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Competitive intelligence is a necessary part of conducting business, both online and off line. But when should you do it? Should you do your research on your competition before you conduct your keyword research, during your strategic planning, during the marketing phase or at another time in the business cycle? The short answer: Yes. The longer answer: Throughout the business cycle.

The technical answer is, you should never stop competitive intelligence research.

Competitive intelligence is really the act of monitoring your competition to see where you might have an opportunity to compete against them head to head or respond to a market development with your own development. In essence, competitive intelligence is an ongoing mission.

More important than when is how. What methods of competitive intelligence are acceptable and which methods are deemed unethical? Obviously, if it’s illegal then you shouldn’t do it. It is often frowned upon to plant a spy in your competitor’s business to steal trade secrets. But you can monitor market developments to see what the competition is doing publicly.

Competitive intelligence is important, but not so important that you should risk you reputation to gather information. Stick to ethical behavior and you’ll be just fine.

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