In the Information Age, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the vast quantity of data at your fingertips. The proliferation of open-source information has further contributed to this issue. For anyone conducting research for competitive intelligence this can cause both information overload and analysis paralysis. By using Structured Analytical Techniques (SATs), having a comprehensive research plan, and understanding sources for competitive intelligence, company research can be carried out in a more effective and efficient way.
At HelloInfo we clearly map out the sources we will use at the outset of any project. To do so, we rely on our knowledge of what a source will and will not tell us. The first places we look for competitive intelligence are detailed below, with our thoughts on some of the limitations of each source.
Company-managed sources for competitive intelligence
At the outset of any competitive intelligence engagement, HelloInfo first looks at how the target company is presenting itself to the world. While there are definite limitations to using the heavily curated content published by company marketing teams, there is also a lot we can learn from company materials including the company website, blog, social media sites, and investor relations documents.
In the age of the internet, company websites are the minimum online presence companies must have. The content coming from this source is vast and should be a competitive intelligence analyst’s first stop on their research journey. Information such as a company’s target audience, structure, product features, and pricing can usually be found through their website.
Virtually every company now operates a blog as part of their marketing efforts. While marketing teams are routinely used to create blog content it is not uncommon for line of business team members to create content themselves. The content produced can cover a wide array of topics: product details, future-looking themes and trends of importance for the company, details on company acquisitions, community outreach, and company values, amongst many other topics. In general, monitoring company blog posts is a reliable and consistent way to know what a company is doing in a wide array of areas. The limitation of company blogs is that an analyst will only be able to obtain a surface level analysis of the information in the blogs.
Social media presence in the 21st century is critical for business and companies will likely have multiple accounts on larger platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Facebook. While social media will be a large part of a company’s marketing and social outreach strategy, and the content will be similar if not a re-post of company’s blog, it can deliver insights into customer outreach and service. By monitoring a company’s social media presence, you can see how critical engagement with customers and community is to a company, providing indicators of a company’s strategy and how they attract or retain customers.
Investor relations documents
Public companies have an investor relations website where documents such as annual and quarterly reports are published. These sites and documents are a gold mine for those conducting competitive intelligence. Key metrics such as revenues, facilities/stores, employees, and growth strategy are consistently discussed in these reports. These documents are crucial to understanding how the company sells its product as well as how it sells itself. While investor sites are heavily filtered, often to portray the company results in the best light possible, you can gain insights from what the company chooses to report or exclude. For example, an analysis of Netflix investor releases indicates the company stopped reporting on churn rate a few years back. One can make assumptions or gain insight into Netflix’ increasing churn as a result and can then link the findings to company events at that time.
Externally-managed sources for competitive intelligence
Beyond sources published directly by the company, other third-party sources are a reliable starting point for competitive intelligence research. The benefit of these sources is that there is low, or no, curation of the sources by the client.
Customer reviews are an essential tool for grassroots information collection. In 2016 90% of shoppers read at least one online review before they visited a business. Review websites provide an almost endless amount of information regarding products and companies. With this much input and power, review websites such as G2 become good supplementary sources. The grassroots nature of reviews is invaluable when you want to see information about a company that is less curated. At HelloInfo we use both primary and secondary reviews and interviews to better understand product and the customers who use them. Having this unfiltered source is critical to competitive intelligence and product improvement.
Investment bank analyst reports from renowned investment banks can provide a wealth of information on public companies. Of course, there is some level of curation by the target company, as the analyst’s knowledge is limited in scope to what they read in the company’s financial documents or hear in analyst calls, or in one-on-one calls with company executives. However, analysts that have been following a company for years often have beneficial insights on the company or market that you might be able to tap into.
Other sources for competitive intelligence
Depending on the questions being asked of us, we may rely on a number of third-party sources such as industry press, conference proceedings, patent and trademark filings, news, and other specialized sources. Additionally, many times clients bring us questions we cannot answer through publicly available sources, in which case we turn to primary research.
How can HelloInfo help?
At HelloInfo we design every client engagement around the questions being asked. We will prepare a custom research plan and execute on it to give you the insights you need to make strategic decisions about your business. Schedule a meeting to learn more about how we can support you.