A Marketer’s Guide to Competitive Intelligence

In all industries it has become more difficult for brands to stand out from the competition. According to a 2020 survey by Crayon, companies have an average of 29 competitors – a 16% increase from 2019.

Small and large companies compete for consumer attention through targeted marketing campaigns, compelling sales teams and competitive pricing structures.

The question is, how can a brand stay competitive when new companies are emerging every day and their position is jeopardized.

One solution is Competitive Intelligence (CI) – a process that can increase sales and keep brands at the forefront in their industry.

Let’s examine what CI is, what it isn’t, and how brands can use it.

What is Competitive Information?

Competitive Intelligence (CI) is the practice of monitoring, collecting, and analyzing data from your competitors and the industry in a legal and ethical manner in order to make better business decisions. It can help brands identify gaps in their strategies and discover growth opportunities.

In the past, corporate-level companies in particular have had the resources to invest in CI, but that is changing. In 2017, the Crayon study reported that only 37% of companies had CI teams or dedicated CI staff. In 2020 that number increased by 20%.

With information available online, it is now easier for small businesses to implement CI tactics without consuming resources.

Another important note about competitive intelligence is that this insight doesn’t just apply to C-suite executives. With the information gathered through CI, teams can:

  • The sales department is able to combat objections and eliminate weak points.
  • Marketing can customize its messages to better reach user personalities.
  • The product can better understand competitors’ pricing and packaging models.

Implementation of competitive intelligence research

1. Identify your competitors.

With CI, you treat your industry as a game and your competitors as players. The end goal is to use key insights from their games to determine your next move.

If you don’t know who your competitors are, it becomes much more difficult to gather valuable information.

Start by narrowing down your direct top competitors. These are brands that offer a similar product or service and target the same user personality.

Then create a secondary list of indirect competitors. You offer a different product or service but may attract your target audience. It’s good to look for inspiration, not competitive advantage.

Once you have your list, organize it by threat level.

2. Set goals.

Before you begin CI research, set your goals. Ask yourself and your team, “What do we want to learn?” That way, you can determine which paths to take and which data sources to focus on.

Let’s say high-end handbag company Amore wants to better understand its competitors’ marketing strategy, specifically their messaging, campaigns, and content marketing. This is a very specific goal that gives your CI team a clear direction. From there, the team can create a plan to find this data.

3. Determine data collection strategies.

After your CI team knows the end goal, they can set up their data collection tools.

In line with Amore’s goal of understanding its competitors’ marketing approach, the Intel team will likely look at its websites, landing pages, blog posts, and downloadable offers – to name a few.

Social monitoring and listening are also helpful in understanding what content Amore’s competitors post there and how consumers are reacting.

A data collection action plan helps CI teams stay on track. Throwing a net too far can make it difficult to know where to start.

4. Collect and analyze your data.

Now that you’ve identified your competitors, goals, and research plans, you’re ready to get to work.

The data collection process can take weeks or months, depending on your goals. While you are putting your data together, it is helpful to use a CI tool to categorize your data for later analysis. Jump to this section here.

Once you have enough information, it will be fun. You can look for patterns and discover your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.

5. Sharing knowledge with key stakeholders.

Identifying topics in your research is the first part of the process, the second part presenting your findings to key stakeholders.

You can then use this information to grow the business and generate more sales.

One thing to keep in mind is that, as with any data analysis, you are the storyteller. In addition to analyzing it, you need to frame it to explain why it matters. Without this key component, understanding where to go next can be difficult.

You’ll also want to create reports that are tailored to the team. For example, your sales team may find battle cards most useful, while your marketing team may prefer a visual breakdown of the reports. If you’re not sure what works best, go straight to the source. Work with your teams to find out how best to communicate your results.

Examples of competitive intelligence

CI work can include anything from tracking your competitors’ pricing model to monitoring their social media activity. It all depends on how much time and how many resources your team is willing to invest. Here are the most popular sources and information for CI:

  • Press releases
  • Job offers
  • Advertising campaigns
  • Lead magnets such as e-books, white papers and templates
  • Product and service updates (rollouts, updates for functions, packages, etc.)
  • Price changes
  • Customer reviews websites
  • Rebranding announcements
  • Changes or redesign of the website
  • Sales talks and customer communication
  • Results reports (for listed companies)

While some of this information is being collected by the CI team, other departments can also submit their information. For example, sales reps can be particularly useful in gathering information because they have direct contact with leads and customers.

