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As a Product Manager (PM) or Product Marketing Manager (PMM), you’re trying to keep a number of plates spinning simultaneously. You have to manage your product(s) and their positioning, you have to monitor the changing needs of your customers, and you have to help bring new products to market. 

At any moment, a competitor could do something that disrupts all these plans and more. They could launch a new product or implement an aggressive pricing strategy, or they could start marketing directly to your audience. 

Alternatively, they could vacate their current market, giving you an opportunity to move in. But these opportunities tend to arise and vanish quite quickly. Blink and you’ll miss them, leaving you to explain why you overlooked a chance to expand. 

It’s a tough job. But it can be easier with the right kind of Market and Competitive Intelligence (M/CI) in place. 

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What is Competitive Intelligence

We define Competitive Intelligence as something distinct from Market Intelligence (MI) and Business Intelligence (BI), as each of these disciplines has a different focus: 

  • BI: Internal analytics about your organization. BI can tell you everything from employee productivity to customer behavioral patterns. Product development often starts with BI, when your data shows that there’s an opportunity to provide something new. 
  • MI: Market intelligence tells you about current conditions in the market environment. A detailed Market intelligence analysis will tell you about economic, regulatory, and cultural trends that may impact your business. 
  • CI: Competitive Intelligence is all about figuring out your rivals’ next moves. Are they planning to attack your market share? Are they launching new products? Are they in retreat, thereby creating a new opportunity for you? 

Most companies place a lot of focus on BI, often because they have such reliable data about internal operations. Next, market intelligence is a key focus. At the most macro level, you can simply look to the news and public data and build a picture of current market conditions. But staying current and seeing trends within MI data is very difficult without the right tools in place.

CI can be much tougher and messier. But it’s arguably the most important prong of the intelligence trident. We’ve lived through a decade of extraordinary disruption, with companies like Netflix, Uber and Airbnb all managing to change the game in their respective industries. 

Media companies, taxi companies, and hotel groups may have had excellent BI and MI. Their strategic team may have dreamed of some great new products to bring to market. To many, none of that mattered in the end, because they lacked an infrastructure that could help identify their rival's plan. 

How is Competitive Intelligence Used in Product Management?

If you’re responsible for product marketing or development, you need to know everything you can about competitors (more than just their pricing structure). There are three specific moments at which CI is essential. 

Competitive Intelligence When Developing Products

Every industry has a different product development lifecycle. Tech companies can build an app and launch it overnight, while pharmaceutical firms need years or decades to bring a new product to market. 

The longer your development lifecycle, the more you need a CI process. Competitive Intelligence can help you find answers to questions like: 

  • What existing products most resemble yours? 
  • How are those products branded and priced? 
  • What new products are your rivals working on? 
  • What are hiring trends, which may point to a change in direction? (For instance, an influx of tech staff might indicate a new digital product)
  • What tools and technology are your rivals using? 
  • How do customers feel about your rival and their products? 
  • How is Share of Voice distributed among your competitors?

CI can also help you to identify competitors that you didn’t even know about. In a guest post for Cipher, product marketing manager Iris Stein described how a CI project helped one of her former employers to save millions of dollars. The telecommunications company in question had begun developing a promising new product that didn’t yet exist on the market, and which none of their rivals were working on. 

According to Iris, the company had a limited CI strategy at the time that only focused on new market entrants. When she changed the focus to the whole of the market, she found that there was a previously unidentified rival about to move in. Not only that, but this rival was working on the same product and had a two-year head start. Without that CI report, the telecommunications company could have spent millions pursuing a product that would be obsolete before it went to market. 

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Competitive Intelligence When Marketing Products

Whether you’re trying to position a new product or keep an existing product relevant, it will always come down to the 4 P’s: Product, Price, Promotion and Place. 

As a PMM, you’ll need to know as much as possible about your competitor’s 4 Ps before you can make any real plans. For example: 

  • Product: How does your product stack up against relevant rivals? Are there any features or extras that give one product a competitive advantage? 
  • Price: You’ll need to know how your price compares to the competition, but you’ll also need to know more about their pricing strategy. What kind of margins are they running? What part does price play in a buying decision? 
  • Promotion: What messages do your competitors use to connect to customers? You’ll need a marketing strategy when you’re promoting in the same place. You may also see an opportunity to reach out to an audience that your competition is neglecting. 
  • Place: What channels do they use to connect with customers? Can you find space in those channels, or do you need to find a new approach? 

Competitor actions can influence your decisions in one of two ways. You may choose to play defensively, avoiding direct competition with a rival and instead focusing on the underserved audiences. Alternatively, you can play offense and attack a weak competitor by offering a better product or a better deal. 

Competitive Intelligence When Protecting Market Share

Many PMMs run their competitive intelligence projects on an ad hoc basis. When they’re making a big change, they raise their periscope and see if they can catch a glimpse of the enemy. 

This strategic decision making leaves you hugely vulnerable. Your competitor never rests. They are always looking for opportunities to exploit your weaknesses and steal your customers. To be fair, you should be doing the same thing - that’s how competitive enterprise works. 

A great CI strategy should be: 

  • Alert: You’re always watching social media, the internet, and other news sources for insight about competitor activity. You have a systematic approach to gathering and categorizing this information. 
  • Vigilant: The CI professionals have the right competitive intelligence platform to interpret data, and they can spot any market trends that may suggest a potential threat. They can also observe changes that may suggest a new opportunity is opening up. 
  • Responsive: When your CI produces actionable insight, you have an internal process for reacting to it. If your CI process is geared towards product marketing, this actionable intelligence will be passed to the PMM. 
  • Collaborative: A large CI project can help every department, not just product development or marketing. Each team with a stake in the CI function should come together and work on building a long-term CI strategy. 

Your CI project might start off as a part of your product development cycle. But if you put enough energy into it, it will grow beyond a single product, and become a vital competitor intelligence engine at the heart of the company. 

How to Get Started with Competitive Intelligence   

Competitive Intelligence is relatively easy to get off the ground. Here’s how you could approach it as a PMM: 

Analyze the competitive landscape: First, you’ll look at the competitors out there. Categorize them by sector and capabilities and you’ll start to see that your rivals share qualities and can be analyzed by type or whatever the shared quality is. 

Identify similar products: Investigate the most relevant rivals and try to find the products that might compete with yours. Pay close attention to the differentiators - what makes the rival product stand out? 

Perform a SWOT analysis: For each competitor, start mapping out their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. This will help you anticipate their future plans and adjust your strategic decisions according to your SWOT analysis.  

Build a detailed profile of each product: Create an extensive dossier about each rival product. Ideally, you should know it as well as you know your own products. This will allow you to perform a detailed comparison. 

Share your findings with other teams: Other teams will benefit enormously from your competitive analysis and provide an additional perspective that may add to your understanding. Sales, for instance, will find it much easier to close a deal if they know all of the strengths and weaknesses of rival offerings. 

As your operation scales up, you’ll start to find that maintaining your growing information sets is becoming an increasingly burdensome workload and cutting into your other responsibilities or your weekend. That’s when it’s time to start thinking about a dedicated competitive intelligence tool like Knowledge360. Tools like ours automate much of the necessary but repetitive low-value work required for Competitive Intelligence analysis. There are many types of CI software tools on the market, some even have built in collaboration tools, so you’ll be able to share the load with other teams. 

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