Sports fans: when your favorite team hits a rich vein of form, winning week after week, and can’t put a foot wrong, you love them - right?

Even that big-money summer signing who hasn’t quite set your pulse racing. 😒

But what happens when the wins dry up, and your beloved club couldn’t buy a draw, let alone a win? Then, things get tricky, and patience can become fraught.

The same principle applies to competitive intelligence; when things are going well and the results are paying dividends, product marketers are very quick to sing its praises (and rightfully so, we might add!)

However, as is the case with the very best sports teams, there are sometimes challenges that rear their head - tribulations tough enough to test the hardest of product marketers.

Problems when gathering competitive intelligence isn’t uncommon (hence, why we treated you to 30 CI tips 😉). After all, as the saying goes: “anything worth having, doesn’t come easy”, and believe us when we say competitive intelligence can be worth its weight in gold.

In this article, we'll be focusing on:

Why is gathering competitive intelligence useful?

Competitive intelligence is useful because it gives PMMs an understanding of the activity of market rivals. These insights can be used as a preventative measure against making the same mistakes as other companies.

Let’s take a look at the fast-food industry to bring this to life.

In the late 1990s, hamburger chain McDonald's introduced the McHotdog to its menu, with the surprise addition capturing the attention of fast-food competitors, as well as their customer base.

McDonald's McHotdog is an example of why competitive intelligence can help businesses avoid unnecessary mistakes.

In theory, it was a masterstroke: how many burger chains also gave their customers the option of buying a hotdog instead?

In reality, however, the McHotdog bombed - badly. So much so, even a seasonal release in 2002 couldn’t add some juice into the dead dog of the nineties.

The point of this food-themed anecdote? We 100% guarantee McDonald's rivals' would’ve been watching proceedings like hawks; any sign of success and they’d be releasing their own version before you could say ketchup and mustard.

Competitive intelligence in this instance saved other brands time, money, (and their pride). McDonald's took the hit, and life moved on.

Gathering competitive intelligence can also do wonders for your pricing strategy, as it gives you an idea of how much your direct and indirect competitors are charging your targeted customers.

Let’s move away from the fast-food analogy and sink our teeth into the gaming industry to put more meat on the bones.

Since Microsoft released its first XBOX console in 2001, the company has been vying for gamers' attention with Sony, manufacturers of the hugely popular Sony Playstation.

The rival between Sony and Microsoft highlights how pricing strategies are shaped by competitive intelligence.

In 2020, both companies released their new consoles, the Playstation 5, and XBOX Series X. In the build-up to the launch, Microsoft opted to make their pricing public first, no doubt in a bid to stave off competition and gain the upper hand in the build-up to the festive shopping season.

However, in blinking first, Microsoft left themselves wide open in the pricing stakes. Sony’s response? They matched the cost of the XBOX Series X. After all, the hard work had been done for them - it’s a textbook example of an instance when gathering competitive intelligence pays dividends.

The rest, as they say, is history. 🎮

Challenges when gathering competitive intelligence

A lot can be said about the benefits of competitive intelligence, but sometimes, you’ve got to overcome a few obstacles to reach the pot of PMM gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow.

“At my company, there aren’t enough resources. I’m the only PMM.”
“There are a few areas I’m struggling with. I find it difficult to complete an apples to apples comparison, while it’s also tough to find pricing, hard to distinguish what a company does from their marketing hype.”
“It’s difficult to keep every single piece of intel up-to-date.”
“The market we're serving is still light years behind in terms of IT usage. Which makes looking up info that much more complicated.”
“We have no standard framework to work with.”
“We operate in a highly competitive space, in which buyers have traditionally been more focused on functionality rather than value. The biggest challenge we've had is getting our sellers onboard in selling value and solution over functionality, by trying to equip them with the value differentiators our product has over our competition.”
“Our industry does not have a ‘free trial’ standard, so it makes it hard for us to try the competitive product. We must rely on their customer reviews and other second-hand intel.”
“So much vital information is gated. Therefore, it’s time-consuming to collect and very reliant on customers. We don't have a competitor intel platform that can collect information for us.”
“We struggle with focus and prioritization. Most of the players in our space are not competition. Our offerings are not comparable and our target customers are not the same. We mistake everyone in the industry as potential competition.”

Remember, we’ve highlighted these challenges to make sure you can do everything in your power to negate the same issues. There are a string of competitive intelligence tools available that can help you and other product marketers execute the process with precision.

Add to that, with reports such as our very own Competitive Intelligence Trends 2020 out there for public consumption, there’s a berth of information geared towards educating PMMs about the topic.

The more you know, the better you’ll perform, so if you haven't read it already, get your copy and dive in. 📖

How to identify your competitors

If you don’t know who your competitors are, you’ll find yourself adding your own struggles to the list above.

Gathering competitive intelligence is a fun part of product marketing - after all, do your friends get paid to spy on and outwit other companies? No. Didn't think so.

Here’s how you can start the process by identifying direct and indirect competitors. 👇

Direct and indirect competitors

First and foremost, you need to know who your direct and indirect competitors are. Direct competitors are businesses that offer the same services as you, while indirect competitors may not offer the same services, but the services on the table will be very similar.

Think McDonald's and KFC. Both are fast food restaurants, but while one is known for chicken, the other dishes up trademark hamburgers - they’re indirect competitors.

Scope the market

You’ve earmarked the competition - awesome. Now, it’s time to familiarise yourself with their products.

Leave no page unturned: check out pricing, features, specs - everything they do, you wanna know it.

Ask yourself:

  • How are the products distributed?
  • Which methods are used to differentiate products from competitors?
  • Does the company offer a budget or costly product?
  • What’s their market share?
  • What are the main needs and characteristics of their customers?
  • Does their online pricing differ from their pricing in-store?

Identify their marketing methods

Marketing makes the world of consumerism turn around - and you wanna bring your competitors' world to a grinding halt.

There’s no such thing as being too inquisitive when it comes to competitive intelligence, so when you’re mapping our marketing, make sure you can confidently answer these questions:

  • Do they publish regular blog content?
  • Do they favor graphics, such as infographics, to communicate with their audience?
  • What advertising campaigns are being used?
  • Is there an FAQ section for customers?
  • PMA has two podcasts: Product Marketing Life and Product Marketing Insider; do they upload a downloadable podcast?
  • Do they have videos, webinars, and articles?

Also, don’t neglect the importance of sales tactics, content strategies, preferred social media platforms, and marketing methods.

We’ve said it before, and we’re going to say it for the umpteenth time: competitive intelligence isn’t a piece of cake. That said, it isn’t impossible, by any means. Heed our advice, plan meticulously, and you’ll reap the rewards.

Now, go snoop. 👀

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