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How to recognize relevant data and information about your competitors

Last month we talked about competitive intelligence, which is the process by which data is collected and translated into key information that goes into decision-making processes affecting a company’s market positioning and communication.

Today I want to tell you that competitive intelligence is not the exclusive province of brainiacs engaged in leading global business giants to success, it is something that affects your business (however small). Whether it is an SME, a small professional firm, or a start-up, the important thing is that you know how to recognize relevant data and information, that you understand how to find them, and, finally, that you and your team take them into account in your strategic planning processes, use them consistently, and give proper weight to everything (whether the purpose is to work out a market positioning or to do the groundwork for a communication strategy).

Please note: depending on the type of business, you will be able to find the data online and/or offline, but keep in mind that a predominantly online business is still a business that is present in the real world and in the minds of customers who are flesh-and-blood people: you will therefore always have to consider the information that comes from these two realms and the feedback from the inhabitants of these two worlds, regardless of which one you think contributes more to converting leads and collecting payments.

In general, you must observe your competitor on a daily basis with the idea that every institutionalized process within a company (even the smallest and apparently least relevant to business strategy) produces an output of numbers and information that can be interpreted for various purposes. 

What data can be had? In organizing an internal intelligence activity, the first thing to do is to map the competitor’s publicly available data and communication to get an idea of how it moves (and do the same thing with all other known and hidden competitors). 

We can obtain the following information on a competitor:

  • Sales strategies: Where does it sell? At what stated price? What does its value proposition and selling proposition look like for each target audience? What does it claim to do? What are its offline and online distribution networks? Is it experimenting with new ones?
  • Positioning in relation to the global market: How many markets does it target and in how many languages does it advertise? Where are its offices? Who are its industry partners? What associations does it belong to and how active is it in each? How many and what areas do its distribution networks cover?
  • Distribution of communication messages across channels and offline feedback: How many communication channels does it use and for what purposes? What events and fairs does it attend, what are the objectives of these fairs and who do they attract? What reference images does the competitor use? Does it have recent press reviews? Does it have feedback from relevant stakeholders?
  • The ability to adhere to or predict market trends and innovate: Are its products and services aligned with market demands? Is its vision in step with current and future trends? What are the weak points in its products and/or services? Where are its investments going? Has it launched any new products? Does it show signs of branching out beyond its usual scope? What is its labor profile (skilled, cheap, mixed)? Is it a solid company looking to the future by investing in change or is it an organization for which innovation and strategic choices are mainly a means for firming up the current financial situation?
  • Management, soundness of vision: What does the organization chart look like? Who decides what in the company? Who is the company’s relational gatekeeper, who is the front person? Who are the funders? What are management’s concerns (what special policies does the company have toward employees, customers…)?
  • Care of relational assets and indicators of attention to brand equity growth: In what sphere of relations does the competitor move, with whom does management rub shoulders? Which stakeholders does it want to develop (e.g., has it recently aligned with some interest group)? Are there instances of litigation and crises known to stakeholders? How does it deal with its communication crises (find out by researching past news items)?

The information gained from the above process will allow you to contextualize and validate some of the ideas you have about the competitor. But always keep in mind that the company’s communication, from which we derive much of this information, may over-represent or under-represent some aspects, perhaps deliberately as part of an appearance strategy to a strategy to conceal development plans but more commonly because the competitor has some communication problems.

Other more substantial and structured key information can be obtained:

  • throughqualitative and quantitative market research and desk studies, which are useful for learning about the competitor but also about other elements of the competitive environment, getting a snapshot of them at a given time;
  • through feedback from the sales force, regarding customer feedback on how our product compares to that of the competitor;
  • through mystery shopping;
  • using advanced analytical tools that apply very well to trade: competitive intelligence reports, forexample, track customs transactions and tell us what and how much any of our market competitors are selling, where they are selling it, to whom they are selling it, and at what real price. They also help us understand whether the one we believe is our main competitor is indeed the real threat to our business or whether there are hidden competitors that we need to know about and study better. And these reports provide a lot of the information we need to know about our competitors’ behavior from the purchasing choices of our client company and how it relates to suppliers, where it buys, from whom and at what price, what it buys, how often it buys (if you are wondering how this is possible, we are talking about public data, data that shrewd internationalization service companies aggregate to allow their clients to have real data about the market and not mere statistical surveys).

Then there is key information that we can obtain online, for example:

  • through customer reviews on peer recommendation platforms;
  • by observing the social commerce techniques applied (e.g., through Instagram or Facebook);
  • information for creating an influencer map to understand how influencers affect the competitor’s business and to what extent the competitor is aware of them and exploit them;
  • online communication assets (website and social media) which can be analyzed using specific tools (WHOIS tells you who manages the domain, Waybackmachine shows you the history of the site, Twitonomy the competitors on Twitter, FanPageKarma shows you the performance of a page, Trackmaven is useful for social media and content analysis);
  • how the competitor interacts within certain topic areas, with social media monitoring and listening, which allow for a better understanding of themes, interactions, sentiment of conversations of the community at large and the competitor as part of it;
  • through webmarketing tools, you can also study the competitor’s funnel, strategies, and results in terms of SEO positioning and active Adwords, and then discover marketing plan priorities, engagement, lead generation and conversion, and other key aspects.

In this regard, there are many tools and platforms to be discovered:

  • From classic Seozoom, Semrush, Similarweb, to Google Adword and Keywords Planner to discover SEO positioning and long tail keywords and associations of terms that are searched jointly;
  • There’s the Adwords report on advertisers, which shows the names of competitors and how they compete for top positions;
  • The Google Analytics benchmarking report returns trends against industry averages segmented by source, location, and device;
  • Ubersuggest for keyword research;
  • Spyfu finds keywords by page and links from competitor ads;
  • Word Counter for keywords density;
  • LikeAlyzer gives data on the performance of competitors’ social media pages according to metrics such as likes, followers, engagement rates, post likes%, posts per day;
  • Hootsuite’s Adespresso spies on competitors’ ads;
  • Moat finds competitors’ banner graphics and spies on their display activities.

Where does this data fit into strategic decision-making processes and how does it affect communication? In condensed form, the data can contribute to:

  • Market positioning strategy and search for a solid big differenceand restructuring of some aspects of the business model;
  • The definition of some aspects of brand personality;
  • Product design processes;
  • Value proposition and selling proposition design processes;
  • Defining positional messages, especially in relation to sales objectives;
  • The value chain review and communication processes; 
  • Strategic choices that result in internal and external communication actions (of all types, from defining offline campaigns to defining social media marketing strategies);
  • The governance of a corporate narrative, particularly in managing the communicative mandate of ambassadors, influencers, and micro-influencers within media narrative design processes.

Finally, the importance of soft information: studying the mindset of a management team of a competitor company based on the choices they make helps us foresee how our competitor is likely to approach new trends. It is worth getting to know the competitor on a personal level, attending its events and watching it closely whenever possible.

Categories: dataintelligence