Competitive Intelligence: Always Know What Your Competitors Are Up To

A blue boxing glove against a solid pink background. This guide will help you understand the concept of Competitive intelligence and how CI can benefit your business so you can fight off the competition.
A blue boxing glove against a solid pink background. This guide will help you understand the concept of Competitive intelligence and how CI can benefit your business so you can fight off the competition.

Before the internet was created, competitive intelligence was often conducted through acts of industrial espionage. Whilst the latter still occurs today, there are much easier and more ethical ways to get insights on our competitors’ business. 

By paying attention to the data your competitors and their consumers leave on the Internet you will be able to make better-informed strategic decisions. 

For example, if you discover that your competitor is buying raw materials from another country, your next advertising campaign could emphasize that your company uses "home-grown" materials. 

Competitive intelligence and the act of collecting competitive data can therefore be seen as growth drivers for a company. Any entrepreneur can (and should) learn from the successes and failures of their competitors, so they can boost business quickly and cost-effectively.  

Our guide will help you understand the concept of competitive intelligence (CI) by answering questions such as: What is the definition of competitive intelligence? How is competitive intelligence useful to organizations? What is the goal of competitive intelligence? How does competitive intelligence work? Where to find information on your competition? Which types of CI exist? How do different industries benefit from CI? What are competitive intelligence tools?

Ready to learn everything you need to know about competitive benchmarking? Let's dive in.

Table of Contents

The following blog is an adapted snippet from our latest whitepaper, "The Social Media ROI Playbook: Driving Growth with Social". Download the whitepaper here.

If you're interested in how you can use Meltwater to benchmark your PR & social performance against your competitors,

What Is Competitive Intelligence? 

Competitive intelligence (or market intelligence) is the action of gathering, analyzing and distributing information about products, markets, customers and competitors.     

Through this process, you can: 

  • Anticipate your competitor’s likely next steps
  • Spot potential threats & opportunities
  • Inform your strategies
  • Gain competitive advantage

Competitive benchmarking

Collecting this valuable information through the process of competitive benchmarking makes it easier for you to then create an effective and efficient competitive strategy. Competitive benchmarking is a great starting point for those just starting to dabble with competitive intelligence.

Benchmarking is a good way of understanding how a company is performing against others and importantly ensures that they can stay competitive in the market. It provides insight into what a competitor is doing, what works, what doesn’t work, and what companies can use to their own advantage, whether that’s by adopting successful practices or avoiding ineffective ones.

Tanya Houston, Managing Director, Wildwood PR

In simple terms, competitive benchmarking involves analyzing which part of the pie (aka the total volume of conversation) is related back to your brand versus competitors. Marketing and PR teams tend to look at how share of voice develops over time so they can identify peaks and troughs in conversations for their brand versus competitors and understand what’s driving this/ measure how reach and awareness stacks up.

Other metrics aside from media volume that are often benchmarked include:

  • Impressions
  • Share Voice by Source Location
  • Sentiment Breakdown
  • Trending Themes Audience Growth
  • Engagement Rate
  • Top Performing Pages
  • Top Performing Posts
  • Message Type Breakdown
  • Engagement Breakdown
A girl is shopping for clothes. Various industries benefit from competitive intelligence such as telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods and retail.

Who Uses Competitive Intelligence?

The good news is that you don't need to be a large company to utilize CI or conduct a competitive analysis. Businesses of all sizes and various industries can make use of it. 

Here are some industries for which competitive intelligence has proven beneficial:  

  • Healthcare
  • Airline
  • Sport 
  • Financial services
  • Telecommunications
  • Technology
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Biotechnology
  • Manufacturing
  • Consumer goods 

Later on, we will provide some real-world examples to demonstrate how some of these industries gather competitive data. 

Let's continue and break down the main benefits of competitive intelligence.  

Ready to begin tracking your compeitors online campaigns?

Why Is Competitive Intelligence Important?

Competitive intelligence is important because it helps businesses understand where they stand within the competitive landscape, define their market share and identify opportunities as well as challenges in the industry. 

Goals & Benefits of Competitive Intelligence

To put it simply, the goal of competitive intelligence is to make your product or service stand out from the rest and to always be informed about what your competition is up to. In order to achieve these goals, CI has to be effective and repeatable. 

