Marketing espionage and the art of competitive intelligence

by | May 4, 2020 | Public Relations

According to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, “Spying among friends is never acceptable.” But might spying among competitors be an exception? Brands can often learn a lot through competitive intelligence, the science of collecting, assessing and acting on data collected on brands, competition, and consumers.

It’s fatal in today’s marketplace for brands to operate in silos and place their products out there and hope they will sell. Just as military leaders rely on intelligence gathered before launching potentially fatal actions in the battlefield, wise CMOs rely on all the intelligence they gather before starting a campaign.

How to spy

Some things are easy to discern. Inspect competitor websites regularly to see what they’re promoting and what their focus is. Doing so paints a picture of their strategy as well as any changes in direction, pricing, and focus. A website makeover sometimes accompanies new initiatives or brands. Keep tabs on what the media is saying and writing about the competition as well. If a competitor is receiving more media attention, determine why and what it is that’s driving that. Place those reporters on the brand’s contact list.

Has there been any change in a competitor’s behavior like sponsoring new types of events or skipping those they had previously been associated with? If they belong to an industry group, what’s being said about them? What kind of awards have they received? It’s also a good way to discover new awards contests for the brand to enter.

Press releases are another good way to keep an eye on competitors. They clearly signal the message competition wants to get out. Setting up Google alerts on competitor’s brands to receive alerts. Periodically check the competition’s staffing situation. Are they expanding and hiring? If so, in which departments and where? The latter could signal expansion plans. What do employees and former ones have to say on sites like Glassdoor? Might some of their comments be lessons for a brand to avoid in the future?

Other things to look for

Keep an eye out for other signals in shifts by competitors. These include changes in pricing and even packaging. How will those affect the brand? Also look at any differences in such areas as support and services. Another key area is the competitor review and comments page. This can be invaluable in deciphering changes occurring not only with the competition but also among its consumers. Finally, check out the competition’s social media to discover how they’re attempting to reach out to consumers. What’s their subject matter? How often and what content are they promoting? Might these be helpful to the brand?

It’s an ideal world when CMOs can stay ahead of and in front of their competition but that doesn’t always happen. While keeping tabs on competitors may alert brands of what they missed or what may be around the corner, it does serve as an early alert system so brands aren’t caught totally off guard and can react more quickly.

As good as a marketing department may be, some things can still fall through the proverbial cracks without having as much intel as possible.  A competitor’s research and insights may sometimes be more spot on than others. At the very least, it helps to know what they’re up to.

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Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations: 5WPR is one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.

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