Market Intelligence 101: What It Is & How To Use It

A model of the human brain that is blue set against a blue background. We think (get it) was the perfect choice for our blog on market intelligence.
A model of the human brain that is blue set against a blue background. We think (get it) was the perfect choice for our blog on market intelligence.

Intelligence – the collection of information of value – is at the heart of reasoned decision-making. Intelligence agencies such as the CIA, MI6 or Soviet-era KGB have spawned spy thrillers, movies and media intrigue for decades. The intrepid 007 is known worldwide for his particular brand of information-gathering.

Market intelligence tends to be seen as a little less exciting though. For starters, there are fewer high-speed car chases, deaths by stealthy assassins or threats of world destruction. But the principle remains the same: An investment in human resources and technology to gather and evaluate big data to strengthen your position and/or provide you with an advantage over the competition. It's all about making better business decisions and finding market opportunity, rather than achieving success against the evil agents of James Bond’s arch-enemy, SMERSH. It is also not industrial espionage, which involves gathering up-to-date competitor intelligence using illegal methods.

Table of Contents

What exactly is market intelligence?

The Cambridge Dictionary describes it as: “Information about customer demand, competitors' products, etc. in a particular market that a company uses to help it decide what products to sell, what prices to charge, etc. Their aim is to exploit information technology to provide market intelligence.”

Simplicablea Singapore-based online encyclopaedia, calls it “timely information that is relevant to marketing and operations including areas such as innovation, product development, distribution, promotion, pricing, sales and production”.

The process is known by various other names too, among them:

  • Market intelligence research
  • Competitive intelligence
  • Competitive intelligence analysis
  • Competitor intelligence research
  • Marketing intelligence
  • Product intelligence
  • Customer insight

Competitive intelligence

Investopedia prefers the description ‘competitive intelligence’ and describes it as “actionable information from diverse published and unpublished sources, collected efficiently and ethically. Ideally, a business successfully employs competitive intelligence by cultivating a detailed enough portrait of the marketplace so it may anticipate and respond to challenges and problems before they arise”.

Expanding on the process, Investopedia observes that: “Competitive intelligence transcends the simple cliché ‘know your enemy’. Rather, it is a deep-dive exercise where businesses unearth the finer points of competitors’ business plans, including the customers they serve and the marketplaces in which they operate. Competitive intelligence analyses how a wide variety of events disrupts rival businesses. It also reveals how distributors and other stakeholders may be impacted, and it telegraphs how new technologies can quickly render invalid every assumption.”

Competitive intelligence is our forte at Meltwater, so if you want to learn more about what this might look like for your brand,

Information vs Intelligence

It is opportune here to examine the concept of ‘information versus ‘intelligence’ since the terms are sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably when in fact they mean different thing.

Gathering information using data-driven and other methodologies is the first step, but on its own, it is largely without value. The ‘intelligence’ aspect comes in when the information is enriched, analyzed and contextualised by data scientists and marketers, who extract the useful bits.

This process should lead to a useful action – such as seizing the identified market opportunity or helping them make a strategic business decision. Awareness is pointless unless it can be used for a purpose... Seize the day; seize the opportunity!

Market intelligence vs market research

Other terms that are sometimes mistakenly used in the wrong context are market intelligence and market research. Some people view them as the same thing. After all, don’t they both involve research? Yes, but market research has a specific focus on being able to identify what current customers and potential customers think, how they act, and the trends that interest them. The former has a much broader focus. But more on that later.

As customer-centric strategies grow in importance, researchers are increasingly trying to get to grips with customers’ attitudes, wants and buying preferences within particular parameters. In most cases, the questions that need to be answered will likely be specific to a product or a service, or to those of a competitor. The results are then incorporated into an analysis of the competitive landscape and will subsequently be part of the sales and marketing strategy.

So, market research in this context could, arguably, also be termed ‘marketing research’.

Two women sitting around a table, one on the phone, one pointing to a laptop with charts on the screen. A cup of coffee sits nearby.

