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How to Avoid Being Reactive with Your Competitive Intelligence

When your competitive landscape is constantly changing - with new competitors, new products, mergers, marketing campaigns, and more - it can be easy to fall into a reactive mode. An event happens, it’s reviewed, discussed, acted upon, and by the time that cycle has been completed, another competitive event has occurred, and the pattern starts all over again. If you’re constantly reacting to market movements, it feels like you never have a chance to get ahead of competitors or anchor on your company’s vision. It can seem like you’re constantly chasing competitors or changing strategies.

So how do you stay on top of your competitive landscape but break out of the reactive pattern? Here are five ways you can get ahead to be more proactive with your competitive intelligence strategy.

1. Get Competitive Intelligence in Real-Time

The first step in breaking out of your reactive pattern is to get intelligence as quickly and easily as possible. When you spend all of your time on competitive intelligence (CI) doing research, you’re constantly discovering events late and getting forced to scramble to figure out your plan of action. Automating the collection of competitive intelligence is key to cutting out the time on manual research and enabling your team to get alerts in real-time.

Get your free copy of the Guide to Competitive Intelligence >>2. Focus on Your Competitive Intelligence Priorities

Competitive intelligence can be leveraged in many ways, but at any given point in time, your company’s priorities will be different. So focus your CI efforts - including analysis and action plans - on the areas that matter most to you. This starts by identifying your competitive intelligence goals - for example, informing an upcoming product launch, differentiating marketing promotions, or informing strategic partnership decisions.

Then, as unrelated competitive events occur, such as a competitor launching an unrelated product feature, you can table that intelligence for less urgent competitive analysis discussions. And as related events occur, such as a competitor publishing a new marketing promotion, you’ve already determined how and why you’re going to react.

3. Analyze the Competitive Intelligence Before Taking Action

While relevant competitive intelligence is always worth analysis, it does not always necessitate a complete change in strategy or tactics. For example, if a competitor launches a new website with brand new product positioning, this can certainly have an impact on your own messaging and differentiation. So it is critical to evaluate the new competitive intelligence, analyze what this means for your competitor’s strategy, and determine if or how it impacts your own differentiation.

If, in this example, your competitor’s launch leaves your messaging differentiated in the market, then you don’t need to change your messaging. Instead, you may choose to announce to internal stakeholders that this launch has happened, and to reinforce your differentiated messaging. Of course, if the launch does impede on your differentiation, you can kick off a project to re-evaluate either your messaging or how you’re communicating your positioning to remain competitive.

4. Plan Ahead for the Big Shifts

For particularly risky shifts that may happen in the future - say, a giant like Amazon entering your space with a competitive solution - you may want to plan your strategy ahead of time. This process of war-gaming allows you to think through likely competitive events that would have a major impact on your company. To do this, you would bring together the key decision makers in the organization to play out scenarios that could occur, and even play out potential response strategies. This can help your team iron out an ideal reaction should this event occur, and build confidence among your leaders that you have a strong plan for key competitive shifts.

5. Control the Internal Narrative

Helping your company get out of a reactive pattern with competitive intelligence goes beyond the individual CI leaders’ activities. It requires a culture shift in the organization so that the company as a whole feels like competitive intelligence is a tool in their tool belt to grow revenue, not an alarm bell that causes everyone to stop what they’re doing.

To achieve this, CI leaders need to be the first to deliver news about competitive shifts - easing concerns across the organization that competitors may be making moves that no one knows about. This will breed trust in the CI leaders that the company is on top of competitive moves. And this opens up the ability for CI leaders to put context around any shifts. When a competitor gets a new round of funding or lands a big customer, there’s no cause for alarm - the CI team can provide context around how this impacts the organization, how to talk about this externally, and reinforce confidence in the company’s solutions.

Competitive intelligence has the ability to impact all corners of the organization if harnessed to drive action. Getting clarity on your competitive intelligence strategy, your company’s priorities, and shifting your time from research to analysis, can transform your competitive intelligence approach from reactive to proactive. 

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Ellie Mirman
Ellie Mirman, a Crayon alum, is currently CMO at Mulberry, the consumer-first product protection platform. Previously, she was VP of Marketing at Toast, where she built and led the marketing function across demand gen, content marketing, product marketing, branding, and customer advocacy. Ellie also held multiple marketing leadership positions at HubSpot during its growth from 100 customers to IPO. She loves working at the intersection between marketing, sales, and product, and building marketing from startup to scale-up.