Competitive Intelligence

Tactical, Operational & Strategic Analysis of Markets, Competitors & Industries

Arik's comments have lead to a spirited discussion which also invites thoughts about what we call ourselves or our profession. I understand that it's not likely that SCIP will change its name, but the rest of us have to deal with a phrase that is virtually unknown, even among strategists and marketers. Accordingly, we have the option to reconsider this issue.

Many of us started using the term "business intelligence" in the mid 90s to turn the focus away from competitORs, and that worked well for a while - until it was usurped by data management.

Now, I see the early signs that "market intelligence" is slowly being used / usurped by market researchers who want to demonstrate that they offer more than data - that their value proposition now includes analysis.

We know that many CI depts use a wide variety of terms when they don't want to use CI. One of the most popular is some adjective followed by the word insights, such as customer insights or market insights.

It's easy to defend the argument for staying with the term competitive intelligence, but if part of our mantra is staying ahead of change, then we too must be open to what we need to change re our profession - in order to make it current and relevant to business today.

So - how about a naming contest??

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I'd vote for the term "competitive analysis," which if memory serves, I first heard from Dr. Matteo. I like the term for several reasons.

First, it gets rid of that loaded term, "intelligence," and distances us from that word's unfortunately unpleasant connotations.

Next, it keeps the emphasis on competition which is clearly our domain, and it adds a subtle but important rhetorical refinement. When we combine "competitive" with "intelligence" people often assume that we are looking only at competitors (because intelligence implies collections). However if we combine "competitive" with "analysis" we automagically shift the emphasis to assessing the entire competitive landscape.

Finally, adding the word, "analysis," emphasizes our main value add and de-emphasizes the collections process, which - although of course necessary - shouldn't be main thing that sticks in peoples' minds.

All that said, I'm not holding my breath that we'll ever move away from the term competitive intelligence, and not just because of inertia or lack of better branding options. I think there there is a non-trivial number of people in our field as well as our managers and/or clients who are still impressed with that mystical and slightly dangerous word, "intelligence." I'll admit it: when I first entered the profession 15 years ago, it was cool to answer the question of, "What do you do?" with "I do competitive intelligence." And I've had bosses who loved to trot out the, "Let me ask my intelligence guy" reply when senior management put his or her feet to the fire.

(Um...I got over all that, btw. Now when acquaintances ask me what I do, my standard dodge is, "I do a boring and esoteric type of market research...what do you do?" Not that I think it's either, but it gets me out of me having to explain that I don't dumpster dive or tap phones or meet with mysterious people in back alleys, which is nearly always people's initial assumption.)

I suppose what I'm saying is that in trying to change the name of the profession, we're in part taking on human nature, the need to feel validated in our professional identities.
I like the idea of a naming contest Seena - particularly since there's so much momentum (or maybe it's inertia) around CI as the central idea/identity (some positive, some negative) that the very nature of what that two-word combo conjures up when people try to visualize it is at the root of this issue.

One alternative question must be: is there any hope that we can "rehab" the term and sufficiently redefine CI so as to convey a more open and accurate view of what is involved in its practice?

If we can't or if we feel the very macro-idea rolled up in CI is irredeemably tarnished forever, then, yes... let's not waste our time trying to redefine it or bridge it to the future... I'd suggest renaming our collective identity is probably the only option, rather than fight negative inertia, that is. All options on the table, what does that rather extreme approach sacrifice?

If on the other hand, we think there's enough positive momentum behind the term that we might craft a bridge to its future redefinition more accurately, I don't see much reason for such radical change. Indeed, getting a bead on whether the branding/identity as CI is defensible (let alone leverageable) is a big question for me in my own business planning. If it's not, I don't want to waste my time; but if it is, how do we do it?

Finally, is there some hybrid "third way" for CI to go that we (more likely) simply haven't thought of (yet)? Is it a matter of more fully building out the hierarchical taxonomy of what we mean by CI and its subdisciplines (as KM suggested in his "competitive analysis" post) that will help redefine CI this way?
Seena, everyone,

I'm beginning to doubt the use of the word "intelligence."

It really came into vogue during the Cold War. It sounds quite a bit more serious than just "knowing stuff." Yet I wonder, like Kieran, if we're not entering into another era in which intelligence has all the negatives and none of the positives in terms of its managerial connotations.

