Success in today’s competitive markets depends in no small measure on knowing your competition. The words Big Data and Competitive Intelligence are familiar to most. You hear them everywhere because they are key components of the online marketing world today. But do you know exactly what Competitive Intelligence is, and how it should be used in the most efficient way? If you are uncertain at this point, make sure to read this post, written in collaboration with Lara Vogel, and based on an interview with Jacob Hagemann, search marketing expert and founder of my company, Hoosh Technology, who happens to be passionate about high level competitive intelligence.
Jacob has worked as an entrepreneur since 1998 and has been involved in 14 start-ups. He pioneered the search engine marketing industry in the late 90′s and built his first start-up – Notabene.net – from a small company to a strong publicly-listed corporation. In 2010 he founded his second agency Searcus Group – a rapidly growing Search Marketing Agency based in Denmark and Switzerland helping companies getting more traffic to their websites and selling more products online. Jacob is a visionary and hardworking entrepreneur with a unique talent for spotting business opportunities as well as encouraging companies around him to improve and grow.
What is Competitive Intelligence?
Competitive Intelligence is the process of gathering and refining information so that it can be used to make strategic business decisions. In today’s online world, it is becoming increasingly important to benchmark performance against competitors; this is something Jacob Hagemann, search marketing and competitive intelligence expert, will be able to further explain:
“Competitive intelligence gives you the opportunity to make better decisions and better moves, by getting smarter about your competitors and knowing what’s going on in your market.” Learning about your business environment means staying competitive against others in your industry, as well as identifying opportunities before your competitors discover them.”
A New Approach to Competitive Intelligence
Before the digital age, companies were only able to collect a small amount of data, and ended up spending a lot of time analyzing it. This resulted in limited actions based on a small part of all the available information out there. The problem was that competitive intelligence didn’t really bring businesses what they were looking for. Today the competitive intelligence triangle is upside down, meaning that the amount of data collected is humongous, and the analysis is faster than ever, allowing businesses to act quickly based on this competitive intelligence data.
To illustrate what “new” competitive intelligence looks like, Jacob presented us with the Competitive Intelligence Triangle and its 3 As:
Online marketers are particularly prone to suffering from data overload as a result of access to all that data. As you can see on the new competitive intelligence triangle, the “Aware” part is where it all starts: tons of data to work with! This is why businesses need a good intelligence tool to break down overwhelming data into meaningful numbers, saving you time and keep you from missing those risks and holes in the market that mean opportunity for you.
Being aware of the data is one thing, but knowing how to use it is another; numbers cannot stand alone. Which means businesses will need to figure out how to analyze data and use them to their fullest potential. A good competitive intelligence tool will help a business understand data quickly so they can use it to their advantage.
All businesses use competitive intelligence…the question is: are they acting on it? As you have seen in our infographic above, the tip of the new competitive intelligence triangle is Action. It is important not only to stay updated about your own market position and the position of your competitors, but it is also vital to react quickly to the changing strategy of your competitors so your company doesn’t get left behind. For example, if social media is a big channel for your business, it’s important that you constantly stay updated on your competitors’ most engaging content because it could help you understand your core audience better and keep your from falling behind.
Seven Tips for Using Competitive Intelligence From Search
1. Gather Data Systematically
Every company out there does research about what’s going on in their market, but possibly without being systematic enough. Jacob believes many businesses could benefit from gathering and computing online data in a methodical way: “All this data is available online, just waiting to be used. What takes time is collecting it and figuring out what to do with it.” Transforming Big Data into actionable insights is the end result here, and that’s why you need a good competitive intelligence tool!
2. Get the Right Tool
Jacob explains businesses should focus on their most important source of traffic (where they get the most customers from). “If search is a big channel for your business, it’s a good place to start. But your biggest channel could just as well be email marketing or social media, if so that’s what you should focus on first.” Jacob argues that different business should thus use different tools as he believes there is no complete competitive intelligence tool on the market today.
According to Jacob, the perfect competitive intelligence tool would be able to cover all channels in order to capture all possible online data, “but what we usually see when tools try to cover all channels is that they do everything, but only 50%.” In other words, a good competitive intelligence tool should focus 100% on one channel. For example, you can use a competitive intelligence tool to understand what your competitors are doing and how they are performing in terms of SEO.
