Thought Leadership

5 Reasons Competitive Intelligence Must Take a Broader View

June 9, 2022
Author: Kunika Khera

Once upon a time, brands had a relatively fixed set of competitors to keep an eye on. Fast forward to today. Traditional parameters of ‘the competition’ no longer hold. Barriers to entry are lower, nimble start-ups are popping up daily and market dominators from adjacent industries can suddenly become direct competitors.

Innovation and disruptive technologies have blurred the boundaries between industries. Competitive Intelligence (CI) leaders—and those who rely on CI to make critical business decisions—need more eyes on more players in more places, and a more comprehensive approach to competitive monitoring.

Here’s a look at five ways competition can come from anywhere and how holistic competitive intelligence can help you defend market share and spot opportunities for growth across a broadening competitive landscape.

Competitive Insight #1: Tech juggernauts will continue to break through industry boundaries

Your Apple Watch. Is it a communication device or a wellness device? The answer is both (and other things to boot). Your Airpods amplify sounds through ‘live listen,’ effectively acting as a basic hearing aid. And several other technology companies have versions of wellness wearables that track everything from stress levels to sweat levels.

Google has entered the travel business with Google Travel and is posing a significant threat to online booking companies. As Google integrates more features like maps and calendars, it is only a matter of time before this tech behemoth becomes a major player within the travel and tourism ecosystem.

Takeaway:

Your next competitor could be an Apple, a Google, or a technology start-up that’s barely on the radar. Brands need a disciplined approach to tracking innovations that have the potential to disrupt business across multiple and overlapping industries. A CI program that tracks innovation can shine a spotlight on a range of possibilities at play and act as your early warning system. And an innovation-focused CI program means doing more than just thinking broadly about the tech firms that may start playing in your space. It can also mean scanning patent applications and hiring patterns to understand who’s investing in your backyard.

Competitive Insight #2: Companies that are data-rich are competitive threats to anyone

With core competencies in data collection and management, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), companies that sit on mounds of data could be coming for anyone’s lunch. Data is the foundation of all AI and those who own the data own an enormous competitive advantage.

Take, for example, the adoption of AI and ML in the beauty and personal care sector. Brands are now able to deliver DNA-based skincare, providing bespoke products based on genetic makeup. Beauty brands such as Volition Beauty and Glossier are even leveraging their consumer data to create, test and market products in half the usual time-to-market.

And think about TikTok. Beauty and skincare brands are all over TikTok. It’s been an incredibly effective platform for the category. But while beauty brands, both big and small, are running wildly successful influencer campaigns, TikTok is accumulating valuable user data. What’s to prevent TikTok from entering the custom beauty business? It may sound farfetched, but consider Amazon’s private label strategy which has been a thorn in the side of its channel partners. Especially in FMCG, today’s channel friend can also become tomorrow’s market foe.

Takeaway:

With AI and ML impacting nearly every vertical, it is critical to be prepared. Consider updating the list of players you track based on similarities in data gathering and usage patterns. Keep tabs on technology companies that you may currently rely on for data, or as a channel partner. They may be your next competitor.

Competitive Insight #3: Connected technologies are creating new ecosystems and new conditions for competition

What happens when everything is connected? What are the implications when new ecosystems are created?

In recent years, we’ve seen first-hand how seemingly small innovations can change the fate of entire industries. Consider automotive. For decades, it was dominated by a handful of players, with no big change in the way products were created, manufactured or sold. Today’s auto industry competes in a far more complex landscape, connected with new OEMs and energy companies, EV infrastructure and more.

This is happening in the financial sector too. As more global consumers adopt QR codes, the payment industry must brace for change. QR technology has been a boon to the unbanked in emerging markets and an ultra-convenience for anyone with a smartphone. In India, local governments are rewarding merchants for QR adoption, threatening the longstanding dominance of Visa and Mastercard in the region. PayTM in India and UALA in LatAm are digitally native players that started as digital wallets. Now they are fast turning into financial super apps, providing a whole gamut of financial products and even ecommerce.

Takeaway:

Keep an eye on the big picture. New ecosystems are rich with possibilities. Competitive intelligence is not only about scouting for threats and the unexpected; it is also about exploring areas for new partnerships. A good CI program should support partner scouting, M&A and product innovation teams.

Competitive Insight #4: Keep an eye on the big fish

Covid restrictions may have fueled Netflix’s growth in 2020. But today, with rising inflation and recession worries, more consumers are choosing between multiple streaming subscription services. Netflix had long been at the top of the OTT sector and was considered ‘unbeatable.’ Until recently.

While Amazon Prime and Hulu have been nipping at their heels, the more recent challenge to Netflix has come from legacy media companies, the likes of Paramount, Disney, Peacock (NBC) and HBO who have made significant forays into the streaming space.

Takeaway:

Big fish can flounder, but don’t count them out. In this case, while major media companies may have missed the initial lockdown boon for streaming services, they’re back. And taking a bite out of Netflix. The lesson: successful CI programs should not be restricted to the usual suspects, i.e. your current competitors. Keep an eye on strategic and tactical changes brewing, whether that means up-and-coming challengers to your market share or the market leaders you thought were sleeping.

Competitive Insight #5: Even in highly saturated markets, white spaces appear

Customers expect faster shipping times for everything. The early days of the pandemic may have fueled demand for online grocery delivery, but now many shoppers have a permanent need for speed. In European markets, over a dozen new companies have emerged to fulfill instant needs, including Gopuff, JOKR and Zapp.

Quick commerce (q-commerce) is the next evolution of ecommerce. Q-commerce is pushing traditional ecommerce players into the logistics game. Many are evolving their operations by directly sourcing products, hiring their own delivery staff, building micro-fulfillment centers and dark stores, and seeking partnerships. For example, Carrefour has partnered with Uber Eats in France to make grocery deliveries to people’s homes in under 20 minutes across 100-plus French cities.

Takeaway:

The rapid rise of q-commerce shows even ecommerce heavyweights can be caught on the back foot. Even in the most saturated of markets, white space opportunities emerge, often driven by consumer needs (in this case, the need for toilet paper in a pandemic). Competitive intelligence and monitoring consumer trends go hand-in-hand. Competitive monitoring should be done in the context of consumer behavior, cultural shifts and global change.

Complex competitive dynamics call for advanced competitive intelligence research

Competition can come from anywhere. Luckily, so can competitive intelligence. Escalent draws from multiple data sources and methodologies, casting a wide net and weaving together a cohesive and comprehensive view of your broadening competitive landscape. Where are your next competitive threats coming from and where do your next opportunities lie?

Learn more about Escalent’s holistic approach to competitive intelligence.

 

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Kunika Khera
Director

A mixed-methodology expert, Kunika is passionate about integrating diverse research methods and synthesizing various data sets to find hidden insights. She uses innovative research and analytic techniques to create a deeper, more holistic understanding of the consumer. She is a fierce proponent of humanizing insights to drive change. When not traveling, Kunika is often seen planning for her next adventure. She enjoys walking tours with locals for an authentic experience of place, culture and, of course, food. A native of India, she currently lives in Billund, Denmark (known as the “Capital of Children”) with her husband and daughter.