Is Your Real Competition The Competition — Or The Marketplace?

Businessman Hand Working With New Modern Computer And Business SuccessThis is about how insightful competitive intelligence ensures your business agility. Competitive Intelligence expert, Benjamin Gilad, in a recent article about competitive strategy in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), said businesses are mistaken if they think that competition is about, well, only about their competition. Rather, he points out, competitive intelligence (CI) is about the whole marketplace -- that is to say, you and your competitors are part of the big picture -- the key is making strategic decisions based on insights found in the competitive data, not the data itself.

Gilad says the vast majority of companies and executives confuse the gathering of the information with the use of the information to the detriment of their company's performance, so it's a mistake to talk about intelligence "collection". 

He says that many companies are wasting millions of dollars on massive databases or research projects that don't yield useful insight, missing out on the true value of competitive intelligence as a purveyor of strategic change. Another mistake he notes is throwing the data at your first available analyst or marketing specialist, pushing it down to tactical product level instead of involving key, front-line team members.    

"We've got to bring strategic intelligence back"

Information alone is not a perspective on change nor does it automatically lead to insight, says Gilad. "It's what you do with what you've got. In recent years, with the big data craze, collecting digital data replaced strategic intelligence -- and we've got to bring strategic intelligence back, he says.  

Businesses must look at competitive intelligence as a tool for strategy

* To create and sustain agility through competitive intelligence, leaders have to look at the market from the perspective of the big picture.

* The essence of the competitive intelligence perspective, the ability to adapt to changing market circumstances should be viewing the competitive set as a whole.

* Businesses have to connect the dots across a series of markets, brands, and competitors to identify key global insights that indicate both risks and opportunities -- and lead to the proper strategy development.

Bottom line for your bottom line:

Competitive Intelligence is a perspective on changing-market conditions. To become more agile, businesses must rethink the competitive intelligence process. This means identifying risks and opportunities early enough to allow the company to adapt its strategy to changing market circumstances or, in extreme cases, changing the strategy itself. 

In summary, to remain agile and successful with their competitive intelligence, businesses must:

  1. Recognize that data itself is not insight.  
  2. Look at the marketplace dynamics
  3. Involve analysts at the right level. 
  4. Build strategy in the context of the big picture.  
  5. Maintain "strategic early warning" capability.  

Benjamin Gilad, former associate professor of strategy at Rutgers School of Management, is co-founder and president of the first training institution dedicated to the CIP competitive intelligence certification ( His books include, The Business Intelligence System, Business Blind Spots, Early Warning, and Business War Games.



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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications

About Author

Seasoned strategic market communicator, Naomi headed public information for several academic and professional associations as well as founding Creative Brilliance Associates Market Communications. She created and published Brilliant Ideas for Publishers Magazine and authored popular newspaper trade reference, The Brilliant Book of Promotions, Sales Tools & Special Events. Simultaneously, Naomi savored the world as an adventure travel writer that included trekking on glaciers, fishing with saltwater crocodiles and swimming with piranhas. Naomi holds her M.A. from the University of Wisconsin, including participation in a unique industry-science-technical writing program.
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