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Where to Start

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With spring in the air, there is nothing better than a walk in the countryside. The natural environment shows us it is a highly competitive and tough environment. There are new things born all the time at this time of year.

Intelligence gives you insight into the market.

But it is easier said than done.

When asking us to find intelligence on their competitors and markets, some of our clients struggle to determine what they really need.

The problem is that the subject can be too vast, without the parameters needed to define the scope of the research.

Because we want to build long term relationships – and because our researchers need clarity in their objectives – we suggest you consider this process next time you need some intelligence:

Competition: Agree who you believe to be your main direct and indirect competitors.
Markets: Answer these questions. What markets you are looking at? Are they new or existing markets? Do you know enough about them?
Engagement: Define what you need to know and what you will do with the intelligence.
Create an Intelligence Statement, which should be no more than two lines and ideally one sentence.
Questions: Agree on a set of Key Intelligence Questions (and associated actions) which need answering. Any more than five and you should consider splitting the project in two.
Actions: Ask what are you going to do with the Competitive Analysis once you have it.

Any Competitive Intelligence Agency worth their salt will want to work with you on these questions to find the right Competitive Analysis.
These questions will create structure, clarification, a focus, reduced mission creep and a certainty that the relevant intelligence has (or hasn’t) been found.

In the future, you may want to introduce relevant ongoing monitoring and reporting that uses structured analytical techniques to improve the quality of your Intelligence Analysis.

Gaining such levels of intelligence will enable you to make better decisions and create sustainable and truly effective marketing campaigns.

It’s time to stop keeping data in silos

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Your data has hidden depths

It’s time to stop keeping data in silos.

The key to your next brand-rocking campaign could lie within your powerful competitive intelligence but unless you know how to turn that information and intelligence into inspiring marketing messages, and then get these messages out there to the right audience in the real world – you’ve still only explored the tip of the iceberg.

You could be doing more with your intelligence.

Turn insight into action and outcomes.

Put your marketing brains on.

The benefits of combining intelligence and marketing could include:

    • improved customer relationships and customer retention
    • wider or more profitable customer attraction
    • damage limitation and brand clarity – and more.

Don’t let your Intelligence end with the report – use it to improve marketing by driving insight-led campaigns to show the rest of the world how amazing you really are, compared to your competitors.

The facts are at your fingertips.
Use them.

That’s why octopus works with Verballistics and Inbetween within our core intelligence product and our Brand Intelligence offering – to identify the hidden potential embedded within the intelligence that we conduct for our clients.

You’ve got the report, now what?

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The value of competitive intelligence cannot be underestimated

It can pave the way for new, effective strategies, allow you to get an edge on your rivals and help you discover insights that can change the way you do business, forever.

But unless intelligence and the key recommendations are applied, there is a risk that its value can become hidden, or lost, forever. As you may know octopus help companies make better decisions because, thanks to us, they have the right intelligence at their fingertips.

Our intelligence gives them the power of knowledge; the power to change the way they do business – and potentially the power to change lives.
But in large companies, Competitive Intelligence is often requested by one party in order to solve a particular problem and then shelved.

Hoarding should be outlawed!

Imagine if, instead of hoarding intelligence once the original questions have been answered and was shared around the business in a way that added value to every department it touched.

Answering simple questions about your competitors often leads to a myriad of potential opportunities. And early warning of threats. It’s actually an iceberg – the first piece of information is simply the tip; the rest of its ability to change your business for the better could be hidden far below the immediate answers.

Competitive intelligence can obviously be used to benefit your research and product development departments, and your sales strategy. But it can also provide a direct and indirect benefit to your marketing strategy.

That’s why octopus works with Verballistics and Inbetween Together we produce a core intelligence product, a Brand Intelligence offering, and a Content Strategy solution – to identify the hidden potential embedded within the intelligence that we provide for our clients.

Falling in love with your competitors

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Falling in love with your competitors

You don’t need us to tell you it’s soon Valentine’s Day. But you may be surprised to hear we believe it’s time for you to start loving your competitors.

They may take business from you. You may take customers from them. They can certainly be a major pain in the backside. So why fall in love? The truth is, your next big idea – the sort that transforms your business – may come from your competitor.

Your competitors can spark great ideas for you too

Look at it this way. They may be doing something well, but look closely and you might see what you can do differently and better. Learning from their mistakes is usually easier for you than it is for them. You can look at the situation with a clear mind, with no emotion or detail clouding your judgement.

Understanding your competitors means understanding your customers

You can progress what they’re doing into a better product or service without having to pay for the error. You can find inspiration in what is working well for them. Understand your competitors and you will have a better understanding of your market. And the more you know about your market, the better chance you have of finding better customer solutions and new opportunities.

