Some people say gathering competitive intelligence is just another pretty term for good old market research, but I beg to differ. Market research is largely general, but competitive intelligence refers to obtaining answers to specific questions regarding the company, its competitors and industrial trends. For instance, a printing company may ask whether the rise of digital printing will force traditional ways of printing out of the market. A fashion company may ask whether people like to wear bell-bottoms anymore when we’re past the 60’s. The list goes on, but the point is that gathering competitive intelligence via social media strives to get specific answers that can be acted on.
To the one million-dollar question all companies ask: will my competitor’s new product overtake mine? And yes, a company can find the answer to this through competitive intelligence research on social media channels. By monitoring social media, companies can track their competitors, and when it’s about business, it’s all about getting that competitive edge.
Take the eternal rivalry between Samsung and Apple for instance. Obviously, both have gathered extensive competitive intelligence on one another. When Apple was about to release its iPhone 5, Samsung was tracking the information real-time. So by the time Cook finished his statements and went offstage, Samsung was already following all the social media responses and drafting a counter-attack, which manifested itself as a viral commercial ad that mocks fans queuing for a phone “that looks like last year’s” on the very same week iPhone 5 was out. The result? The video gathered more than 70 million views online, and Samsung scored a record high in its sales of Galaxy S III, overtaking (temporarily) Apple as the US’s No. 1 smartphone.
This deed wouldn’t have been possible without the gathering of specific data via social media – every comment, every review, every relevant mention is taken into account. The power of competitive intelligence lies in its ability to offer answers to critical problems. Social media channels have all the data needed for an answer, and competitive intelligence research is the step in between that decrypts the data and gives it form.
For companies smaller than Apple and Samsung (and many are), the effect may not be that dramatic, but it doesn’t have to be – all companies need are answers to the questions that’s been halting development with the lack of information. Everybody knows social media offers you that, but not everybody can make use of the statistics. Perhaps a social media analytics is the solution, but the key idea has always been about knowing that competitive intelligence and social media monitoring should be put together. Once you do, you can get answers people can’t, and then you win.