Competitive intelligence is the art of digging up information related to your competitors. This information can then be used to try and gain an advantage over those competitors. The problem with an open statement like that is that the sky is the limit when it comes to collecting information.
Strategic competitive intelligence is the gathering of information related to one aspect of your business. For example, if you are about to embark on a Facebook marketing campaign the only information you require is that related to your competitors on Facebook, their marketing strategies, their products/services, and reputation, just to name a few.
In that example, the information you don’t need is that related to search marketing. Their PR, position in search results, and pay-per-click strategies are irrelevant and will most likely not affect your Facebook marketing strategy. To be effective, strategic competitive intelligence relies on several factors such as:
Determining who your real competitors are. Your competitors are not necessarily those selling products similar to yours. In some markets, as an example, milk could be a competitor of wine. Think laterally and not too narrowly.
Determining what information is important. You don’t always need every tiny piece of data. Look at information that is directly related to a specific activity.
Determining environmental factors. The general environment may well influence who your real competitors are on a day-to-day basis, especially when it comes to social media marketing. Examples of this include beer, which is drunk more frequently in hot weather than wine, or hybrid cars that draw more interest when fuel prices are high.
If you take too broad a view of competitive intelligence you run the risk of flooding yourself with too much information. Instead, plan your activities, determine who your competitors are in relation to those activities, then determine what information you need. Rather than being overwhelmed with data, you should be in a position to use the information collected to good advantage.