Author’s note – October 16, 2019: This article was originally published on ShiftCentral, now part of LAC Group, on September 21, 2012. We’ve updated the post to elaborate more on the core differences between business, market and competitive intelligence.
It can be confusing and frustrating: you need insights and data to give you a competitive edge, so you search for good intelligence. What you find is that business intelligence, competitive intelligence and market intelligence are all vying for your attention and in some cases, people use them interchangeably or do not quite understand what each one represents.
To the uninitiated, they might all sound like the same thing. Even to those in the business, the lines might be a little blurred around the edges. But there are core differences:
- Business intelligence is about what your company is doing.
- Market intelligence is keeping track of what everyone is doing.
- Competitive intelligence is the nitty gritty about your industry, your competitors.
Knowing these differences will make your research efforts—along with your decisions on the tools and services you need for each one—easier and more efficient.
Business intelligence: Internal (mostly) data
Business intelligence (BI) is generally seen as the means by which an organization takes its own operational and performance information—sales, website hits, returning clients, new customers, costs, timelines, etc.—and converts the numbers into metrics. You can use BI metrics to ensure your company is performing efficiently by comparing your metrics to industry benchmarks and internal goals. It relies heavily on technology, using processes and applications to extract and analyze the data. In some eyes, BI has become synonymous with technology and tech solutions from major IT companies like IBM.
Market intelligence: Holistic industry data
Market intelligence (MI) can be described as a more holistic view of your industry and your place within it. It’s up-to-the-minute intel on what’s going on with you and your clients, as well as your competitors and their clients. MI encompasses a wider range of issues, forces and trends and analyzes them to describe the overall state of your market(s).
Another practice that can add to the confusion is market research, which differs primarily in that it’s focused more specifically on a company and its products or services. Market research is most often primary research, gathered by way of focus groups or client/consumer surveys. MI is often gathered via secondary research, including the internet, trade journals and news. Both views are valuable for assessing market conditions and opportunities and developing successful marketing strategies.
Competitive intelligence: The usual and emerging suspects
Competitive intelligence (CI) is about zeroing in on your immediate competitive environment: starting with your competitors, but often including key suppliers, consumers, potential disruptors and new entrants. CI is using research to keep track of developments that can have a direct impact on your competitive position. An example of this might be what your competitors are doing, and not just new product launches, but marketing campaigns, hires and fires, financial reports, news stories, etc. A trained CI analyst can help you connect the dots in your sector to uncover new opportunities and identify potential risks and threats.
Putting intelligence to work
Ideally, your company has all three “I’s” working together. Intelligence, however you gather it and categorize it, is key to informing good decision-making.
And of course other “types” of intelligence are getting their own share of coverage, including, of course, artificial intelligence (AI), which is the next level of technology, incorporating bots, machine learning, natural language processing and other tools used to streamline and automate information analysis. AI can boost your BI, CI or MI capabilities, yet the human touch remains the keystone for finding the most meaningful information, as well as making connections, generating ideas and taking action.
The two elements of external intelligence, MI and CI can be time-consuming tasks. But that’s okay, because they are the easiest pieces of the intelligence puzzle to outsource to a strategic partner. An objective, experienced provider can do the daily news scans, sift through all the competitor press releases, and perform the basic MI and CI analysis to make sure you read the relevant information for your particular corner of the industry. It’ll free up your time to focus on the more complex issues and focus on achieving your goals.
Don’t underestimate the power of MI and CI as strategic tools. CI and MI empowers decision makers with insightful information, which plays a big role in moving forward, to stay ahead of the curve and achieve both tactical and strategic objectives.
I invite you to explore our website to learn more about our research and intelligence services and capabilities and use our contact page to connect with me directly. I’d be happy to discuss how MI could assist your organization.