Competitive intelligence has many benefits. It makes it possible for businesses to:

  1. Get insights around market developments (e.g., geographic development, marketing, recruitment)
  2. Position themselves strategically in the market (i.e., market positioning)
  3. Analyze the competitiveness and reputation of their brand, in relation to the industry 
  4. Improve their marketing efforts by analyzing what others are doing (from product development to social media)
  5. Track industry trends
On a gray surface you can see the number six. Competitive intelligence consists of six phases, for example, competitive analysis, centralizing competitive data, etc.

How to Gather Competitive Data: CI Is a 6-Step Process

Now it is time to see how competitive intelligence really works.  

How do you collect relevant information on your competitors and use it to boost your business? 

Basically, what you need to do is execute these six steps: 

  1. Identify (direct) competitors 
  2. Determine key areas of interest & set your goals
  3. Gather data on your competitors
  4. Centralize information
  5. Create a competitor profile 
  6. Share the findings with relevant parties

Sounds complicated? Don't worry, we will explain each phase in more detail.

A chess piece which serves as a metaphor for gathering competitive data.

[1] Identify (direct) Competitors 

First and foremost, you need to identify the competitors you want to monitor since your competitive landscape is most probably pretty vast. 

Tip: Start small by limiting your market research to your direct competitors. Those are the companies that sell the same product/service as you to the same target audience. This way you can develop a business plan or a business strategy focussing only on the companies you come up against the most.

A radar icon to emphasize that a successful competitive intelligence strategy is based on clearly set goals.

[2] Determine Key Areas of Interest & Set Your Goals

Ask yourself what interests you most about your competitors: Their product updates? Their team? Their recent marketing and social media efforts? 

Concerning the latter, we should not forget to mention media intelligence (also known as media monitoring), the process of collecting and analyzing data that has been generated by various media channels. It is important to not only focus on media mentions, tonality, etc. of your own brand but also to look outside the box. 

Has a competitor had a brand crisis? A competitor’s opportunity or threat can easily become yours too, so it’s wise to keep an eye on conversations surrounding their brand or your industry. There are two different ways you can do this.

The best way to see how your company and competitors are perceived across media is by implementing a media monitoring tool

Below you can catch a glimpse of the Meltwater Explore ad-hoc search feature in the mobile app analysing the media coverage for the keyword “self-driving car, 2019" and offering up information related to sentiment, media volume, and trends.

A GIF displaying the ad-hoc Meltwater Explore search feature in the mobile app. Media monitoring tools help you analyze the media coverage of your brand and your competitors.

Later on, you will find out more interesting facts about what our media monitoring solution can do for you.  

The next step in gathering competitive data is to set internal objectives and ask yourself what to do with the acquired information. Setting these goals will give you a clearer idea about what you need to achieve and deliver. This step is often overlooked, but it is important to make sure the time you are investing in completing this research benefits your team and can be used to improve your business. 

An icon of a glass container for conducting lab experiments. It serves as a metaphor for collecting competitive data.

[3] Gather Data on Your Competitors

Wondering, "How?" Well, this is the point where you have to take some time to explore the online presence of your competitors and gather information about their services, products, websites, social media engagements, etc. The more data you have, the better, as it will help you pull out valuable insights. This process can be made quicker with the help of different easily accessible sources enabling you to gain a competitive advantage. 

The next chapter will give you an overview of the most useful sources to collect intel.

An icon displaying a mouse click.

Let our AI-powered media and social media monitoring platform gather the data on your competitors instantly.

[4] Centralize Information

The process of collecting competitive intelligence can be time-consuming as the data is usually in various formats and spread across multiple platforms. Consequently, keeping track of your competitors and the competitive landscape in real-time can be stressful. 

That's why it is important to accumulate all the information in one central location to simplify the further process of competitive analysis. That way you don’t have to search for that same fact or figure you recalled seeing on a website weeks ago. The most effective way to achieve this is to leverage a competitive intelligence platform

A profile  icon

[5] Create a Competitor Profile

Once all the data is in an easy-to-find location, it is time to start categorizing insights by creating a competitor profile. Think of it as a 360-degree overview of your competition.