Market intelligence vs marketing intelligence

These two descriptors are also frequently used interchangeably, however, we would argue that they are quite different and the latter is a subset of the former.

A foreign company considering launching a consumer brand into the Asian nation of Myanmar at the beginning of 2021, for example, would have used marketing intelligence to analyze population demographics, income data, identify key towns and cities, pinpoint ideal shopping precincts or malls where the brand could trade, and spot product opportunity. Based on this, it may have begun operating.

But that same company using market intelligence should have come up with a broader set of insights...

Examining the goings-on in the business environment at macro level would have revealed that the military was threatening to “take action” after its candidates were roundly defeated in a democratic election in November 2020. The military, which had previously controlled the country, was alleging voter fraud by the civilian government. Some political analysts were warning of civil unrest and a possible coup.

Armed with this broader insight, the company would likely have taken a strategic decision to ‘wait and see’ before investing in Myanmar, which would have been the correct conclusion since armed forces went on to depose the elected government and unrest has since ensued.

Knowledge should embrace all relevant factors present in a market – whether that market is a small geographic area in a company’s home country or an entire developing nation half a world away. Such insights can help inform the business plan, the business strategy and, perhaps, the organisation’s entire business model.

Marketing intelligence informs the sales and marketing strategy and is a subset of the market intelligence report. Having said that, much of the work involved in creating such a report does focus on marketing-related priorities. More about that below.

Frequently asked questions:

What is the importance of market intelligence?

If you do not understand the market you are operating in, or intend to operate in, you cannot maximise your chances of success and minimise your potential risks.

How do you get market intelligence?

You can obtain it using tools such as media monitoring which have the ability to track and analyze media articles, social media conversions, print, broadcast and press releases from your competitors. 

What does a market intelligence analyst do?

Identifies appropriate sources of information and collects the data, orders and analyses the data received to extract useful insights, and creates market overview reports that can be acted upon by the board, executive management and others within the organisation.

How do you perform a market intelligence study?

Key actions include:

  1. Understand what questions need to be answered.
  2. Determine the best sources for the information you need. If relevant, analyse the macro-environment for high-level risks and opportunities.
  3. Drill down to analyse specific environments, including competitors.
  4. Analyse the data and extract key insights.
  5. Present information in a digestible and actionable format.

What are the key elements of market intelligence?

The following are usually where key market analysis tools focus their attention to help us create a comprehensive market overview:

Analyse the macro-environment

This comprises political, economic, regulatory and infrastructure-related factors that may impact business decisions at the highest strategic level. The Myanmar situation is an example. Essentially it is a high-level risk analysis.

Procurement and supply chain

Among the questions that will be examined here are whether you can efficiently and cost-effectively procure whatever you require to create or manufacture new products in that market? Or should you rather import? How efficient is transport and logistics? Can you easily get the product into the hands of third-party distributors, retailers, or perhaps ship it directly to the end-user using an e-commerce business model? In short, what are the risks to your supply chain?

Cargo ships lined up next to metal contrainers

Marketing intelligence

This encompasses all the marketing-focused elements that you may use to create a picture of customers in the market, determine the market size, analyze competitors and their products, and identify an opportunity. In other words, everything you need to develop a marketing plan.

Marketing intelligence tools

Here's an overview of the main category types for the tools used to find the above insights. It's worth keeping in mind that some tools tick off various categories, for example, a media intelligence tool can be used for market research, competitive intelligence and product intelligence. If budget is a problem area, look to consolidate the number of tools you invest in.

Market research

This will identify consumers’ attitudes, wants and buying preferences. It will also assist with market segmentation and identifying your target audience.

Media intelligence

Use media intelligence to help with conducting competitive analysis, benchmarking your brand against competitors, finding potential business opportunities etc.

Sales analysis

What will your approach to selling be? Do you likely need a sales team on the ground in order to be competitive? Or can this be outsourced or handled remotely from another office? Perhaps a call centre will suffice?

Competitive intelligence analysis

Who are your competitors and what are their competitive strengths and weaknesses? What do you know of their future strategy? What resources do they have at their disposal? Can you expect more competitors to enter the market, and when? This is about understanding the competitive landscape.