Enter your competitors’ world

A great way to be perceived as an expert in your field is to use social media to congratulate your competitor when they have won a deal or launched a new product. It shows you have your finger on the pulse of your market, while your customers (and prospects) may think you have their best interests at heart.

Are they threatened by you?

This action develops trust and, suddenly, you are seen as industry thought leaders. All the information is already out in the open, so you are not risking much. But if they thank you, it shows they do not threaten you, and there is a good chance their customers will take a closer look at you. If on the other hand they ignore you, the market will note your kindness and their actions will also be noted. Pack your congratulatory message with keywords, and it will help you appear in Google searches.

Let’s hope they’re looking at you too

There is something worse than your competitors watching what you’re doing…when they’re not looking at you. If they don’t take a keen interest, you need to quickly understand why. Your competitors can unlock new ideas for meeting your customer’s needs, you’ve got to love them for that, haven’t you?

Any questions? Feel free to get in touch with us on hello@octopusintelligence.co.uk

How do they plan to compete with you the future?

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With a new year around the corner, it is a time when some reassessment of your position could be in order.
If competitors are consistently beating you, how much revenue have you lost?
How much has easily avoided strategic and tactical mistakes cost your company over the past 12-24 months?
If you could step around those mistakes and shut out your competition, what would that be worth?
Get to know your competitors and disruptors very well.
These questions may offer some direction:

    • How do they plan to compete with you the future and how committed are they to achieving their declared strategic objectives? Are they capable of doing what they want to do?
    • How does their management team think and act? Can they become disruptors or are they tired and reactive?
    • What is their vision? What do they tell the press or their people about their plans?
    • Do their objectives get in the way of your company?
    • What options are open to you for dealing with an ever changing competitive environment, an emergence of new “more powerful” rival or the transform of technology?
    • Where do they compete with you? In what segment and which clients and how do they differentiate themselves and their offerings?
      What makes your competitors the choice of some of your customers?
    • What, in the eyes of your customers, differentiates “them” from “you”?
    • What do their financials look like? How do your competitors make money and profits?
    • Do they make their profits from having created better products and services?
    • How much cash do they have?
    • Can they react to impacts that you might make in the marketplace?
    • How much funding have they raised to date? When was it raised? Why and have they used it well?
    • What are their future intentions? Not an easy question to answer, but it should be one of the most important questions that you try to answer.
    • Could they be acquired or are they looking to buy?
    • What could they do to achieve growth?
    • In the next three years, which segments will your competitors be targeting?

Risk from new disruptive competitors

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It is very common to get caught out thinking you have the best products and your competitors are not a good as you. It used to be the case that companies could see disruptive innovation within their industry.

As long they were looking out for it (which was not always the case) they had the skills and strategies to migrate the risk associated with that competitor who brought out their new shiny product.

Historically companies took some notice of new competitors entering their market. These competitors started off agiler than them and gained market share by offering cheaper alternative products.These products would then improve, and they would also move into the higher end market.

There was always plenty of time for you to take action as the disruptive competitors took some time to gain market share.

Disruptors are here

New entrants to your market can now fire disruptive, innovative products into your customers using instant communication, cloud computing, mobile applications and Machine Learning.These technological developments have brought a new risk – speed.

The traditional company would always have time on their side, but with technological advances new entrants means they can become a major success (and pain in the neck) overnight. With Machine Learning and powerful supporting innovative networks time is going to become even more critical when evaluating risk.

Your current competitors next week could be gone with new ones replacing them from other industries. Machine Learning means it that it is will be even harder to see that freight train coming down the track, because the tracks don’t even exist anymore.

It is time to rethink competitive risk and understand this disruptive world.
Don’t make it easy for competitors to enter your markets.
Time is not on the disruptors side either. They may be able to offer innovative and cheaper alternatives, but it is possible that they will need to make a profit fast before their money runs out.

Collaborate with your traditional “friendly” competitors to make it harder for disruptors. Get to know the signs of market disruptions. Who is playing with what ideas? Get to know visionaries in your industry and keep speaking to your customers.

Innovations coming into the market may make some of your traditional offerings and assets worthless. Review what you are selling and which of your assets are still useful and relevant.

Think about which brand names and patents could be used to fight the disruptors and determine what potential disruptors could look like.
Above all, if you don’t have a Competitive Intelligence strategy monitoring your current business environment, what chances do you have of seeing disruptors?

As well as embracing it, companies who are going to survive the rise of Machine Learning need understand why they win or lose business and where their strengths and weaknesses are.

