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How to Conduct Deeper Market and Competitive Intelligence Research

November 16, 2023 (8 min read)
With the right tools, you can get more out of your competitive intelligence efforts.
Bolder questions and answers. Better cross-functional collaboration. Broader audiences.
These demands on the Market and Competitive Intelligence (M&CI) professional’s time have created pressure to evolve—and in some cases fundamentally change—the processes, content sets, tools and technology they use to deliver insights to their team.
However, if you don't know where to start or what data to look at, it may take you a lot of time to address those demands--if you can answer them at all. 
As technology changes, it's important that you keep up with the evolution so you can meet the ever expanding demands of your job. In this article, we'll go over how CI processes are evolving, the content you should be using for complete research, and the tools that will make it easier. 

Market and Competitive Intelligence research is evolving

M&CI processes are evolving, placing greater focus on communicating their findings and insights and less on research alone. According to one survey from SCIP, CI professionals estimated they would spend 33% of their time on research in 2021, while another 36% of their time would be spent on communication. In 2018, those numbers were 43% and 26%, respectively.

This 10% swing indicates that when it comes to research processes, Market and Competitive Intelligence programs—regardless of how sophisticated or advanced they may be—are becoming more efficient at delivering research, and that has only become more true in the past two years. The assumption is that M&CI pros are spending less time tracking their competitors and more time analyzing the results and delivering strategic and actionable insights. This supposition is backed up by the fact that nearly half (45%) of SCIP’s survey respondents reported they share M&CI insights on a weekly basis, up from 33% in 2020.

It is this increased efficiency, this ability to transfer one’s time from doing to thinking to communicating that makes technology a partner in the M&CI process, not a replacement. Technology helps detect data changes that would have been difficult to find in the past. It automates repetitive, time-consuming and/or lower-value work to help unearth hidden insights. Meanwhile, a greater emphasis on templates and collaborative spaces has made it easier for M&CI professionals to generate repetitive research, produce reports, save, store and share work.

Curating the right content

M&CI professionals aren’t just going broader and deeper on the competitors and audiences they track; they’re also choosing to leverage new sources of intel. Curating the right content set allows M&CI pros to understand and identify competitors’ unique value propositions and product differentiators, which can, in turn, inform future business decisions.
Expanding beyond typical data sources can help identify:
  • Competitor strengths and what your competition is doing right. This information is critical for staying relevant and ensuring both your products and your marketing campaigns are outperforming industry standards.
  • Competitor shortfalls, that is, gaps or areas of opportunity in the marketplace.
  • Industry benchmarks that give you a yardstick against which you can measure your own growth.
  • Customer feedback that will help you learn—directly from the source of your future business growth—what’s missing in a competitor’s product or service and where
    your product outshines the rest, as well as how you might add features to your own products to address unmet needs.
  • Company operations and how current conditions achieve or fall short of business KPIs. While previously tied to hard data like financials, stock performance, and sales, softer metrics like employee retention and satisfaction, diversity and inclusion, environmental impacts and corporate social responsibility have emerged as KPIs worth tracking and measuring.

A more layered approach to curating content combines publicly available information and direct field intelligence from tradeshows and other “in real life” (IRL) activities with premium newscompany and patents data. The combination paints a more complete portrait of a competitor’s existing and emerging positioning.

MORE: 5 ways cloud based data platforms elevate operations and profits

Sophisticated tools & tech

Content curation and process improvements aren’t the only ways technology makes M&CI more efficient and effective. Some of the trends we’ve seen in technology-enabled M&CI include:

Predictive analytics

Research and analysis platforms are getting smarter at predicting what questions you’ll want answers to... and even serving up those answers for you. Machine learning and artificial intelligence are better at highlighting patterns, analyzing results and communicating insights than ever before.

Interactive dashboards

The adage that a picture is worth 1,000 words has never been truer than it is right now, as dashboard-driven reporting takes center stage. A 2021 analysis from SCIP reported that only 60% of businesses have a centralized platform for their competitive intelligence efforts. Of those, only 22% use their M&CI platforms to communicate competitive insights. In other words, there’s still a long way to go!

