Competitive intelligence spans everything from how your competitors are building relationships on Twitter to the multichannel methods they use to retain customers. And with the Internet of Things (IoT) starting to add data to the brands can explore, keeping tabs on competitors is becoming more challenging and more necessary than before.

When Everything’s Connected, Where Do You Start?

Competitive intelligence may seem counterintuitive at first — your time is better spent focusing on your own brand than fixating on your competitors, right? 

Not exactly. 

When you’re vying with other brands for your audience’s attention, an understanding of your competitor's strengths — and weaknesses — can give you a competitive leg up.

Burt Helm of Inc. identified the key to successfully using this “supercharged market research” as establishing your objectives before you begin, rather than sifting through endless amounts of data in the hope of unearthing something useful. 

Should you update your competitive intelligence goals to include wearables and in-home devices as part of the big data picture? Maybe. But first focus on data you can wrap your software around.

The Smart Approach to Competitive Intelligence

If you look at your competitors' backlinks, for example, you can discover the keywords they’re targeting, their link-building strategy, and the influencers they have a relationship with. You also get a window into another area of strategy that's grown in importance: content.

“Backlink research can also bring benefits to your content strategy, since seeing what content is earning more interest and links can help you decide what to create yourself." So says Gosia Letki at Brand24. "What’s more, using this method you can even significantly improve your content distribution strategy, not to mention getting an insight into your competitors’ keywords and SEO strategy."

There are many tools that manage different aspects of this, but the most effective (and painless) way to get the data you need is to find one that does it all. Moz, SEMrush, Brand24 and Brandwatch are all good options — the former two being great technical all-rounders, with the latter two offering more in terms of social insight. Make use of free trials and demos, as it might take a while to figure out which is the best fit.

Attack or Defense?

And you need to get started — because the most compelling argument for competitive intelligence is that your competitors are already using it on you.

“Monitoring your competitors will provide you with mentions of what their prospects and customers are saying [about] them online, including their sorrows and complaints,” says Letki. You can generate leads from unhappy customers, and jump in when consumers’ loyalty is wavering — golden opportunities, if you handle them right.

Letki explains how this is key to monetizing competitor research. But it's only a matter of time before your competitors do the same thing right back — if they aren't already. You've got do it better.

That can be a bit of a challenge with so much data in the mix.

For example, if one of your competitor’s unhappy customers is displeased with a faulty product they bought, it might seem easy to jump in and offer a fix. But there’s more to your competitor than its products. Consider:

  • Why that customer bought from your competitor in the first place
  • How approachable and helpful its customer care department is
  • How easy it is to contact customer care (Social media? Website? Live chat?)
  • What the competitor is willing to do to improve that customer’s perception of the brand and keep their loyalty
  • What methods it's using to communicate with and retain its customers

Have you ever been disappointed by a product but still remained loyal to the brand? It happens a lot. Think of everyone who hated "The Phantom Menace" but still rushed out to see "The Force Awakens."

Real-time competitive intelligence shows you where these loyalty gaps are. And with the right timing, you have a chance to sway that loyalty to your side. Competitive intelligence goes both ways. And in this case, attack and defense are pretty much the same thing.

And as technology for capturing additional forms of connected data become more sophisticated, you can direct dollars toward it — but not yet. Beacon technology, most wearable technology and augmented reality products are cool as hell, but they’re not “there” yet. And the only thing worse than being late to the game is being too early, with the latter being MUCH more costly.

Title image by Rohit Padmanabhan