Defining the Boundaries of Market Intelligence & Competitive Intelligence 

by | May 3, 2024

“So, what do you for living?” asked my dentist at my latest checkup, while removing his inspection mirror from my mouth to allow me to answer. “I am a consultant specializing in market and competitive intelligence” I answered proudly. “Oh, so you are a market researcher!” the dentist interpreted. “Not exactly” I said, or at least wanted to say, but he was back on with the checkup and that was that. So, let me share with you what I wanted to clarify about what Market Intelligence (MI) is, as well as Competitive Intelligence (CI), and Market Research (MR). At HelloInfo, we are clear about what we do and would like you to be as well.

What is Market Intelligence (MI)?

In today’s increasingly complex marketplace, any business looking to grow its market share will need to rely on solid MI. Specifically, MI helps companies holistically understand the market landscape around their business, make the right strategic and operational decisions to successfully compete in it. Although it is not a new discipline, MI has transformed over time from activities performed by isolated individuals/teams within a company, into a critical support function for businesses, akin in its importance to risk management. Published studies provide supporting evidence to the now-widely-accepted importance of MI, linking organizational MI capabilities to growth-oriented decision making. Essentially, MI puts critical insights at the fingertips of business decision makers.

Ok…I get that MI is important, but what is it?

Right, so what exactly is included under the MI umbrella is not set in stone, as each business would have its unique areas of focus. Generally speaking, MI includes the process of gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and presenting insights about the needs, wants, and current state of the market, including:

  • Market sizing & segmentation – the number of potential buyers for a product or service and the total revenue that those buyers could generate within a particular target market or a segment of it, which is a subset based on shared demographics or interests.
  • Market trends – analysis of an industry’s technological advancements, regulatory changes, forecasts, and other insights impacting the industry and the market segment within which the business operates.
  • Consumer behavior – explores consumer demographics, brand awareness, purchasing behaviors, concerns, and preferences.
  • Competitive landscape – the overall direct and indirect competition within the market and the market share that it controls.

Wait, if competitive landscape is part of MI, then what is Competitive Intelligence (CI)? Good question! Read on…

What is Competitive Intelligence (CI)?

Similarly to MI, CI encompasses the gathering, analyzing, and using information about the external business environment. CI includes an in-depth examination of the competitors, that includes but is not limited to:

  • Products and services – the features, technology, and innovation offered by competitor products and services, as well as the quality, pricing, and positioning. This allows businesses to benchmark their offerings and identify differentiation.
  • Company profile – organizational trends of competitors, including company size, key personnel, investments and acquisitions, market share, and recent developments.
  • Strategic Insights – competitors’ strategic goals, initiatives, partnerships, and expansion plans.
  • Market positioning and sales strategies – how competitors go-to-market, their branding, marketing strategies, target customer segments, sales tactics, promotional activities, and distribution channels.

Comprehensive CI provides businesses with insights about the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors, help businesses anticipate competitive threats and opportunities, identify gaps in the market, and develop/adjust their positioning strategies accordingly.

Is CI a component of MI?

A review of the published literature reveals the terms CI and MI have been often used interchangeably. To add to the confusion, MI has also been described as a subset of CI…What is going on? The truth is that there is no universally accepted definition of CI or MI.

After executing hundreds of global strategic projects, HelloInfo sees CI and MI as two sides of one coin; there is a need to understand the competitive environment when gathering MI and there are also elements of market trends and strategy in CI. In other words, MI and CI certainly do overlap, but do not necessarily fit neatly into each other. What separates MI from CI is the primary focus – MI studies the overall market, while CI analyzes individual companies. The key takeaway is that both CI and MI are needed for businesses to succeed and come out on top! We tried to further clarify how MI and CI are different, yet intertwined, in the figure below:

infographic describing the market intelligence vs competitive intelligence

Wait, the figure shows Market Research as a process for both MI and CI…is this true?

Yes! Not surprisingly, confusion lives here too. Market Research (MR) is most commonly understood as customer research in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space. However, MR is defined more broadly than just customer research; it is concerned with all data related to markets and competitors, leveraging findings from both primary research (primarily surveys, interviews, or focus groups with key stakeholders) and secondary research (e.g., analysis of existing data, studies, reports, and using AlphaSense). In other words, MR is the process by which both CI and MI are derived.

It is important to remember that the most well executed and comprehensive CI and MI studies are only as good as their ability to present key insights that are accurate, engaging, and actionable.

At HelloInfo, we specialize in visualizing the results of our analyses through infographics, customer journey maps, strategic quadrants, and more, all packaged in a presentation, report, or a custom output of your choosing. Whether your business needs a slice of intelligence or the whole pie, schedule a call with us to explore how we can help you.

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