3. Keep Looking
To stay competitive, a business must not only be aware of its own performance, but also keep looking at what’s going on in their market, who is getting stronger and who is losing market shares. If you don’t have an idea of what is going on around you, you will miss catching those golden opportunities before they are made obvious to your competitors. Gaining an understanding of competitor strategy will empower your business to anticipate challenges and allow you to plan a better online presence. Not knowing your competitor’s search strategy could leave you “shooting in the dark” instead of targeting your own strategies and campaigns (whether organic or paid) and gaining online market shares.
4. Think Holistic
Marketing intelligence should be the result of a holistic competitive analysis so you get a complete picture of where you stand. The competitive factors of your market are important sources of marketing intelligence. A big part of intelligent business practices is having a clear view of these factors along with your market position in the competitive landscape. This includes detailed views of aggregated competitive web analytics, combining both paid and organic visibility. With some products, you are able to understand the competitive strategies of the top players in the market, even drilling down into the various content types. Your holistic visibility gives you the right idea of where you stand in your competitor market.
This graph shows who is leading the paid search and who is getting the most visibility from organic search within the New Cars category in the Car industry. This is a good example of holistic competitive analysis, combining both paid and organic search visibility of the top competitors.
5. Keep it Fresh
Basing your decisions and strategy on outdated data could hurt your business! Current and sufficient data is key, as industries move so fast. By the time you finish reading a traditional competitive analysis report, the data is too old to actually give you the relevant insights you need.
6. Use Indicators
It is important for CMO’s and Online Marketing Managers to get the impartial overview they need to make decisions, plan budgets and track their own performance up against key competitors. Competitive Intelligence should be done in a way to transform complicated Big Data into meaningful numbers, so all marketing people can easily understand and use our intelligence as a common KPI.
7. Stand out
There is always a certain amount of companies that want a share of the market and there will always be competitors coming in, growing, and leaving the market. Jacob explains that “you can’t base your business strategy only on what your competitors are doing, or you will always end up falling behind.” The pressure on the market is usually higher than the growth, meaning that someone will get “squeezed” and as Jacob says, “you don’t want to be the one getting squeezed!”
The Story Behind Jacob’s Passion for Competitive Intelligence…
For many years, Jacob had the vision to empower companies to make better decisions faster when it comes to their appearance in search and social media. The idea for a structured and systematic competitive intelligent tool came to Jacob at a SEO meeting in Germany; a German SEO team was working for a big client, performing some kind of competitive intelligence, but in a not so structured and refined way.
Seeing all these raw data files, Jacob started thinking about a good way to make it easy to analyze. He first created a report on Excel, laying out which were the high performance competitors in Ad Words and organic search, “It was a mess”, says Jacob, “but we sold it to a few clients who liked to see the data this way… It was very inspiring to hear CEOs and CMOs say wow this is a really great way to see how we’re performing on the market”.
Jacob and his team had just created a way to understand search on a higher level and look at competitive intelligence in a more systematical way. “After a while, the amount of data exceeded what we could do on Excel. It was too manual and time-consuming. It was becoming a problem…That’s when we decided to create a business.” It took Jacob and his team about 8 months to build the first version of their new competitive intelligence platform, which was first launched in October 2013.
Jacob continued the discussion by telling me about his idea to create a visibility score: “We wanted to contribute to the world and the online marketing industry by creating a metric that businesses could easily understand and use; a standard metric for all companies, ideal for measuring a website against those of the competitors, in a given market.” Jacob then explained that he was looking for a score that would also show users’ click behavior, because over the years, he realized that the click behavior is totally relative to the kind of SERP that Google is presenting to the users.
“A visibility score can’t be static; it needs to adapt to the SERP connected to the keyword. We need to simulate this as precisely as we can. This is why we built a user community that gives us data about search and click behavior.” Incorporating both paid and organic search results as well as a human factor into his visibility score is what makes it so unique. Thanks to a plugin installed by a community of users, data is sent to a server and is then analyzed: “In the end, our goal is to develop the most advanced algorithm to determine visibility in Google.”
What is your company’s approach to competitive intelligence? How do you gather competitive data? Have you found the perfect competitive intelligence tool yet? Let me know!
Featured Image Credit : pixabay.com