It is not just the hard facts like their competitor’s ROI, cost of manufacture, revenue, profit etc. Know your current and future competitors and the products/services they sell, why their customers like them and how they do things to get their product/service to their customer.

War Games

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War Games: a new weapon to advance your business

Are you looking to move ahead of your competition? Do you need fresh insight to make important decisions while keeping your team onside? Are you facing a tricky situation and need to change the direction your ship is heading?

Make better informed decisions

Here’s a great way to make better informed decisions. It’s called War Games, and it’s one of the best tools in the Competitive Intelligence armoury.

A War Game is a military and business exercise which you carry out to test or improve your tactical expertise. Different scenarios and actions are thrown into the exercise, and teams have to react to them. These teams represent your company and your competitors. It’s a highly effective way to test your assumptions about your ever-changing competitive environment, also helping your organisation to better understand itself and move forward confidently.

How to play a War Game

Playing a War Game is rather like playing a board game such as Risk or Chess.

First, split your people into teams. Each team should represent a competitor and other external influences such as a government or regulator. One team must represent your own company. The teams acting as your competitor must become your competitor. They should study them, and think how they think. They should research them and get under their skin. Each team should map the current business situation and assess what could happen in the future.

You will need an umpire to assess each teams’ success and determine how realistic their plans are, and an independent external facilitator to avoid your company culture and viewpoints leaking into the findings.

Next, create a number of rounds to represent a period of time spanning a couple of months (if you are being tactical) or one or two years (to be more strategic).

Creating a new strategy

Once each team has an understanding of the competitor it represents, it goes away to create a growth strategy to enable it to win the game. The strategy and plans must be realistic. It’s important that each team must be able to achieve its strategy in real life.

The teams must then reconvene and present their plans. The opposing teams and judges can ask probing questions. This questioning represents the end of the 1st round. Assumptions are explained, and the teams can use a myriad of software analysis tools available to do so.

However, it is essential that the War Game is run in an old-fashioned way. This means people interacting face-to-face in the same room (with break-out rooms) using paper, flip charts, pens and Post-It notes. You need to feel what’s going on and watch the teams’ reactions to feedback and comments from the umpires and other teams.

Reviewing plans

The 2nd round consists each team going away and reviewing their plans and strategies following the 1st round’s presentations. As well as presenting its plans, each team should also attempt to predict the other teams’ thoughts and ideas and perhaps counter what the other teams are planning to do.

For each strategy and action plan, teams must detail the resources and funding needed. If they are not currently available to the competitor, they should tell the judges how they intend to get them.

Rule nothing out

The whole process can get very heated and feel very real, and the passion will bring some cracking ideas to the fore. War Games also prove to be great fun for everyone taking part.

Military and intelligence organisations play such strategic games all the time, answering questions like “What if Israel joins the bombing campaign in Syria?” or “What if Russia invades Lithuania?” You can do the same. “What if Competitor X brings out a game-changing product?” etc.

Throughout, nothing should be ruled out. Judges can throw a spanner in the works, and if it makes sense for two teams to merge, then this can happen too. You can bring “What if…” rounds into the game asking the teams to devise their actions on a scenario. The reactions and final outcomes are really powerful and give you amazing insight to what your enemy could do and feel.

Selecting the winner

Once your War Game is finished, each team writes up its findings and the umpires bring everything together. The winning team is decided by the umpires, but there is nothing wrong with opposing teams providing input too.
Ultimately, the result is that your entire organisation is the winner, with the War Game process answering your most pressing and important questions, such as:
Given the situation you face are there any benefits of a surprise and how much do you think it will cost you?
Do you want to focus on one strategy or test a number of alternatives?
How about developing a company-wide culture of strategic thinking to help you develop new ideas, services and products?
Are you sick of those immediate, let’s do it now crises?
Do you want to find a great way to bond your team together, which does not include the pub and a karaoke machine?

Consider this valuable extension to your War Game

Another extremely useful tool – as used by the CIA – is the Red Team model. The Red Team is a group of people which has not been involved in your War Game so far. It looks at what you have decided to do and your reasoning behind it. It will then attempt to completely discredit the plan and provide reasons why the plan would not work.

This is not as daft as it may sound. Looking to discredit the plan could (and does) reveal glaring gaps in the decision makers thinking and helps counter groupthink. Red Teams can save a lot of time and resources by at least making you think about every possible scenario.

Find out more today

War Games offer you new ways to think about your businesses, competitors and your decisions – as well as getting your team onside with a complete understanding of your strategy – as a simulated experience. War Games are a great weapon to help you win in real life.

