How do successful companies track their competitors -- specifically competitive communication and collateral?

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How do successful companies track their competitors -- specifically competitive communication and collateral?

Hello! Thank you for your question about how companies use competitive intelligence. The most useful resources I found in my research included Cornell University’s online access to the U.S. Code and resources by Competia and The Harvard Business Review.

The short answer to your question is that the best practices for compiling intel data include the use of one or more proven methods, adhering to legal standards, and accessing multiple tools to gain insights into competitive landscape. Unfortunately for our purposes, most successful companies do, in fact, use paid services to conduct competitive intelligence. In fact, many companies employ individuals specifically for the purpose of acquiring competitive intel. However, I was able to compile a collection of methods and resources that many organizations use to monitor competitor activities, many of which can be had for free, up to a point.

For communications specifically, the most common legal method is the monitoring of a competitor's social media activity. In specific regard to communications monitoring, one factor of note is that many methods are considered to be violations of the United States code. In my dive deep below, I have explored a number of methods/strategies and also included information on methods/tools considered to be violations of the law.


I began my research by searching for terms like competitive communications intel, competitive analysis, and competitor monitoring. This type of search led me to a number of resources that helped me gain some insight into the usefulness of competitive intelligence. From there, I began searching best practices for competitive intelligence and terms like "top methods for gathering competitor intel.” Then I began to explore the fine line between competitive intelligence and espionage. During the process, I uncovered a number of both paid and free resources for successful competitive analysis and monitoring.


Research published in the Harvard Business Review indicates that only about half of companies actually put their competitive intelligence data to use. In this study, 62% of the respondents were from companies that average over $1 billion in sales revenue every year. More specifically, the research concluded that 55% of companies use competitive intelligence data to make decisions, while 45% did not.


Many of the useful methods for obtaining competitor intel include conducting research legally available to the public. In my review of best practices for competitor communications intel, I came upon a resource designed to pinpoint methods that are both legal and effective across the board:
Published materials – e.g. local newspapers and press accounts
· Public filings – zoning, building permits, litigation, etc.
· Financial documents, such as competitor company annual reports
· Published financial information and broker reports
· Brochures, reports, other information published by or about competitors that can be collected at trade shows, exhibits, etc.
· Published market surveys and consultant reports Business contacts you have may also be valuable sources; these include: · Customers
· Distributors of competitive products
· Peers at professional meetings
There are also a number of encompassing strategies in place for the conduction of competitive intelligence, in regards to both communications and market placement. A few of these include:
· SWOT analysis - many companies use a competitor SWOT analysis for gaining insight into the specific strengths and weaknesses within that organization, these can include communication issues and collateral insights. However, it has been said that SWOT analyses are useful for organizing information, but should not be considered a guide for strategic decision making.
· SCP framework (structure-conduct-performance) – SCP is the process by which to understand how a stakeholder's behavior and external stimulus can affect profitability and growth. One of the pitfalls of this method is that it can be difficult, as it requires executive projections, but the insights provided by such a process are considered beneficial for strategic planning.
· The ADL matrix – the ADL analysis can help researchers to understand how an industry's maturity and its position competitively will impact strategy. The ADL matrix compares these two axes and the number of subsets within the axes.
· Porter's Five Forces – this framework offers a checklist that is used to analyze the competitive level of any industry based on the balance of power. This method of collecting data should only be considered a starting point. After the data is collected, the next step includes pinpointing a strategy to augment the chances of success: an integration strategy, a differentiation strategy, or a cost structure strategy.
· PEST analysis – this analysis is used in the early phases of strategic development to describe the competitive landscape in the overall environment within which a company operates. The PEST acronym stands for political, economic, social and technological.


Unfortunately, when it comes to conducting competitive intelligence research and acquiring communication data about a competitor, using some tools available online (or via mobile application) would be in direct violation of the federal wiretap statute or the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

The federal wiretap statute vehemently prohibits any interception of wire, electronic communications or oral communications without the consent of at least one involved party. This means, many of the applications and software's that are available today would put a user in violation of federal law should he or she use those applications to obtain intel about a competitor without said competitor providing consent.

