Dr. Benjamin Gilad – October 27, 2015
Originally published in Harvard Business Review

In most companies, marketers are in charge of assessing the competition. Because of this, close to 60 percent of all competitive intelligence professionals report to marketing. Yet the majority of marketers fail to use their competition analysts strategically, instead using them to gather more “recon” data. In other words, they’re taking a snapshot of the present, not coming up with a perspective on the future.

This is the most frequent complaint I hear from the competitive intelligence analysts in my certification classes: their marketing bosses are exceedingly tactical in their requests for competitive data.

The rise of Big Data seems to have only exacerbated this tendency. And I understand the appeal. Big data providers from Nielsen to Gartner to IMS specialize in painting a picture of the market at any moment. Marketers in the Fortune 500 companies are well known for chasing competitors’ market share figures to the second decimal point.

There is little doubt that Big Data and analytics are changing the face of marketing. But that doesn’t make marketing more strategic, just more precise. Instead of blasting a single ad everywhere, Big Data allows for incredibly targeted messages delivered to customer segments according to their very personal preferences and the specific media they consume. That makes marketing today analogous to guided bombs that changed the face of air campaigns in battles. Still, as military experts will tell you, air campaigns don’t win wars.

So marketers today have unprecedented “weapons” and “recon” in terms of technological tools and access to data. But what they seem to often lack is effective “war planning” — the strategic ability to assess likely future scenarios regarding enemy moves and countermoves.

There are, of course, exceptions — and other companies can learn from them. To get more strategic value out of your competitive intelligence analysts: