Competitive Intelligence (CI) for Building an Informed Strategy

“Competitive intelligence should be viewed as a crucial element when building a 2020 business strategy. Understanding competitor motivations and behaviors helps shape product development, pricing, brand positioning and more. The key is to identify challenges, advantages and white spaces to build a strategy that creates competitive differentiation. But it is impossible to differentiate yourself from competitors without visibility into their activities.” –

Competition matters a lot. The global market is competitive and CI is essential for brand domination.

General Motors was the world’s biggest car maker till a few years ago. However, they could not read into Toyota’s product strategy, and Toyota moved into the top spot. There are many such examples including Yahoo, Toys “R” Us, Nokia, Myspace, Kodak and many more who did not have CI or could not use CI to their advantage.

CI includes intelligence about the offering, marketing strategy, product roadmaps, pricing strategy, product differentiation, customer satisfaction index, market sentiment, strategic plans, revenue projections, profitability, team expertise etc. CI provides competitor SWOT and contributes significantly towards mitigating risks, creating a better product roadmap and increasing revenue and market share by building a Sustainable Competitive Advantage.

I have personally used CI for winning sales deals, transforming GTM process and more importantly to transform organizations for success.

CI is a process of getting actionable intelligence about a company’s competitive landscape. It includes capturing and analyzing the data, and deriving action points. The crux of good competitive intelligence is good market research – primary as well as secondary. IKEA is a great example. IKEA used the competitive market research, not only to build the digital platform but also to create an augmented reality version that doubled the amount of time customers spent browsing the catalogue.

There are various sources of CI such as websites, content channels, social media accounts, marketing campaigns, partner networks, etc. because every company today wants to constantly grow its digital footprint. Other ways of getting the information are tradeshows, discussion forums, field intelligence etc.

My observation is that since 2020, companies have realized the importance of CI. They have started allocating budgets, forming CI teams and bringing in data analytics engines. Around 75% of the companies have started seeing both qualitative and quantitative benefits. It is also good to see that C-suite has also started getting engaged in CI discussions. Issues are there. For e.g., according to Crayon report, 44% of CI practitioners struggle to gather information in a timely manner, 37% say it’s difficult to separate the signal from the noise, and 35% find it challenging to initiate action across their organizations. This is because it takes time to go from zero to a fully operational CI program, probably about 3-4 quarters. This is just the beginning

My approach towards CI was always different. Most of the companies use OSINT model for CI. But apart from OSINT, I deliberately focussed on Human intelligence (HUMINT), even though it was a complex option. HUMINT was always an integral part of my framework of Practical Strategic CI for its data accuracy. Accuracy and Sufficiency are the most critical characteristics of any piece of information

HUMINT involves direct interaction with relevant people with unbelievable information. OSINT has limitations, since information available in public domain is limited and many times does not serve the purpose. Tom Peters and Robert waterman, in their book ‘In Search of Excellence’, introduced the term “Management by Wandering Around (MBWA)”. I applied that to CI. I always believed that to get credible and accurate information, interaction and networking with relevant people, customers, influencers and thought leaders was important.

CI provides an incredible opportunity for organizations to transform themselves to become successful in their marketplaces. It’s time that CI becomes an integral part of the overall long-term strategy for any organization. 

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