In fact, the GAO published a report that touched on the fact that many of the applications available on mobile devices for monitoring conversations and communications, both of competitors and individuals, had disclaimers that directly contradicted the marketing language that had been used to sell those same applications.
In short, there are a number of different paid softwares and paid applications available online that will allow a person to secretly monitor and intercept communication of an electronic variety in any number of environments, but – doing so without the consent of the competitor would violate federal law and subjugate the user to legal action.
Misrepresenting one's self and one's intentions is considered a violation of the act, as is manipulation (that is, manipulating someone into giving up intel or information he or she likely wouldn't give up under normal circumstances). Some more unacceptable intelligence practices include:
·Theft (tangible or intangible property) · Bribery · Blackmail · Trespassing · Wiretapping · Receiving stolen property
· Clandestine recording · Eavesdropping · Misappropriation of intellectual property · Extortion · Price fixing · Market allocations of products or territories
Not only that but, "Under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, it is also prohibited for any person to convert a trade secret to his own benefit or the benefit of others knowing it will injure the owner. Under the act, a trade secret is broadly defined to include financial, business, scientific, technical, economic or engineering information that the owner has taken reasonable measures to keep secret."

COMPETITIVE INTEL FOR COMMUNICATIONS The most common methodology for competitive intelligence where communications are concerned comes in the form of social media monitoring. In fact utilizing a socially driven competitive intelligence strategy can allow you to capture conversations surrounding both your own brand and your competitor’s brand. This information will help you formulate insights and triangulate differentiations between your methods and your competitor’s methods when it comes to your customers experiences.

Because you can monitor conversations, mentions, and to evaluate reviews, social media intelligence can often bridge the gaps found in traditional intel methods. A couple of the benefits of social media competitive intelligence include:

Real-time data acquisition – social media intelligence allows for rapid, real-time data analysis in a way that traditional competitive intelligence methods cannot. There are often rapid shifts in customer opinion and sudden changes within the marketplace; each of which is often seen in the conversations taking place online. Using socially driven intelligence, companies can acquire real-time insights into issues and market concerns. This allows them to make proactive decisions rather than reactive decisions.

Answers to unasked questions – when companies integrate social media into their computer intel efforts, information about competitors is pushed to those companies effortlessly. Using traditional methods, companies have to pull information about competitors (focus groups, surveys, etc.) usually requiring more labor and man hours.

Free methods for competitive communications intel are largely in reliance upon individualized research (individually researching specific competitors, specifically using social media, to obtain access to public conversations and customer reviews, as well as brand placement) . Mass data acquisition is usually found utilizing paid resources. And most of the free resources offer only limited services until a paid account is acquired.


There are a number of both paid and free resources for conducting competitive intelligence, some more comprehensive than others. I was able to secure a PDF (here) that contains more than 5000 competitive intelligence tools. These tools are broken down into a number of different categories, including: Annual Reports and Earnings Calls
Company Profiles
Company Profiles by US State
Data Manipulation
Domain Information
Funding and IPOs
Government Spend
Marketing Spend
Patent Search
People Search
Social Media
Suppliers and Import/Export
Trade Shows and Conferences
Website Monitoring

The PDF contains links to each resource under one of the aforementioned categories. The majority of the tools offer paid services, but free trials and limited accounts can be obtained for many of the available options.

To wrap it up, when it comes to competitive intelligence, the best practices for compiling company intel data include the use of one or more of the aforementioned proven methods, adhering to legal standards, and accessing multiple tools to gain insights into the competitive landscape. For communications specifically, the most common legal method is the monitoring of a competitor's social media activity. Using one or more of the methodologies highlighted above, and accessing the tools provided in the PDF collection, will hopefully prove helpful as you conduct your own competitive analysis. Thanks for using Wonder! Please let us know if we can help with anything else.