eye on your competitors’ messages, offerings and tactics will keep you one step ahead, no matter what happens in the market.
Table of contents:
- What is competitive intelligence?
- Why competitive intelligence is important
- Tips for conducting competitive intelligence research
- The best sources for competitive intelligence
- Tools for gathering competitive intelligence
What is competitive intelligence?
Competitive intelligence is the accumulation of data on what’s happening in your industry. It can encompass your competitors’ social media presence, brand positioning, pricing strategy, product tiers or even their recent job postings. Competitive intelligence is the output of transforming these individual data points into a complete picture of your competitors’ strategies.
A piece of information like your competitor’s next office location might be meaningless individually, but when you aggregate it with other details, these disparate data points tell an important story.Peter Mertens
Director of Market Strategy, Sprout Social
Competitive intelligence is invaluable when you’re mapping out your next move. With robust data, you can predict where your competitors are heading and how successful they’ll be when they get there–allowing you to stay on offense. Strong competitive intelligence analysis supercharges your strategy.
Why competitive intelligence is important
Data rules everything around us. Data sources like social listening, purchase history, site activity and user demographics are already invaluable inputs into marketers’ decision-making process. Competitive intelligence research is just as important and impactful used correctly. These are just three ways you can leverage competitor intelligence:
Multiply your market understanding
Every business conducts market research, so it stands to reason that your competitors have some information you don’t. Use competitive intelligence to enhance your own customer understanding, validate your assumptions or discover something new. Analyze your competitors’ messages and product positioning to confirm the customers and pain points they’re targeting. Compare your findings with your own personas and foundational documents like message architecture or value statements to identify any blind spots or weaknesses in your own strategy. This technique is most effective for competitors who share your ideal customer profile.
Set your benchmarks
Competitor performance can give you an idea of how to measure your own. Let’s say your competitor is extremely active on TikTok. Their engagement numbers are a good indicator of how you should expect your own posts to perform. Use their data as guideposts for your own strategy. In addition, if your competitors are expending a lot of energy on a platform without seeing strong results, learn from their mistakes. If their posts and strategy are high-quality but the results aren’t, that could signal that it isn’t the right channel for you.
Make informed decisions
Every person in your company can benefit from competitor intelligence research. Sales teams can adjust their pitch based on competitor claims and weaknesses. Marketing teams can tailor their messages to go head-to-head with the competition. Product teams can plan their roadmap around competitor features or blind spots. Robust and digestible competitor intelligence empowers teams to make stronger decisions.
Tips for conducting competitive intelligence research
Implementing a competitive intelligence strategy can seem daunting, but a comprehensive plan can simplify the process. Here are four steps to establishing your competitive intelligence analysis program.
Step 1. Identify your competitors
It’s tempting to keep track of every competitor in your industry, but focus will yield the best results for your competitive intelligence research. Hone in on your top two to three competitors and let the others go.
Your top competitor is who your ideal customer would choose if they didn’t choose you. Those companies will have similar value propositions, a large market share and comparable offerings. Remember, your main competition isn’t the largest business overall. It’s the largest threat to you.
Step 2. Set your goals
Competitor intelligence can inform every aspect of your business. But if you go too broad, your data won’t be useful. Pick a few focal points to jumpstart your strategy. Do you want to refine your marketing? Are you looking to create new products and features? Is it time to refresh your sales strategy? Having a concrete goal lets you know where you need a deep dive and where it’s okay to stay surface-level.
Step 3. Gather your sources
Every public-facing piece of information from your competitors can technically be considered competitive intelligence. That doesn’t mean that all data is created equal. If you don’t prioritize, you’ll have too much information to take action. Go back to the goals you set in the previous step. Look for sources that support those goals. If you want to refine your marketing, pay attention to competitor websites, social media profiles, whitepapers or ads. Things like job descriptions are important, but might not give you the insight you’re looking for.
Step 4. Create a culture of competitive intelligence
Competitive intelligence is everyone’s job. It should be normal for your team to take competitor strategies into account when they’re making decisions. Start by sharing competitor intelligence regularly. Keep different functions abreast of any major moves your competitors make and share scheduled updates on the overall landscape. Mention your competitive intelligence research findings in day-to-day conversations. After a while, it’ll feel natural for your team to reference competitive intelligence on a consistent basis.
The best sources for competitive intelligence
Once your plan is in place, it’s time to start mining competitive intelligence. Competitive intelligence is everywhere but your three best sources are your CRM, your sales team and social media.
Setting up your CRM to capture who your brand goes up against is a great way to benchmark against your competitors. During the deal cycle, you can document which competitor products your prospects currently use and who else they’re evaluating. When you win a deal, you’ll know you’re competitive with both their previous solution and other brands they were looking at. Keeping score is a great way to measure your success.
Your sales team
Sales calls can be a treasure trove of information about the way your prospects perceive your competitors. Listening to recordings gives you a direct line of sight into how customers feel about certain product features, brand positioning and pricing structures compared to your competition. Plus, you can get some great pull quotes for internal briefings.
Social media happens in real time, which makes it a great place to get up-to-the-minute information on what your competitors (and customers) are prioritizing. Checking out your competitors’ content and audience engagement strategy can give you a serious edge and help uncover new opportunities. If you pair your manual search skills with a tool like Sprout Listening, you can get a fast, detailed view of how you compare to competitors in terms of social reach, share of voice and sentiment.
Tools for gathering competitive intelligence
Manual analysis has a place in competitive intelligence research, but there are some aspects that are better off handled by technology. Finding the right competitive intelligence platform will give your strategy the boost it needs. Analyze millions of social media posts, see how you rank in search engines, find peer-to-peer reviews and view historic insights with these competitive intelligence tools.
Sprout Social has built-in competitor analysis tools that show you everything you need to know about your competitors’ social media performance on one page. Whether you’re looking for post volume and frequency, hashtag usage, post type or audience growth, Sprout will aggregate that information into an actionable competitor intelligence dashboard.
Ahrefs isn’t just for keyword research. It’s a powerful competitive intelligence platform. Their batch analysis tool is excellent for competitor intelligence, surfacing stats like domain authority, number of referring domains, estimated organic search traffic and estimated number of keyword rankings. The Ahrefs Site Explorer tool can even show backlink growth—providing valuable insight into how your web content strategy stacks up.
If you’re in the restaurant game, Yelp and Google Reviews are extremely important. There’s an equivalent for software companies in G2, a peer-to-peer software review platform. By searching your product category, you can see how you measure up to competitors. With information on market segmentation, industries and user personas, G2 holds a wealth of competitive intelligence information.
Craft.co helps companies evaluate supplier risk, but it’s equally useful for evaluating competitor intelligence. The platform makes financial, operating and HR information readily accessible and refreshes in real time. You can find everything from operating location data to current stock price to their most recent press releases with the press of a button.
Investing in competitive intelligence is the smart choice
Competitive intelligence can be the difference between meeting your quarterly goals and setting a quarterly record. Understanding your competitors’ strategies while optimizing your own is the best way to get ahead.
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