From dynamic and responsive marketing techniques to strategic sales moves, some companies always seem to be one step ahead of the pack. Their superpower? Methodical research into the profiles, processes, practices and perceptions of their close rivals. In this detailed guide, we’ll show you how to use competitive intelligence research to learn more about the competencies, tactics and weaknesses of your competitors, and crucially, how to turn that knowledge into a powerful, customer-grabbing strategic edge.
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Competitive intelligence, or CI research, describes any purposeful research activity in which you gather, analyze and apply business information about your competitors. It is a subset of market intelligence research that is used specifically to improve your own core competencies, and to make smarter business decisions that give you a strategic advantage.
Businesses do not operate in a vacuum, and so the success of your market strategies, and how you are perceived by your customers is informed not only by what you do, but also by what your competitors do. Let’s take a deeper dive into the types of goals that competitive intelligence research can help you to achieve.
Let’s take a look at some examples of where competitive intelligence can really make a difference.
The resonance of competitors’ marketing messages
Imagine your major competitor has just launched a brand new, multimillion dollar advertising campaign. Of course, with an investment like this, the company is bound to be doing their own research on aspects like campaign resonance, awareness and recall. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t do your own intelligence gathering too! By asking customers about their reactions to the campaign, and whether or not it increased brand awareness or purchase intentions, you’ll be armed with some powerful data to support your own marketing campaigns and wider competitive strategies.
Market share is an excellent barometer of your performance relative to those of your competitors. Moreover, if you regularly capture market share data, you’ll be able to track changes over time, and determine whether your strategies – and those of your competitors – are causing you to gain, or lose market share. Market share data can be captured through a survey method, where you ask a target audience to indicate how much they’ve spent with a range of competitors in the last six or twelve months. With SurveyMonkey’s industry tracker, surveys like this can be automated to be sent out on your preferred cycle, and machine learning models can give you instantaneous insight into shifts into market shifts.
Another key use of competitive intelligence research is in assessing perceptions of price points to better optimize your pricing strategy. Imagine you’re launching your new premium luggage brand. Should you aim for a price that aligns with those of most premium brands, or should you go for the highest price in the market as a way of communicating prestige? Competitive intelligence research can help solve this problem, by asking customers about their perceptions of competitors’ prices, the impact on their willingness to buy, and their views of what higher prices convey.
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Capture insights directly from consumers and decision makers to understand market shifts.
Competitive intelligence research can be immensely powerful when done right. The major benefits are:
In order to get the most comprehensive understanding of industry trends, we recommend supplementing survey-based research with techniques such as analysis of online review sites to see what customers are saying about your competitors and you, reading your competitors’ annual reports, where available, and keeping up to date with publicly available industry reports. You should also gather data on your competitors directly from your customers.
Don’t be confused about the differences between market research and competitive intelligence. They may sound the same, but they have different goals. Market research involved gathering data on individual customer preferences. Competitive intelligence, on the other hand, is about learning about your rivals’ moves, strategies and performance.
Market research can also be part of your competitive intelligence research activities. Done well, you’ll identify who your competitors are, which have the biggest market share, and where brand loyalties lie. This information is critical to gaining a deep understanding of the markets in which you operate. Read more about gaining market intelligence.
The first thing to remember is that competitive intelligence research is not a one-and-done activity. Markets are always changing, as are consumer demands and needs, and so your competitors like you are constantly developing and redeveloping their business strategies. Existing competitors might, for instance, bring a new product or service to the marketplace, diversify or divest, or enter a new market altogether. And, there’s always the threat of new competitors entering the industry. So, competitive intelligence research should be carried out as a continuous cycle and core activity putting you in the best possible position to know your competitors’ moves and to be responsive to them.
When undertaking any type of market research, your first step should involve the setting of goals. The key to effective strategic competitive intelligence is gathering enough information that will help you to understand their current strategies, and to predict their future moves. Therefore, competitive intelligence research goals you should consider when embarking on this kind of research include:
While setting goals like this will be vital in guiding you through the research process, it's also important to be alert to any unexpected information. Good competitive intelligence research often throws up new and unanticipated insights that will be vital for you when developing future research goals.
Don’t have the time or resources to conduct your own market research? Leave it to the experts. Reach out to us about our Expert Services.
Surveys are an excellent way to conduct competitive intelligence research. Here’s some tips on how to use SurveyMonkey’s tools to conduct your competitive intelligence research.
Have you ever purchased [competitor’s name’s] products?
Alternatively, you might provide a list of competitors, and ask customers which products or services they use. You can then filter out customers who are unaware of your competitor, ensuring that the data is collected only from your competitors’ customers.
What features do you value the most on [competitor’s name’s] products?
You could also use an open-ended question to gather information on the features that customers’ see as poor, that they don’t use as often, or that are not currently available.
When you think of diapers, which brand comes to mind first?
You can then use the results to compare how frequently your brand was mentioned, compared to those of your competitors in order to make inferences about how well known you are compared to the industry. To get an idea of your relative positioning in the industry, you might ask your audience to rank yourself and your competing brands on dimensions such as product quality, customer service or value for money.
So, there it is: why you need competitive intelligence research and how to use its insights to develop your strategic capabilities.
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