3 Minute Read

Like any field of analysis, the nature of marketing and competitive intelligence (M/CI) changes over time. For example, digitalization has totally changed how we can access and aggregate data. But technology is just the tip of the iceberg.

The way that companies have traditionally invested in M/CI resources and initiatives no longer works, and ultimately leads to what we call the M/CI cycle of death.

-- Article Continues Below --

The Complete Guide to Market and Competitive Intelligence

Read Now: A comprehensive guide to competitive intelligence that actually works

Traditional M/CI Functions

During the past decade, a predictable pattern to how companies engaged in competitive intelligence activities emerged:

1. Something Surprising Occurs

Surprises are most unwelcome in business. They catch leadership/teams off guard and precipitate unprepared responses. The way many businesses have traditionally used M/CI is a knee-jerk response to something unexpected. For example:

  • Competitors make a move that was unexpected and set change into motion. 
  • Unanticipated M & A deals are closed.
  • An influx of new entrants suddenly enter the field.

Being caught by surprise is not only unpleasant, it can be panic-inducing. The “how did we not see this coming?” quickly turns into, “how could we have seen this coming?” The answer to that is, “we could need a better understanding of our competitors and the competitive landscape.” That superior understanding is achieved through M/CI.

2. Task Internal Resources

Once the shock of a disruptive surprise settles, companies take one of two tacks: task internal resources or hire a team to provide competitive intel. Old school thinkers default to the former, thinking it will be cheaper and faster. Here’s the problem with that thinking, even very intelligent people who have no experience with M/CI functions will undoubtedly be more expensive (in the long run) and require more time to deliver results. 

Here’s what happens most of the time:

  • A team is assembled, maybe across departments and primarily from sales or marketing.
  • They understand the brief: we need data.
  • They find data sets relevant to their industry from a broad range of sources.
  • The team quickly realizes they need more data.
  • Using multiple tools and data sources, they continue gathering.

At this point, a lot of data has been collected. Money has been spent both to overcome paywalls/buy subscriptions and to cover man hours. Everyone realizes there aren’t enough hours in the day to continue gathering at this rate, much less arrive at some meaningful conclusions about what the data is saying and what to do about it.

More people are brought on board to lighten the load. 

The Problems With Traditional M/CI

In traditional M/CI, well-intended, intelligent people simply hit a wall. Capacity is exhausted, resources are strained and the team itself doesn’t have the ability to generate results. 

Lest you think this is hyperbolic, the M/CI experts at Cipher have observed this same cycle repeat about four times for a single client. Leadership changes and the new team in charge sees the value of M/CI but history repeats and the same mistakes are made.

The good news is, these mistakes are avoidable. And, like most quality endeavors, it starts with an expert: a competitive intelligence analyst who understands their evolving role.

A Better Way To Do M/CI

Competitive intelligence may seem very straightforward:

  1. Collect information from relevant sources.
  2. Extrapolate meaningful information.
  3. Act on that information.

Plenty of other complex endeavors seem simple when broken down into steps like this. Surgery. Rocket science. Business development. And yet, the difference between doing something at an entry level (for mixed or negligible) results and doing something at an expert level (that propels a company forward) is immense.

Here are some of the more complex task that an expert M/CI analyst would perform:

Set Up an Automated System for Data Gathering

This begins with an accurate configuration. A knowledgeable M/CI professional will know all of the options, which is itself an advantage. This is no “starting from square one” operation. Starting with the right information, an analyst can then deploy software that will routinely gather, aggregate and even categorize data.

Knowledge360 Demo

Strategic Assessments

Information, news and data collection are foundational and preliminary. The value of M/CI comes when that collected information is interpreted and acted on. A market and competitive intelligence analyst can provide expert interpretation and strategic assessments. 

In other words, what does all of this data mean, not just to the industry at large, but to your company? Establishing this relevance is key to crafting an action plan that can eventually lead to proactive, rather than reactive actions.


A Top Insurance Company Outpaces its Competition and Better Supports its Customers During COVID-19.

Discover how a top insurance company was able to use their competitive intelligence software to stay ahead during the onset of COVID-19.

Read the Case Study


Faster Progress

Bottom line: an M/CI analyst will get your company actionable insight, faster. We liken the “internal teams” examples above to a Cycle of Death. Over the decades, we’ve watched countless businesses give up on competitor analysis and M/CI in general because of these breakdowns. 

Marketing and competitive intelligence shouldn’t take endless amounts of time and resources. The goal is for all of the collected and interpreted data to translate into real action. In other words: you live enlightened and without the ongoing risk of unwelcome surprises in your industry.

Want to learn more about how to turn information into actionable insights? Access our free resource and see how M/CI works.

Cipher: Hire a Competitive Intelligence Analyst

Cipher has been helping businesses perform useful, in-depth competitive intelligence for more than 25 years. Over the course of that time, we have provided intelligence services that give our clients a competitive advantage. 

For companies that want to make smarter, faster decisions, hiring an experienced market and competitive intelligence analyst is usually the best option. If you are interested in learning more about Cipher services, contact us.