But which data should be included in such a profile? Here are some examples of what you might want to focus on: 

  • Organizational information (Number of employees, revenue, company structure — public or private, partnership or corporation, etc.)
  • Products & Services (What are your competitors' core offerings?)
  • Sales & Marketing (How do they get their products and services to the market? What kind of marketing strategy are they using?)
An icon displaying three people sitting at a table and having a meeting

[6] Share the Findings with Relevant Parties

After mastering the first five steps, it would be a shame if no one would be informed about your findings. 

Now the time has come to communicate the results to the relevant parties (coworkers, stakeholders or the management). You can alert them via tools such as Slack, CI platforms or collaborative websites such as a company wiki. 

Distributing your insights makes it possible for your team to take action and build an actionable competitive strategy. 

A hand reaching up and pressing a button suspended in mid-air with an email icon on it

Voilà! 

We hope that by now you already have a better understanding of what competitive intelligence can do for your business! 😊

Sources to Easily Gain Competitive Advantage

There are many sources for collecting competitive data. However, without any doubt, a competitive intelligence tool such as the one from Meltwater is the most effective way to do so. 

But, there are also different, easily accessible corners of the World Wide Web that allow you to stay informed about your competitors' strategies, customer impressions, and new trends in the industry. 

We see a typewriter. The sentence to blog or not to blog is written on paper. When it comes to competitive intelligence and gathering competitive data on your competitors, it is recommended to focus on their content such as blogs and social media.

The following six sources have proven to be very helpful.

Content Marketing & Social Media

Nowadays, businesses rely heavily on content to showcase their brand and to establish themselves in their industry. Whether in the form of a blog, social media post, podcast, video, eBook or case studies — they are producing content like there is no tomorrow. 

By regularly checking a competitor’s content production, you can determine what works best for your business and build your own content strategy

What to focus on:

  • The frequency of their new content (How often do they post on their blog, on social media?)
  • Content format and main topics (What content formats do they mostly use and which topics do they cover?)
  • Keywords & SEO (Which are the main keywords their content revolves around?)
  • Quality of the content (Did they put a lot of effort into producing a post or is it more about quantity than quality?)
  • Social media presence (What channels are they the most active on?)

PR & News

This is one of the most accessible sources of information you can use to build a profile on your competitors. By scanning their news, events and press releases, you can get a better picture of where they are heading and what values they represent. 

What to focus on: 

  • Product, partnership, acquisition announcements, etc. on a competitor’s press page
  • News mentions & PR efforts
  • Patterns concerning the timing of their press releases
  • Events they are sponsoring
  • Awards they have won
  • The tonality of their messaging

Customers & Reviews

The decisions of every business are (or should be) based on its customers. 

But who exactly are your customers and how are they different from your competitors’? 

With competitive intelligence, you can see what kind of people/businesses are interested in your competitors and how their brand is perceived. 

By having a better idea about who they attract, you can create precise buyer personas. This way, your sales and marketing teams can come up with business strategies aligned with their exact needs.

What to focus on:

  • Case studies, testimonials & customer lists
  • Customer reviews on third party websites (You will find happy as well as upset customers giving their opinion about the products and services of your competitors; moreover, you will also see how they are dealing with customer issues)
  • Company size and industry of your competitor’s customers (Use this to identify new potential markets)

Product & Pricing

It is helpful for every department in your company to know exactly what your competitors are offering, which solutions they provide and how much their products cost. By knowing this, your sales team has an advantage and can offer a better deal when talking to customers. 

What to focus on: 

  • Reports collecting data from the marketplace and evaluating groups of products within a specific category
  • Pricing changes and positioning of a competitor’s product in search results
  • Product FAQs and support threads 
  • Win/loss notes from interviews with potential customers

Personnel & Hiring Practices

Try to figure out who the people are that are running your competitor’s business. 

Additionally, if you know the type of qualifications or experience-level your competitor is looking for, you can easily comprehend why their business strategy is the way it is and where it might be headed in the future. 

What to focus on: 

  • Job vacancies your competitors are focused on filling
  • The executive board (Are your competitors experiencing turnover at the executive level or hiring new people?)
  • Job vacancies that haven't been filled in a long time 
  • Employee and candidates reviews  
A photo studio with a fan and a light pink background. When gathering competitive data, you should also focus on marketing campaigns and promotions of your competitor.

Campaigns & Promotions

Diving into the campaigns and promotional offers of your competitors will reveal the message and initiatives they are using to attract new customers. Consequently, you can adapt your own marketing strategy accordingly. 