In fact, I think analysis connotes far more value than intelligence gathering. Here in DC, the majority of "intelligence work" is really low-level collection of newspaper articles, phone conversations, rumors and images. It's only at the very top where a real picture appears.

It seems that our challenge is to present ourselves as guardians of the best practices for analysis - especially before that terms gets overused by the people who are more interested in splitting up the minute percentages of peanut butter lovers with tattoos and those without tattoos. With apologies to the keynoter at SCIP 2008, naturally.

Analysis and organizational knowledge "R" US.

I totally agree that "intelligence" is a loaded term. The problems in its use aren't new though. Several years ago, Cliff Kalb suggested that SCIP should rename itself as the Society of Competitive Insight Professionals or even Society of Knowledge Insight Professionals. (SKIP).

I think by emphasing analysis it becomes much easier to talk about ethics, and what is and isn't allowed. We can then start jettisoning the ancillary terms that "intelligence professionals" love such as Humint, OSint, and so on.

It's not the source of the information that's important. it's what you do with it - and whether it comes from human sources or the web is irrelevant. It's the analysis and meaning and the decisions resulting that are important. So competitive analysis makes sense. In fact, even this is limiting as good CI also looks wider at the environment within which competitors operate (think Porter's 5 forces, etc.). So how about "business environmental analysis" rather than "competitive analysis" - as isn't that really what we do? (As an example, I've just completed a CI project that was looking at whether my client's customers were breaching their contracts with my client by purchasing from alternative suppliers when they'd promised exclusivity in return for services. The customers are franchisees of my client who is the UK master franchise and so it's a serious breach of the franchise agreement for the franchisees to not purchase from the master franchise. Is this "competitive intelligence", "competitor intelligence", "customer research" or "competitive analysis"/"business environmental analsis". Only the latter terms actually captures the full scenario).
These are great examples. In a market changing as fast as this one is, if you are stuck looking at your four competitors, you're probably missing what's happening.

Question, though: Is "business environmental analysis" sexy enough?

I'm serious. Isn't the word intelligence vaguely dangerous and sexy - seducing some and shutting off others?

Would you rather have awareness, or intelligence?

It seems to me that marketing campaigns are won and lost on the correct choice of words that resonate with a buying public.

Intelligence was great in the Cold War and post-Soviet days. The word resonated.

What will resonate next?
I frankly don't think "intelligence" is nearly as toxic as it's made out to be - rather, the combination with the word "competitive" is the root of the issue that conjures the spy image because of the Cold War connections. Arguably, there already exists a field of "competitive analysis" right? And, it somehow isn't quite what we do... or else you'd presumably be having a different discussion on some other network devoted to competitive analysis. ;-)

Three examples of success in the intelligence meme come to mind: the rise of (most prominently) "business intelligence" in the data management space; the coming rise of "market intelligence" in the market research space; and, finally, the nadir of "collective intelligence" in the Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 space.

In defense of the nomenclature, and with the three examples above notwithstanding, intelligence captures that curious mix of collection, assembly and synthesis that the word "analysis" simply does not. Analysis also implies a concept that sounds to my ear somewhat more... I dunno, "pseudo-intellectual" and academically black-box to the newbie; this is overcome I think in intelligence by just the kind of mysticism Eric describes above, as we need a hook if this field is to grow.

So, indeed - I suspect there's a shared psychological reason we haven't changed from the word "intelligence" over the years. Its momentum (inertia?) has been far too compelling to overcome with any of the suggested alternatives - analysis, insight, etc. It'll require something an LOT more compelling than wishy-washy descriptors to capture both the research/collection side of the problem as well as the analytical/interpretation aspect to supersede the status quo.

Until then, inertia rules...
Observing your struggle to abandon the word "intelligence", I try to guess why my AI colleagues at Poznan University of Technology ( ) aren't confused with spies. ;-)
I like this discussion for various reasons that might also influence and explain the historic struggle or seemingly unproductive search for common ground in labeling what we all try to accomplish.