Product Intelligence

What competing products are in the marketplace and what do you know of their quality and features? How do they compare with what you offer? Which competitor products can you expect to enter or leave the market? Where does your product opportunity lie, relative to demand?

Pricing strategy

Given the market conditions, what should your pricing strategy be? What do you know about your opposition’s pricing models?

The SWOT analysis

Using all the research findings above, it is then prudent to conduct a comprehensive SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis to determine the way forward. Are there market opportunities? If so, how do you act on them?

Market intelligence success examples

Just a few years after the brand launched in the US to great fanfare and success, Airbnb was keen to open an office in London to establish itself in the UK and act as a springboard to Europe. But it had to move quickly to capitalise on the brand hype and momentum, as well as keep ahead of would-be imitators.

Airbnb, with assistance from the promotional company for the city of London (and Meltwater customer), London & Partners, gathered market intelligence about tourist numbers, local accommodation, visitor trends and other important data. Given that this was 2011 and the London Olympics was due to take place in 2012, this important point was also factored into the research.

An Air BnB sign with a city backdrop

Based on the insights gleaned, Airbnb quickly established a temporary office in the city and upgraded to a permanent facility in London the following year. Results were impressive. Airbnb grew its British business by 748% and by mid-2012, when the Olympics rolled around, it was listing more than 10,000 London properties. 

Subsequently, the company’s Director of Marketing and Communications for EMEA, Christopher Lukezic, said this strong insight enabled the company to “make informed and sound decisions in regards to the UK market”.

Market intelligence mistakes to avoid

Blackberry was once the darling of the cellular telephone market with huge demand for its QWERTY keyboard devices. So successful was the Canadian company that it was named by Fortune magazine as the fastest-growing company in the world in 2009, with earnings exploding by more than 80% per annum.

A few short years later, Blackberry had become utterly irrelevant as mobile devices were revolutionised by the likes of Apple. It's as if Blackberry was developing a better wagon wheel at the same time as others were inventing the high-performance rubber tyre. Almost in the blink of an eye, the brand was no longer competitive.

It proved an epic failure of market intelligence research. As Time magazine pointed out: “BlackBerry failed to anticipate that consumers – not business customers – would drive the smartphone revolution.”

Why did Blackberry fail?

Where did it all go wrong? Time explains:

“BlackBerry’s failure to keep up with Apple and Google was a consequence of errors in its strategy and vision. First, after growing to dominate the corporate market, BlackBerry failed to anticipate that consumers – not business customers – would drive the smartphone revolution. Second, BlackBerry was blindsided by the emergence of the app economy, which drove the massive adoption of iPhone and Android-based devices. Third, BlackBerry failed to realize that smartphones would evolve beyond mere communication devices to become full-fledged mobile entertainment hubs.

“BlackBerry insisted on producing phones with full keyboards, even after it became clear that many users preferred touchscreens, which allowed for better video viewing and touchscreen navigation. When BlackBerry finally did launch a touchscreen device, it was seen as a poor imitation of the iPhone. BlackBerry saw its devices as fancy, e-mail-enabled mobile phones. Apple and Google envisioned powerful mobile computers and worked to make sending e-mail and browsing the Web as consumer-friendly as possible.”

Summary

In summary, market intelligence can be used by an organisation in a wide variety of ways, depending on business priorities and changing market forces. These include:

  • Expanding an existing market
  • Entry into a new market
  • Risk analysis prior to possible investment
  • Better understanding the organisation’s competitors
  • Developing a new product or service
  • Optimising sales and marketing strategies
  • Trend forecasting and analysis

The ultimate goal is for the business to achieve success by understanding everything about its operating environment, thereby maximising the potential market opportunities and minimising the possible risks. 

Do you know of some great market-intelligence case studies or perhaps a few epic failures? If so, we would love to hear about them. Tweet us @Meltwater. Alternatively, if you'd like to learn more about introducing market intelligence to your own strategies, fill out the form below and we'll be in touch to explain how!

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