What to focus on: 

  • Target audience (Who are they trying to attract?) 
  • The CTAs (calls-to-action) & landing pages
  • Marketing channels 

Already inspired to do some research and look into your competitor's digital footprint? Hold on tight, there is more to come. 🤓

But if you're interested in learning about all the places (social, news, podcasts, etc.) that Meltwater can track mentions of your competitors,

Types of Competitive Intelligence

Now is the time for you to get familiar with the five different types of competitive intelligence. 

  • Win/Loss Analysis
  • Market Intelligence Platform
  • Strategy Workshops
  • Trade Show Intelligence
  • Primary & Secondary Research

1. Win/Loss Analysis

Want to dig deeper into your competition? Then, a win/loss analysis might be the way to go. It puts emphasis on why a company wins or loses deals and the factors contributing to that. 

By conducting win/loss research you can find out why buyers choose one product over another. Among important factors to consider are:

  • Performance of sales reps
  • Company reputation
  • Service 
  • Support
  • Pricing

2. Market Intelligence Platform

A market intelligence platform offers you a comprehensive look at your competitors. It is customized and adapted according to your company's needs and helps you collect various competitive data, for example:

  • Firmographic & geographic information
  • Availability of finances & funding 
  • Search engine & marketing trends

3. Strategy Workshops

Strategy workshops help you create long-term plans to address changing markets and conditions. At a strategy workshop, the participants are usually divided into teams and are asked to identify and create company strategies in response to a given scenario.  

When executed correctly, such workshops can prepare your business for different situations which might occur on the market.  

A special exercise you may want to test out is business wargaming, where you predict competitor moves through role play. You are presented with a specific market scenario and have to simulate how the competitor might react to it. 

Effective wargaming identifies actions in response to the competitors’ strategy and reduces uncertainty in stressful times.

A trade show with many people. Trade shows are great places to gather competitive intelligence.

4. Trade Show Intelligence

Certain information cannot be obtained through “basic” research. Therefore, trade shows are a great opportunity to access sensitive and unique data about your competitors. 

They unite most major market participants in the same place and encourage networking. As the environment is more relaxed, your competitors will most probably talk more openly about their products and services they offer. 

5. Primary & Secondary Research

For competitive intelligence analysts, primary research means conducting in-depth interviews with professionals or industry experts. The main objective is to get actionable insights and collect powerful information about your competitor. 

Primary research can be followed by a secondary, focusing on intelligence aggregated from sources that are available to the public. Secondary research is usually used to acquire a strong knowledge foundation.

Already decided which method(s) might work best for your business? 😎

 A couple is resting in an airport. In the background, you can see planes. Competitive intelligence is used in various industries such as the airline industry, tech startups, etc.

4 Real-World Competitive Intelligence Examples

Discussing a complex concept such as competitive intelligence isn't fully effective and won't result in the desired “Aha! Effect” unless supported by cases taken out of everyday life. 

The following four examples of competitive intelligence will demonstrate how different industries use it to their advantage. 

Let us take a look!

1. Airline Industry   

Select your dream destination, date of departure, pick a return date, add some additional baggage, review your booking and, finally, complete the payment. There you have it: you have booked yourself a plane ticket. 

But did you know that these flight ticket booking systems, in general, are also great examples of competitive intelligence resources? 

Airline companies are changing and constantly adapting their ticket fares based on competitive data. 

If for example, your competitors increase the price for a certain route, you would likely want to follow this trend. But, in order to justify such price adjustments, it is important to focus on customer information.

By tracking users’ search data, flight companies can see whether they are repeatedly searching for the same flight details. This way, they can increase the ticket prices over time since they can be certain that people really want to travel on this specific day. 

Besides gathering competitive intelligence it is also very important for airline companies to stay up-to-date with any crisis critical to their operations as well as news and social media mentions, on a local or global level. If something of importance happens to their brand, they need to react fast. To do so, they need first-class crisis management.

Air France-KLM relies on our media monitoring solution and reporting solution to achieve this. 

By setting up advanced tailored searches to match specific keywords and conduct instant analysis, our tool enables them to understand the reach, narrative, and sentiment of the conversation to determine how much a crisis is impacting their brand. 

Moreover, fully branded, AI-powered presentation-ready reports are available to them at the click of a button to showcase their earned media and get broader insights into their digital marketing strategy. 

