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It should be obvious that knowledge about competitors is critical business information. Yet almost half the companies that collect competitive intelligence are not using the data to make strategic decisions, according to a recent survey.

The Academy of Competitive Intelligence survey revealed that only 55% of competitive intelligence managers and analysts said that their input made a difference on major management decisions. In addition, they said executive leadership frequently turned to them merely to confirm beliefs they already reached.

Companies spend about $20 billion on market research annually and about another $2 billion on analyzing specific competitors, says Benjamin Gilad, the academy’s president. Competitive intelligence clearly improves decisions.

Companies Benefitting from Competitive Intelligence

Pharmaceutical companies are some of the largest users of CI. Some have saved or made millions of dollars by speeding up the development of drugs in response to competitors, divesting drugs made unprofitable by competitors, and walking away from deals, writes Deren Baker, CEO of Jumpshop, which offer marketing analytics. Baker explains how to use CI in an iMedia Connection article.

Product releases. Learn what they offer and how it has evolved over time to spot market trends and opportunities. This tactic is especially advantageous in fast-evolving industries like the tech sector. For instance, less than a year after Apple introduced a mobile payment solution, Samsung rolled out its own version.

Promotions. Understand your competitors’ promotions strategies. Are they cutting prices or offering bundled deals or limited-time offers? Pay special attention to promotions in advance of special events, such as back-to-school deals, and modify your pricing and SEO strategy in response.

Corporate activities. Be aware of where competitors allocate money and resources, where they open new offices and what top executives they hire.

Sales data. Sales data is difficult to obtain but extremely valuable. If you can obtain it, scrutinize their sales funnels, website conversions, and product-specific conversion rates.

To gather CI, companies attend trade conferences, examine public records and read trade journals, Baker says. They can also subscribe to the competitor’s newsletters, follow them on social media, and read their corporate blogs.

 Sharing Media Monitoring & Measurement Insights

Comprehensive and integrated media monitoring is another beneficial tool for gathering data about competitors. News monitoring can capture all competitor announcements about the company and its products. Social media listening can reveal what consumers are saying about competitors and their products, and what they like and dislike about them, including possible customer service issues. Such information can reveal a competitor’s Achilles’ heel. If social media listening uncovers a negative mention of a competitor’s product, your sales team can reach out to the individual to establish contact and open a relationship.

Social media listening can also provide a goldmine of information on competitors’ social media marketing practices. By analyzing people who are mentioning competitors, you can learn about their audience’s profiles. That can help you better define your own target audience.

Measuring social media engagement can provide exceptional market insights. Companies can track trends in engagement levels, follower numbers, product messaging and other metrics. Some monitoring services can complete a sentiment analysis which rates brand mentions on a positive to negative scale. By comparing changes in sentiment of their brand to competitors’ over time, brands can learn if their marketing strategies are succeeding.

It’s vital for CI to share information with other departments. Even when companies monitor for competitors, the market intelligence it produces often remains in the CI or PR  departments and is not shared with marketing, product management, sales or other departments that could benefit from the information. As a result, many businesses fail to capitalize on the valuable competitive insights provided by media monitoring.

Bottom Line: Competitive intelligence is one of the most valuable kinds of data for businesses. News and social media monitoring provide effective and efficient ways to gather information about competitors’ marketing strategies and business plans.