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How to do competitive intelligence research

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.


Momentive Solutions help you measure evolving perceptions of your top competitors and visualize how your brand stacks up within your category.

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.

  • Knowing who your competitors are: Valuable competitive intelligence is impossible until you know who your competitors are. The good news is, you can use competitive intelligence research to compile that all important list. Perhaps the most straightforward approach is simply to ask your customers, using a survey. For example, if you sell appliances, you might use an open-ended question type to ask customers to list the names of stores they would visit if they wanted to buy a new microwave. Or, using Google, you could compile a long list of potential competitors, and then ask your survey respondents to indicate whether they have ever heard of, or used each competitor. That way, you can narrow your focus to a shortlist of true, direct rivals, and analogous, or indirect rivals, who offer dissimilar products and services to the same set of customers. 
  • Discovering opportunities where competitors are failing: Well-designed competitive intelligence research should give you insight into what your competitors weaknesses are, and opportunities they’re failing to capitalize on. This can give you a major advantage both in marketing existing products and services to current customers, and in seizing new markets. For instance, if your survey tells you that your competitors accept only traditional credit card payments, but that customers are increasingly looking to use alternative digital payments like Apple Pay and AliPay, you’ll have an excellent data point to help you design your own payment features. 
  • Identifying what your competitors are doing well: Successful business strategy is not just about identifying gaps in the marketplace and trying to fill those gaps. It's also crucial to pay attention to what is driving your competitors’ successes. This can help you understand what your customers value – actionable insight that should inform your own strategies. So, whether you find out that your competitors are delivering enviable customer service, sustainably made products, or incredible value for money, the relevance for your own decision making and processes should be clear.
  • Learning how to stand out from the pack: Create desirable, valued products and services that are key to customer success. But to really get ahead in the industry, you’ll need to stand out from the rest. If you’re in a market that is saturated, it's especially important to position yourself in a way that leverages and communicates your unique values. Competitive intelligence research can help you evaluate comparable options on the market, gleaning crucial insight that can help you differentiate yourself. Learn more about Usage & Attitudes studies and how it can help you stand out from the competition.

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

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.

Price points

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.

Don’t have an audience to survey? We can help. Our range of market research solutions helps you quickly gather quality insights from a pre-screened panel of respondents.


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:

  • Predict industry movements: The industry knowledge you capture through competitive analysis, helps you identify emerging trends and patterns, which you can use to make predictions about the way the industry is going. Carrying out in-depth competitive intelligence research therefore gives you critical foresight into the operational, strategic and tactical changes you can make today, ahead of expected developments in your industry.
  • Solidify your market positioning: When you gather competitive intelligence data, you see yourself from the position of your market. This will help bring clarity to your strategies, and help you to better understand what you’re doing well and what’s keeping you lagging behind industry rivals.
  • Optimize your decision-making process: Once you’ve conducted competitive intelligence research, you’ll be armed with key insights into what your customers want (and don’t want), whether their needs are being met by your rivals, and how well your competitors are performing, relative to you. This is vital information in developing your competitive strategy, marketing materials, messaging, and more, increasing the chances that your strategies will resonate and drive success.
  • See higher returns on investment (ROI): All business initiatives, whether cost-cutting exercises or new product developments represent investment that comes with some degree of risk. Armed with the right data about your strengths and capabilities relative to your rivals, however, you’ll be better placed to direct investments into initiatives that have the best potential for success. When risk is reduced and indecision removed, you’ll soon see greater returns on your investments. 

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:

  • Recognizing exactly who your rivals are
  • Distinguishing between primary and secondary forms of competitors
  • Understanding your competitors’ offerings and value propositions
  • Learning your competitors’ position in the market relative to yours
  • Evaluating your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses
  • Identifying perceptions of your competitors from the perspective of your customers

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.

  • Define your target audience: You can use demographic questions, and behavioral questions to define your target audience. You can also use these questions as screening or filter questions to make sure you’re gathering data from a segment that is aware of or uses your competitors’ products. For example, before granting entry to the main survey, you might ask respondents a question like:

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.

  • Gather information about your competitors’ features: Ranking and rating questions can be used to gain critical insight into customer perceptions of your competitors’ offerings, as well as any gaps in the marketplace. For example, using a prepared list, you might ask your audience:

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.

  • Ask about brand recognition and positioning: An excellent way to learn more about where you sit in your industry relative to your competitors is to conduct some brand recall and recognition research. One approach is to ask customers to freely recall one brand in a specified industry. For example, you might ask your audience:

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.

  • Find out about gaps in current offerings: What do your customers wish your competitors were providing that they currently do not? Or, what features are they most dissatisfied with? Armed with this knowledge, you can seize on opportunities that your rivals are missing out on.

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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