Check out our short video showing the main features of the mentioned media monitoring and reporting tool.

Pretty cool, right?

Interested in learning more about how Meltwater can benefit your team?

2. Investment Trading

Another good example of competitive intelligence is investment trading. 

It is no secret that all bankers have access to the same information through extensive financial statement reports, research papers, news channels, etc. 

But only those who know what to do with this available information and how to properly analyze it can gain valuable insights and profit from it. 

The Santander Río Bank, for example, is profiting from our media monitoring solution as well. It helps them detect and anticipate issues that, when left unaddressed, could easily become threats down the road. 

Our workday begins with Meltwater's media monitoring reports. Based on the sentiment and our level of exposure, these reports dictate everything that follows. We use the platform's intelligence to help us craft the messages we want to convey to our stakeholders and to create our communications strategy.

— Guido Matijas, Corporate Communications Analyst, Santander Río

In addition to analyzing mentions of your own brand, the platform also monitors mentions of your competitors.

3. Tech Startups

While traditional companies usually have more budget and resources, better technology and often also more data to work with, tech startups often outperform them in certain niches and are more likely to disrupt the market. 

How do they do it? 

The key to success is two-fold:

  • Focussing on a particular field within the industry
  • Reacting and adapting quickly to CI insights because they are smaller in size and more agile

Competitive intelligence and media monitoring tools also make it possible for startups to not only understand the engagement, reach and sentiment of the conversation on their own social media channels but also of the general conversation concerning critical programs or product areas. 

However, not only startups have discovered the advantages of competitive intelligence and media monitoring tools. Large multinational corporations, such as Google, have also found that while they had a large amount of data from native social analytics properties, they were still missing the full global footprint of the conversations concerning critical programs or product areas. 

After implementing the Meltwater media monitoring solution, they were able to analyze the engagement, reach and other important metrics concerning their social media efforts as well as those of their competitors.

First, it gives us the reach, engagement and sentiment data that we're looking for above and beyond our own channels. We're not just interested in understanding how our own posts perform, we want to know what the larger conversation looks like. Second, with the automation we are able to automatically pull data into our own internal dashboards, which is incredibly valuable from a time perspective.

— Katie Miller, Program Manager, The Cloud Developer Relations Team (Google)

A football player kicking a ball. CI is also often used in sport analytics. Some football teams overcome financial  disadvantages and outperform competitors  because they are very successful in collecting competitive data and distributing this information among the executive level.

4. Sport Analytics

Even the sports industry has become successful in implementing competitive intelligence by executing the three strategies mentioned below. 

  1. Interpret competitive data
  2. Process this data
  3. Effectively distribute it 

Let us briefly peep into the world of football. Popular teams like Sevilla FC annually outperform their budgets because they excel in gathering new data (scouting) and conducting analyses. 

Moreover, they have become experts in distributing this information among relevant parties such as management teams. 

This Is How Meltwater Can Help You to Always Stay One Step Ahead of Your Competitors

By now you hopefully have a clearer image of what competitive intelligence is and how your business can benefit from it. But in order to take it to the next level, you need the perfect tool. 

Enter: Meltwater!

Our competitive intelligence solution has everything you need to utilize competitive intelligence in your company. 

You can see a screenshot of the Meltwater competitive intelligence platform. It offers various features enabling you to monitor your competitors and adapt your business strategy in accordance with the industry trends.

Unified monthly reports for marketers: Get a comprehensive overview of your company's position against key competitors, which stretches way beyond financial data. 

AI-based analytics system: Receive instant notifications whenever something of strategic importance happens to the companies you are monitoring and respond accordingly as events unfold in real-time. 

State-of-the-art reporting: Evaluate the impact of your paid media and communications campaigns, discover how customers are responding to competitors' strategies, analyze website traffic, app ratings and more. By gathering this data, you can tweak your marketing strategy in the right direction. 

Competitive benchmarking templates: Benchmark your competitor's social media activity on Instagram, Facebook & Co. Analyze metrics such as audience growth, engagement rate, page performance, message type and top-performing posts.

Interested in finding out more? Simply fill out the form below and discover how our competitive intelligence platform can help you excel in your industry! PS. Don't forget to download our new whitepaper, The Social Media ROI Playbook, for more tips on growing your business with social media!

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