Data aggregation

What if, with just a few clicks of your mouse, you could instantly view a comprehensive snapshot of your competitor’s business, including such things as company news, key employee moves, IP or product innovation announcements, patent filings, mergers and acquisitions, tweaks to the language around their mission statement, key leaders’ bios... even their earned media volume and sentiment? Aggregating thousands of pieces of valuable data into a single view, in just a few clicks from start to finish, is the future of tech-enabled competitive intelligence.

The future of Market and Competitive Intelligence

Here are some of the trends we’re seeing and hearing from customers that are shaping the way Nexis® Solutions does business, as well as where we think the industry is evolving to accelerate competitive intelligence.

An opportunity for M&CI consulting

Small businesses are often described as the lifeblood of an economy, and according to one survey, a whopping 94% of them plan to invest in M&CIYet six out of ten of those “developing” M&CI functions have little to no M&CI technology in place. This is one of the defining features of “mature” CI functions, which nearly unanimously (96%) have more standardization in their M&CI processes. Technology + maturity = the ability to deliver M&CI at a deep level, which is critical for making informed business decisions.
So what does it mean if the vast majority of small businesses plan to invest in M&CI, but 60% of them don’t have the infrastructure or processes in place to deliver meaningful insights and analysis? Especially when we know the business landscape is getting more competitive, and consumer trends point toward a desire to buy from smaller, more local companies?
In short: a real opportunity for M&CI consulting. Outsourced CI is already happening to some degree. Professional service organizations are sometimes contracted to develop market maps and/or deep, unbiased research on the competition. Consumer surveys and customer feedback can offer opportunities for sophisticated M&CI as well, but it can take a trained eye and deep familiarity with the right data collection tools—a skill not all small businesses can afford to employ—to deliver strong analysis efficiently and effectively.
That’s where a freelance or ad-hoc M&CI professional might come into play. A small business may not be in the position to devote essential time, people or financial resources to ongoing CI, but may find some appeal in, say, quarterly investments for a competitive landscape review.

CI = Customer Intelligence

As we’ve already discussed, a 360-degree view of the competitive landscape means that M&CI professionals always need to have an eye on customers and their competitors’ customers. That’s why we believe there is a place in M&CI for “Customer Intelligence.”
We’re already seeing key functions starting to merge, with increasing overlap between market intelligence, consumer insights, marketing campaigns, reputation management, media monitoring, and so on. Most brands can define, “Here’s how we feel about ourselves and what we perceive our strengths to be.” But that’s not what matters if customers
aren’t saying the same things.
This goes hand in hand with general industry intelligence as well, that is, how your application, product, service, or unique offering can solve a problem. The need—or the way you’re solving the need—isn’t set in stone, either; it can flex based on context. Any knowledge you can leverage about specific use cases will help you do business better.

The democratization of M&CI

Competitive intelligence technology can make it so that even non-experts can get the job done reasonably well in most cases. Just as citizen data scientists, citizen journalists, and citizen developers are on the rise, we can see a future that includes citizen competitive analysts.
In fact, technology-enabled Competitive Intelligence tools are already starting to democratize Market and Competitive Intelligence, because they enable novices to compile, analyze, read, and disseminate information very quickly. And as data visualization and dashboard views become even more prolific, those who don’t know the ins and outs of a specific industry will still be able to quickly get a sense of the market and who the big players and competitors are.

In fact, we have already seen shifts toward more democratized M&CI. In its 2021 competitive enablement report, SCIP reported that 79% of business stakeholders perform their own competitive research, with one in three indicating they do so even when there’s an M&CI function within their organization. This has only continued in the years since.

Get started with Competitive Intelligence research

The demands on competitive intelligence professionals continue to evolve, requiring more efficient processes, broader content sets, and sophisticated tools and technologies. As we have discussed, M&CI pros must adapt to spend less time on manual research and more time on analysis and communication. Leveraging predictive analytics, interactive dashboards, and data aggregation solutions allow for quicker insights and more impactful delivery. 
To stay ahead of the curve, your team should evaluate their current processes and toolsets and look for opportunities to incorporate some of the latest tech-enabled solutions, like those in Nexis®. This will empower you to find and share actionable intel faster. With the right blend of human intelligence and Artificial Intelligence, CI pros can tackle those expanding demands head-on.