Using Open Source Intelligence to Analyze the Competition Competitive Intelligence

This post is part of a series, 12 Steps to Begin Developing and Executing a Basic Digital Marketing Strategy."

Understanding your competition is an important tool for growing your business. Competitive analysis helps differentiate your strategy, offerings, and content from the competition.  

8 quick ways competitive intelligence will improve your business:

1. Identify market gaps that you can fill

2. Determine how your market likes to be served; dislikes as well

3. Identify differentiated methods to attract prospects & serve your customers

4. Isolate, develop, and promote your unique value proposition

5. Detect your areas of strengths and weaknesses versus the competition

6. Analyze market reaction to your marketing strategy

7. Determine your market position

8. Get to know your customers and see them from different perspectives

The majority of companies are weak at analyzing the competition

I’d give the majority of companies a poor grade at analyzing the competition. There are many different strategies and tools analyze your competition. However, the Internet is the single most important tool for competitive intelligence. You can collect “Open Source” competitive intelligence to plan a robust competitive strategy.

Open Source Competitive Intelligence is ethically and legally gathering information from public sources

In this post, I’ll discuss 4 different Open Source Competitive Intelligence categories.

1. Communications Intelligence

2. Technical Intelligence

3. Financial Intelligence

4. Human Intelligence.

It is extremely important to remain within ethical and legal limits. This is why I must stress “Open Source” (Publicly Available).  Remember, even though it’s legal, there can be negative market consequences if you are caught. Read this oldie, but goodie from CBS News

Before we begin, write down your 3-5 most relevant competitors. Relevant because depending on your strategy, you might avoid some competitors. As an example, going after smaller or local competitors might be your best strategy.

Let’s walk through the 4 steps to conducting competitive intelligence. 

 1. Communications Intelligence is gathering and analyzing publicly available marketing, communications, and sales resources.

Examples: Advertisements, Content, Downloadable Brochures, Website, Social Media, etc. 

The first place to start is your competitor’s website. Figure out their target audience. Can you develop Customer Persona’s based on the information they provide? Are they targeting a specific demographic or psychographic? Do they have a mission / vision statement? What do these statements say about their customers and targeted prospects? Do they have downloadable customer brochures? Collect as much relevant information as possible.

If they have one, analyze the content of their blog. Who are they targeting? What is their content strategy? Are they teaching, selling, and/or providing value to their customers? You get the idea. Write down some of the themes and try to determine your competition's intent.

Now, move over to their social media accounts. Conduct a quick social media audit. What social media sites are they using to reach prospects and customers? What are they saying? How are their prospects and customers responding? Check the comments section. See if your competition is actually engaging or responding to comments.  

Follow your competitors on social media. By following them, you can stay informed on their actions. Use social listening to see what they are saying about their company or the market. Plus, if they are curating content, maybe you’ll learn more about the industry and gather thought leadership. If they have a newsletter, why not sign up for it?

Last, use Moat to analyze their online advertising. Moat allows you to see what and where they are advertising.

2. Financial Intelligence is information gathered from analysis of publicly available financial history.

Examples: SEC filings, news of deals, investor presentations, annual reports, and other financial documents.

Want to know your competition’s business strategy? Follow the Cash!

If your competition is private, this exercise is harder and you’ll need to do a little more digging. You can still find tons of information on social media. Companies love to boast about new deals and provide company news.

Conduct a search using your competitor’s name and also #companyname. Hashtags can uncover posts made by employees and partners. These posts might not come scrutinized from the marketing / communications department. 

If your competition is public, you’ll still want to do the social media audit as described above. Then move to the Investor Relations section. Download any Annual Report and Analyst Presentations. If they have recorded earnings calls, listen to those too. Recordings provide more context than downloadable presentations.

Conduct an analysis of their “say / do” ratio. Look at the information you gathered during Communications Intelligence. Compare that information to their financials. Sometimes what a company announces publically is aspirational. While following the cash, investments, show actual strategy and tactics. Or, they do this because they know YOU are listening. They are trying to throw the competition off.

Let me give you a theoretical example: 

“We are continuing to invest heavily in Product Line X to drive innovation and sales. Product Line X is a key to our growth.” 

This could be a true statement. Yet, their financials show investments into Product Line X are increasing by 15% Y/Y or Q/Q. While investments in Product Line Y jumped by 35% in the same period. Why? Can you figure it out? Are they setting up their competition to react towards Product X, but overlook Product Y? “Follow the Cash” and let it tell you where they are really investing AND divesting.

3. Technical Intelligence is information gathered from analysis of publicly available technical and product information.

Examples: technical papers, white papers, patents or patent applications, product specs, etc.

To begin gathering technical intelligence stay on your competitor’s website. Look at their product pages. Can you download any technical information on their products or services? How are their products, services, and offerings technically different from yours? What are their strengths and weaknesses?

If you cannot find anything on their website, try using your search engine of choice. Enter in their product title with terms like “Specifications,” “Instructions,” “White paper,” etc. Also, if you include .ppt or .pdf in your search, the results will narrow down to those specific file types.

Patents aren’t just your Legal Team’s responsibility. Patents and Patent Applications can be valuable to the marketing team as well.  Patents and Patent Applications are a little more advanced. You can use The US Patent and Trademark Office to run initial searches.

4. Human Intelligence is information gathered from a person on the ground.

Examples: information revealed through conversations with customers, field marketing, sales reps, customer success (service), etc. 

During the sales process, customers and prospects often reveal competitive information. They express likes, dislikes, needed improvements, and other information.

Develop a way to collect, analyze, and distribute this Human (Field) Intelligence. This can be a great way to stay connected with the field. It will help you understand your customers, and/or to enhance your strategy / product offering.

Gather, categorize, and analyze your Competitive Intelligence

Once you’ve gathered this information, you’ll need to organize and analyze it. List out your competitor’s strengths, weaknesses, and your opportunities by intelligence category. Combine it into a competitive intelligence package. 

Hopefully this post helps. Come back next week for a deeper discussion on Step 4 – Voice of Customer or sign up for my newsletter to receive it in your email. Feel free to provide feedback, what do I need to clarify or go deeper on? Is there anything you’d or change? Share this post with your friends and networks if it’s helped. I look forward to hearing from you!

Stewart Swayze

Are you ready to live an empowered and purposeful life as a Solopreneur? Yes! Is it wrong to want more, to find abundance, and to be fulfilled? No!

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