Best Practices for Competitive Intelligence

1. Stick to the legal limits.

This may seem obvious, but a term like competitive intelligence can give the wrong impression.

If you do CI work, you must comply with the legal limits. Access to information through illegal measures such as hacking or wiretapping of telephones is becoming “espionage”.

If you ever have doubts about a CI approach, be careful and contact your legal team. If you don’t have an in-house team, reach out to a corporate attorney who will give you some insight on the best way to go.

2. Be ethical.

Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean you should.

For example, let’s say your team discovers that a disgruntled competitor employee recently resigned and has critical business strategy information for the next five years.

While it is not illegal to contact the employee, it can be unethical as the employee may be tempted to divulge sensitive information.

Use good judgment. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

3. Share insights often.

A study by Crayon found that companies that share CI at least once a week are twice as likely to see revenue increases as companies that share it less.

With this in mind, knowledge should be shared frequently and regularly. CI is an ongoing process, not a one-time tactic.

As your business grows, you need to keep an eye on the competition.

4. Contextualize reports.

An important part of CI is the regular exchange of knowledge.

Whether via a newsletter, a monthly email report or a meeting – the context is everything.

For example, let’s say Amore’s CI team reports that their direct competitor Abella has started a partnership with a luxury clothing brand. This report should also mention how this affects Amore’s positioning.

After all, the purpose of tracking competitors is to use this knowledge to improve your own positioning.

In this example, the collaboration with the clothing brand Abella could cement it as a luxury brand and help it move into the upscale sector. This could weaken Amore’s position and require more messaging regarding the product’s exclusivity and craftsmanship.

Insights do not take place in a vacuum, either. They are built up by trends over months or years. So adding historical data can also help capture these insights and enable strategic decisions to be made.

Competitive Intelligence Tools

1. Crayon

Crayon CI software function

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Crayon is one of the leading competitive intelligence platforms on the market. The software provides a centralized platform for storing and analyzing data from over 300 million sources and over 100 data types.

You can track your competitors’ digital footprint and easily filter everything from social media and events to customer reviews and financial reports. The most important functions of the platform include:

  • Daily and weekly digestion – You can choose to have notifications updated every time something changes that you’re tracking, such as: B. a pricing page. Crayon also assigns a market analyst to your account who will produce weekly custom reports.
  • Sell ​​battle cards – This way, battle cards are easily accessible for your sales reps and can analyze which games are affecting sales.
  • Automated categorization – If your CI team collects data from multiple sources, Crayon organizes that data automatically for easy analysis.

To request pricing, you need to contact the company.

2. Compyte

With Kompyte you can easily visualize the changes on your competitors’ pages. They have a before and after module that allows you to easily locate changes on a page.

Before and after function of the Kompyte CI software

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The tool provides details on the effectiveness of your competitors’ ads and gives you an insight into which opportunities are worth exploring and which are to be avoided. This includes A / B testing and targeted keywords.

Additionally, CI teams can set KPIs and monitor them on the platform to ensure they are on track to meet their goals and take quick action based on performance.

To request pricing, you need to contact the company.

3. SEMrush

SEMrush is the place to dive deep into your competitors’ domain performance.

SEMrush domain overview dashboard

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The platform enables brands to monitor the authority of other domains, their link building efforts, paid search strategies, and more across multiple channels.

They offer a free version with access to competitive research tools. However, the paid versions – from $ 119 to $ 449 per month – allow access to traffic analytics as well as various toolkits for SEO, advertising, social media, and content marketing.

4. SimilarWeb

For a more holistic view of your competitors’ free online presence, consider SimilarWeb.

Similar web dashboard

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The platform has monitoring, benchmarking and analysis functions that help companies better understand their market.

From SEO and web traffic to ad placement, the platform’s CI functions are extensive in both free and paid versions. You will need to contact a SimilarWeb consultant for pricing details on the business plans.

5. Visualping

If you have few resources or do not need a comprehensive CI program, visualping is an easy and free way to keep an eye on your competitors and their website changes.

The website monitors website changes and notifies you via email, text, Slack or API. You can specify which areas of the page you want to be followed and how often you want to be notified.

Visualping before and after function

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All you need to get started is an email and a website to keep track of. However, for business use, the monthly cost is anywhere from $ 20 to $ 135.

The key to success is that staying on your lane is important in running a business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look left or right from time to time to see what everyone else is up to. When done right, CI can be an incredible asset to any brand.

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