10 Oct Are you gathering information or intelligence about competitors?
Finding online information about your competitors is easy. The difficult part is finding meaning. When researching the competition, you can avoid pitfalls by seeking “intelligence” instead of “information.”
The differences between “information” and “intelligence” are purpose and process. Having a purpose and a process for gathering information ensures that the results will be useful — instead of merely informative.
A well-defined purpose allows you to search the Internet broadly and deeply without drowning in a flood of marginal information.
The process for gathering good competitive intelligence is straight-forward: identify industry/market trends and competitors, define your questions, find the answers, analyze the results, and act on them.
The process begins with a wide search of the Internet to define trends in your industry/market and competitors.
Use resources such as search engines, newspapers, business journals, trade press and online newsletters. Consider resources such as NewsIsFree and other topical news ‘clipping’ sites. PR Newswire and BusinessWire can be useful sources for news releases and competitive PR.
Beginning with a broad industry/market search decreases the likelihood that you’ll overlook potential competitors and non-competing businesses in the industry that may pose as sources of benchmarking, market insight and inspiration.
Once you’ve identified trends and competitors, you can identify the questions you want to answer about your competitors. Finding competitors’ identities, pricing, plans, strengths, weaknesses, suppliers and customers play a very important part in formulating an effective business strategy.
Finding answers often begin at a competitor’s own web site. When visiting competitor’s web sites look beyond product/service information. You can also learn by viewing a competitor’s employment opportunities, organization chart, supplier and vendor lists, and press releases.
Explore their news/press area. Often, you can download their press kit or add your personal email address to their email subscription list.
Search engines make it easy to find PowerPoint presentations, speeches and white papers. Use search terms such as .ppt, .doc and .pdf.
On Web sites, topics such as investor relations often include annual reports (even for private companies).
Forms that ask “How did you hear about us?” provide a list of locations where the company is spending marketing dollars
After you’ve explored a competitor’s Web site, use other sites to learn about the organization. Conduct keyword searches on search engines, public records sites, discussion groups and blogs.
WayBack Machine — An Internet archive. Use this site to see historical versions of the company’s web site. It will help determine changes in branding and offerings.
F***edCompany.com — A site featuring company rumors and internal memos.
Alexa Obtain traffic information about the traffic ranking, page views, and reach of a competitor’s Web site.
US Patent & Trademark Office Conduct a basic patent search on competitors.
These represent only a handful of sites that are useful for gathering competitive intelligence. Based on your industry, competitors, questions and creativity, it is possible to find a wide selection of useful online/offline resources.
According to the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals, more than 95 percent of information that is required for gathering competitive intelligence is publicly available from open sources.
Troy Janisch is president and founder of the Icon Interactive Group (www.iconinteractive.com), an industry leader helping companies integrate Internet and other Interactive media into sales channels, marketing strategies, and overall branding. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.