The Best Competitive Intelligence Articles This Year

Competitive intelligence is just one component of marketing strategy, but it is an important one for digital marketers to keep in mind.  Although the function of competitive intelligence may reside elsewhere in your organization, digital marketers who create content for online consumption must stay aware that their rivals are gathering that information for use in strategic decision-making.  This inspired my recent blog post titled A New Resource for Competitive Intelligence Tools.  As a companion piece, I would now like to share the best competitive intelligence articles I have come across in the last 6 months.

I capture articles and blog posts that competitive intelligence professionals would find helpful for staying fresh in their field because I like to stay current on best practices.  I discard anything that is too promotional or simplistic and focus on pieces that truly provide useful information about the discipline.  Below are the best of the bunch.  Enjoy!

Expect More From the Competitive Intelligence Discipline

Harvard Business Review consistently produces quality content and this post titled “Competitive Intelligence Shouldn’t Just Be About Your Competitors,” by Benjamin Gilad, is no different.

The author positions competitive intelligence as an ongoing effort to stay abreast of changing market conditions so that organizations can be “competitive.”  He suggests that while the discipline is often viewed from the militaristic perspective of “taking on the enemy,” for business it should instead be viewed as a mechanism for understanding the entire competitive arena – encompassing not just an understanding of your rivals, but different locales and changes in customer sentiment.

The author drives home the point that gathering information is just one part of the competitive intelligence profession.  The real value lies in leveraging the information to gain insight that can be used toward driving strategic change.  To this end, he suggests that competitive intelligence professionals should be expected to participate in strategic decision-making so they can provide this insight and be privy to the information they need about the organization to do their jobs.

The role of competitive intelligence is often viewed as a stepping stone to other, higher level positions.  But there is a groundswell of opinion that organizations should require more of this function and seek applicants with the ability to not just collect information, but derive deep analytic insight from it and provide strategic guidance.  If you would like to explore this further, the article “Will Competitive Intelligence Managers Join the C-Suite One Day,”  by Joost Drieman, may also be of interest to you.

Leverage Competitive Data for Differentiation

6 Ways to Win With Competitive Intelligence“, by Steve Rayson, does have a promotional element, but I’m including it because it also provides a lot of useful information.  It starts by making the point that simply copying your competition is a fool’s errand as it not only puts you in the position of being one step behind, but you might be duplicating efforts that are not effective.  It goes into detail on exactly how you can use SEMRush and BuzzSumo to identify what is and is not working for your competitors with respect to their online efforts so you can use that information strategically.  The author provides screenshots of each product and shows how to examine your competitors’ SEO efforts, content marketing, ad strategy, back links and impact on influencers.

Misinterpretation of Competitive Data is the Real Enemy

Rand Fishkin’s post titled “Great Failures in Competitive Intelligence” isn’t a blog, but a slide share that offers useful suggestions for improving the way competitive intelligence is leveraged.  The author drills into each of each of his points in a very digestible way, presenting failures in competitive intelligence, examples of each point and suggestions for ways to avoid them.  The presentation covers the following “failures”:

  • Failure 1 – Assuming knowledge of the root cause.
    • Suggestion:  Do not assume the root cause of any finding.  Create a hypothesis of potential root causes then find a way to determine what actually happened.
  • Failure 2 – Mistaking a few outliers for a representative sample set.
    • Suggestion:  Collect a wider range of data and work to gain a clear understanding of successes and failures.
  • Failure 3 – Over investing in imitation
    • Suggestion:  Just because something does or does not work for your competitor doesn’t mean the same will be true for you.  Copying will simply put you in the position of being a laggard.  Test your hypothesis before implementing.
  • Failure 4 – Under investing in your own, unique strengths.
    • Suggestion:  Determine what you are great at that both reaches and resonates for your customers.  Look at others who also possess that strength and see what they are doing that works.

Competitive Intelligence Does Not Equal Corporate Espionage

In this post titled “You Don’t Need to Resort to Dumpster Diving to Collect Ethical Competitive Intelligence” Sandi Brown respectfully addresses the difference between competitive intelligence and corporate espionage – a distinction that is often misunderstood.  Sandi takes the approach of explaining what ethical competitive intelligence is not and succeeds in making the point that competitive intelligence is about gathering and leveraging data that is publicly available – a perfectly ethical practice vs. corporate espionage which involves using underhanded behavior to gain information.

I particularly enjoyed this last post because I have also come across the counter argument.  For instance, this article titled “Is Competitive Intelligence Good for Business,” (posted on the Cranfield University – School of Management website) references a study that points to competitive intelligence as an ethically questionable activity.  I would argue that while there will always be instances of organizations using shady practices to gain privileged information that is not the norm and to suggest that it is does a huge disservice to the profession.  True “competitive intelligence” professionals take great pleasure in their ability to transform seemingly innocuous information into actionable insight and do not need to stoop to  unethical behavior.

Have you seen other articles that should be added to this list?  If so, please bring them to my attention!  I would love to hear from you.

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