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By: Billy Cripe, President, BloomThink

Traditional Competitive Intelligence (CI) is in a rut. Books, websites, white papers, and presentations all echo the same techniques and priorities that defined the practice 10 years ago. Research public filings, read credentialed analyst reports, talk to employees and former employees if you can. Be careful of blogs; they might not be trustworthy. Social media? Be extra careful of that too.

Traditional CI process and practice has largely missed out on more than a decade of change in the way businesses and employees communicate. The reality is that we are producing more information more quickly than at any other time in history. According to Google we produce as much information every two days as we did in all of history up to 2003! Some of this information is machine data and metadata. Much of it is user generated content. These are things like tweets, Instagram photo uploads, Facebook or LinkedIn status updates, as well as blogs, web pages, and shared presentations.

The problem is not that the traditional CI focus on interviewing employees and reading web pages was wrong.  Rather, the venue has changed.  Instead of needing to track down employees to get juicy details, the CI professional simply needs to listen to the public conversations that are already going on through social media channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Glassdoor and numerous other socially enabled sites.  This is called Social Competitive Intelligence.

Of course there is an art to the practice as well. Where in years past the traditional CI pro needed skills in finding and persuading employees to talk, the new, social CI pro requires superpowers to filter and categorize the flood of information we’re all producing. The new CI pro requires less sleuthing ability and more synthesis power; the ability to bring different facts together to form a complete picture.

Part of this synthesis means combining social competitive intelligence with traditional CI, as well as traditional business intelligence (BI). Both traditional CI and traditional BI do an amazing job of helping organizations understand what is happening, but it is Social Competitive Intelligence that provides the market, competitive, and social media context in which business operates. When you correlate BI, traditional CI, and Social CI insights, you understand the “why” of performance along with the “what” of your BI analytics.

Understanding the “why” is vital if you’re going to ever achieve the end of any CI or BI practice: figuring out what to do next. Data is not insight. Getting more data has never been the goal. Deriving insight from data is what makes intelligence actionable. The goal of any and all CI practice is Actionable Intelligence.

Actionable Intelligence spots trends before they take you by surprise. Actionable Intelligence spots gaps in the market that mean opportunity for new products and offerings. Actionable Intelligence gets you out front of competition and moves your business from a reactionary to a proactive starting point.

Here is a quick, real life example for how to estimate your competitor’s event marketing budget and get a hint as to when they’re going to launch a new product or service in 10 steps:

  1. List your key competitors. You know your market and the main players in your space; make a list.
  2. List key industry events. You also know your industry has several “main events” each year. These might be conferences, meet-ups, or trade shows. List those events.
  3. Most big events from the past several years have their own Twitter hashtag, Facebook page, Pinterest page, and even conversation threads in relevant LinkedIn Groups. Make a note of those.
  4. Search, Scribd, and other presentation/document sharing sites for presentations from your competitors at those events.
  5. Make a note of how many presentations your competitors had at each event and the number of different presenters they had delivering those keynote and breakout sessions.
  6. Make a note of whether or not there is a “visit booth #12345” in the presentations.
  7. Now you’ve got your data, start the synthesis.             a. Estimate a cost of $500 – $1000 per presenter per conference.

    b. Estimate a cost of $10,000 per small booth at a trade show and up to $100,000 for large conference sponsorship.

    c. Remember that you’re not trying to re-create your competitor’s budget, rather, you’re trying to determine if they’re ramping up to a big announcement or simply staying in maintenance mode or struggling to stay above water.

    d. Did they have more presentations, more staff, bigger booth, new sponsorships this year than they have in years past?

    e. Who is tweeting with the event hashtag from your competitor? Who is re-tweeting them? Who are they re-tweeting? What are they saying on their Facebook page? What are they saying on the event’s Facebook page?

  8. Combine the data you’ve overlaid to produce the intelligence. Is your competitor ramping up their spending? Is the increased spending significant for them? If they’re a small or medium-sized company, or a large company that has been struggling recently, a big marketing spend is a significant flag for upcoming activity. Remember that employees will tweet, post, and blog about items they know and that they think will help the company. So a competitor’s retweet of a keynote speaker’s point may hold much more competitive significance than mere interest.
  9. What should you do about it? Is there a way you can pre-empt your competitor’s announcements? Is there a bandwagon that you should be on as well? Do you need to take a legal action? Speed up your own R&D? Or maybe just continue to pay attention?
  10. Compile the key points, synthesis, and recommendations into an easy to digest report, dashboard, or brief. Make sure that every point you make is backed up by hard data that you found. If you say your competitor is ramping up for a big product launch because of increased budget spends on conferences and increased chatter, then make sure you can show that there was actually an increase over previous years. Strive for Actionable Intelligence and you will bring traditional CI into the new reality of social business.

Billy Cripe is the President of BloomThink, a social media strategy agency with a B2B focus. BloomThink offers social business strategy consulting, technology assessments, social analysis and campaign planning, management, and business process integration.

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