This is a stupid question, but not completely without corporate context.

Ben Gilad just finished teaching at the Academy of Competitive Intelligence winter core certification
(CIP-I™) program with Troy Pfeffer and Heather Hallenbeck. In every program, there are at least a few people from market research. This year one bright attendee was from market research. Ben was so impressed with her, he said: connect me with your boss’s boss. I will convince him to stop wasting your talent on market research. You should be in competitive intelligence.

If you are a market researcher reading his, don’t get mad. Some of his best friends are from MR. But you can do so much better. So what the hell is the difference?

The difference is in a name. It’s ironic: in corporate, where “action speaks louder than words,” terminology can make you or break you. In the case of this young bright manager, it’s detrimental to her career. If she lets him, Ben will fix it.

What’s in a name?

The common argument, advanced by some competitive intelligence “experts” that try to distinguish the “territories” of MR and CI is that MR focuses on customers/consumers (and by default, competitive intelligence focuses on competitors.) This is wrong on several levels. Demarcating territories is super important for corporate players, but it’s a myth that market researchers don’t pay attention to competitors. They do; maybe not as professionally and sophisticated as their CI colleagues, but in a simple/superficial way, they do put together some competitor “profiles”. We are not sure companies need more.

The real difference has nothing to do with scope (surely, competitive intelligence is not about competitors but competition, a huge difference). Simply put, research is not intelligence. It’s that simple, and that powerful a difference.

“Research” gathers info, collates it, packages it, puts it into charts, and sends it upstairs. Research is background. There may even be some “conclusions” or “implications” but that’s not research’s main role or focus.

Competitive Intelligence is not competitive research. True, some vendors train people to collect and collate information on competitors and call it intelligence, but that is misleading at best and their training prepares information practitioners, not intelligence analysts. But their market research says they should call it intelligence so they do.

If your job is pigeonholed as doing research, you’ll never be influential in strategy. At best, your input will serve to modify some product features, change packaging, improve service, or invoke a new marketing campaign. These are all operational improvements.

MR Directors do not get a seat at the table because they do not provide competitive intelligence. They can, but for that they need to understand what competitive intelligence is. The young MR Manager in this weeks class now does. It’s Bens job to convince the big boss she should do competitive intelligence instead.