Loose lips can sink your ships

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Your information has real value to many people. And it’s not just your secret ingredients or patents either. So why do so many companies happily give their valuable information to competitors on a plate?

The fact is, competitive intelligence can be collected more easily than you may think – ethically and legally too.So where can they find information about you?

A good Competitive Intelligence (CI) consultant will link lots of information together from many sources to build a picture.

For example, they can read a situation from company newsletters and press releases. It‘s also relatively easy to get information on the phone. It just takes time. A telephone call taken when you’re on the hop can reveal a single piece of information. 20 phone calls to other people in your organisation will reveal even more.

There are also many elicitation techniques used when chatting at a conference, trade show or networking. Add beer to the equation and, bingo, more information is revealed.

Intelligence against you

It’s not just companies who want your information. Countries have corporate intelligence functions too.

The Japanese have an open intelligence operation. The Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) is often seen at conferences and trade shows. Usually, they’re the ones with the large cameras, claiming not to be able to read the ‘no photography’ signs! Russia and China don’t work to the same rules as Competitive Intelligence Agencies, but neither do the French, Israeli, German or US government agencies either.

Again, there’s no reason to make it easy for them.

Why would someone spy on you?

There are plenty of reasons. Do you have a new growth strategy? Has this affected a competitor or supplier? Have you taken a slice of work off a competitor or moved into someone else’s patch?

Getting noticed means you are doing something right. But your success is going to disrupt someone else. They may well be looking to retaliate.

Counter Intelligence

So how do you reduce your competitors’ chances of finding information about you?

Frontline: First, make sure your receptionist is Competitive Intelligence savvy. Often forgotten, they hold significant knowledge about your company. They are the front line and come in regular contact with outsiders.

Phone: Have a phone policy where everyone asks who is calling, where from and their contact number in case they get cut off.
Trade shows: At trade shows, brief the team about people asking too many questions. When talking to an interested person ask for their card and dig into their background. Don’t let them take photographs.

Conferences: Record all documents you have at a conference. Check them in and don’t leave them hanging around. When presenting material to an audience, are you giving more than the information you want to give them? Tell them what they need to know, nothing more. This is especially true in the Q&A session (where it’s easy to let your guard down).

Employees: Over-enthusiastic employees keen to impress must aware what they are saying to people. Boasts about how great your latest product is could be heard by the wrong person. Keep a close eye on disgruntled employees. They may be out for revenge or working for your competitor in the future. Keep them on-side and depart as friends.

Recruitment: When placing a job advert online look at what you’re saying about your organisation. Are you giving away your expansion or relocation plans?

Travel: Talking about your company on a mobile phone or to a colleague on flights and trains or is unwise. Even more so if you are travelling to a trade conference. Your competitors are likely to be on the same flight.

Documentation: Does your public documentation include information which could be useful to a competitor?

After hours: Make sure your salespeople are aware of what they’re talking about in hotel lounges and restaurants. Try and stop work talk on a Friday night in the pub.
It’s vital to test your defences.

If you have a CI team or a friendly CI Agency, get them to collect against you. See what they can find. Have your CI team brief trade show attendees to determine what to look out for. Review all documentation, marketing and press releases.

Ask what does it reveal about you? It‘s important to:

  • Assess your vulnerabilities
  • Determine the competitive threat
  • Decide what you need to protect yourself
  • Develop countermeasures
  • Review your counter intelligence processes

CI is part of business. Use it to gain an advantage, just as your competitors do against you. Competition is healthy.
It’s rare for a traditional competitor to destroy you, but is there any point leaving the door open for them?
Any questions? Feel free to get in touch with me on graeme@octopusintelligence.co.uk

Are They Cheaper Than You?

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You are offering a better service, but one of your competitors are constantly beating you into the ground by being cheaper than you?

They could be trying to buy a market share, and unless they have very deep pockets, their price cutting tactics will not last very long.

It could be that they have a significant cost advantage over you or that your cost structures are bulging at the seams. All is not lost as Competitive Intelligence can help you understand what’s going on so you can decide what you are doing to do about it.

Find out what their headcount, distribution, materials and other overheads applicable to your industry. Understand their business strategy and production process. Assess how much money do they have to play with, do they have any debt and are they able to manage it?

Who are their suppliers and are they getting a better deal than you? Are they sharing costs with other parts of their business etc? and be honest, what are they doing better than you?

Surely They Know About This?

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They didn’t realise that their competitor supplied to a worldwide manufacturer. We couldn’t believe they didn’t know either, but that knowledge was worth £10m+ of very winnable business.

Companies focus on the day job and often miss the most obvious of things.
This is where Competitive Intelligence can reveal amazing results, even if you do it yourself.