One of the motivations to love what I do is the flexibility in application and impact. Meaning: there are not many occupations in this world as flexible so it can be utilized by a large bandwidth of decision makers across an organization, dealing with content and reason from all walks of corporate life and influence, in best cases ensure, value generation through educated decisions in all possible directions.

Why would I be unhappy about the status quo where many professionals and organizations reflect on this flexibility by labeling it according to (current) value proposition? Wouldn't it be wonderful to see our professional self esteem blooming by the sheer playful naming practices according to what the job with its outcome means for the people involved?

I can't think of any other position in my company where I could imagine to be able or even forced to adjust the job identity according to where it shifted to at one given moment in time or through changes in impact and meaning to the business.

In this regard I catch myself smiling proudly when I scan through my business cards collected at SCIP summits or GIA events or Frost seminars: to me it demonstrates a desirable flexibility and creative implementation of otherwise rather static terms like analysis or research or intelligence.

If applied seriously and purposly a CI position's or group's identity could reveal so much about an organization's focus on the respective CI unit. And isn't this what we all enjoy whenever we meet again some place?

One of my highlight moments at last year's Rome conference was when Ken Garrison asked the crowd at the main summit reception to take two minutes and exchange at least three business cards to their neighbors.

I collected 6 at that moment and some 50 during the summit. Guess what: it's really hard to find a match in labeling what many call CI but most experience in different facettes.
Very interesting comments all around.

To say what we all probably agree on (77% likely): the name (branding) can serve two purposes:
1. To attract buyers (members) for whatever reason
2. To inform potential buyers (members) what the product (service, or membership) is about.

Many companies have changed their names or highlight only their acronym (IBM) because the name no longer reflects their lines of business because of mega trends that have take place over the years.

Before renaming SCIP, maybe (52% likely) it would help to first discuss those trends. For example, I believe (97% likely) that there has been, and will continue to be, convergence between historically distinct activities and processes including:
CI - Competitive intelligence
BI - Business Intelligence, including BI 2.0 which now typically includes access to external data
BPM - Business Performance Metrics
MI - Intelligence
..... and this does not include major related activities that are also converging, including strategic planning and marketing - both of which have many subfields.

I'm sure we can all address many trends; my point is only that the "SCIP" name was probably (62% likely) created to inform potential members about its scope of activities, as well as be a great name.

In the discussion here, should the name clearly suggest the scope of activities, or be cloudy on its purpose?

Either answer is fine. (I think the only possible wrong answer is to have a name that clearly defines the scope of activities, and for the scope of activities to be viewed as too narrow to attract new members because they sense the current trends mentioned above.)
I understand the allure of renaming the profession.

I have been working in the pharma industry for more than 10 years, with much of that in field medical programs aka "medical science liaisons'. this is a role akin to CI including intangible deliverables, a loaded history, and the temptation to change names in order to create a "new brand". Hence from the original MSL or medical science liaison, we now have medical science managers, medical information scientists, clinical science liaisons, regional medical research scientists... all from companies hoping that the name change would somehow make their MSLs "superior" to competitors in the eyes of the medical thought leaders.

Guess what? The medical thought leaders would sometimes still refer to their MSLs as "the rep from {company X}" even as MSLs are not sales reps!

Maybe the field of CI is somewhat different from the field of medical science liaising, but there may be common challenges in using monikers to differentiate what has already been imprinted in customers' minds.

Jane Chin
I don't have any particular axe to grind on the question of titles. I have followed this argument so far and agree with much that has been said. People should be able to make a choice based on what they believe they actually do. At the same time, the profession needs a term that is reasonably static (although subject to change, as Seena suggested).

The word intelligence is sexy and attractive - and it gives me an opportunity to explain what I do when meeting people who are not familiar with the term (it's deliberately included on my business card just to encourage that reaction - they always ask!). I have also encountered companies who involve numerous people in intelligence operations but who refuse to use the word 'intelligence'. Finally, I believe that, although we have many tasks, our primary role should be that of strategic early warning. Hence I am throwing into the ring the term: 'Strategic Analyst'.

Vernon Prior
Vernon, naturally "companies who involve people in intelligence operations refuse to use the word 'intelligence'". However, show us any secret agent who introduces himself/herself: I works in intelligence. Even the number 007 says only "My Name Is Bond... James Bond". ;-)



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