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Knowing your competition inside and out

By | Intelligence Analysis

In this article we aim to guide you to show that knowing your competition inside and out is very important. And, hopefully, showing you Competitive Analysis is so much more than SEO and keywords. 

Marketing people can sometimes get nervous about spying on their competitors and believe its best to just focus on their own business. Some will think that knowing your competition inside and out is a bit unethical, but nothing could be further from the truth when you do it the right way.

A Highly competitive environment

You are working in a highly competitive environment, and you need to know what you are up against. After all, it is highly likely that your competitors are looking at you. If not, then the critical question to answer pretty quickly is – why not?

It’s relatively easy to find the basics on a competitor and even look at their strategies. Start by looking to see how they are performing better than you.

Google Competitive Intelligence and be blindsided

Now, if you GoogleCompetitive Intelligence” or “knowing your competitor inside and out” you will likely be swamped by the latest SEO software claiming to offer Competitive Intelligence. And offering to monitor keywords. Keywords and SEO is only a tiny part of Competitor Intelligence. And in most cases, you don’t need to spend a penny on finding competitor keywords – Ubersuggest from Neil Patel is a great starting point and it’s free. 

Looking at keywords will indeed enable you to improve your landing page performance. Powerful landing pages can significantly increase a conversion rate, while weaker ones can completely turn off potential clients.

Looking at how others in your industry conduct SEO and other online initiatives will assist you in picking up new strategies. Big budget competitors may be keeping landing pages simple or using video. And you can improve your keyword performance. I know its a little boring,

But, these are all excellent ideas, but let’s face it, its all very tactical.

Knowing your competition inside and out with Competitive Intelligence is so much more powerful and yes, strategic.

Be more strategic

Take a look at what your competitor is saying in it’s communication to the outside world. Also, what they are not saying. Ask yourself, does this equate to what they are actually doing and thinking? And, most importantly, what are they going to do next. Questions to consider:

  • What are they writing about?
  • What is their style?
  • Do they have a consistent tone of voice? Can you describe it?
  • How do they engage with their audience?
  • Do they reveal future strategies?
  • Are they announcing new initiatives because the current one is bombing?
  • Are forums and review sites telling you a different story to the official line they are pumping out?
  • Are they revealing how the management team thinks and make decisions?
  • Is about just one person – the founder, or have they gone beyond that?
  • Then provide an answer to each of these questions:
  • How can we take advantage of what they are doing
  • Can we see what they are going to do next?

And, finally, a fundamental question. So what?

In summary

In this article, we have suggested that knowing your competition inside and out is very important. Don’t be fooled into the thinking Competitive Intelligence is just keywords, SEO and other tactical rubbish. We suggest it is about knowing how they think, decide and act. And, what they are going to do next and most importantly, so what?

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Competitor prices. Is the price is right?

By | Intelligence Analysis

Competitor prices

You may be in a position where one or more of your competitors are offering similar products to you, but they can do it for a much lower price—Competitor prices offering a cost differentiation which could be turning your customer’s heads. 

It is possible that they are buying the market share, and they will not be able to sustain it. Your sales team may be telling you this too. However, just saying statements about your competitor does not make it right. Buying market share by reducing prices rarely lasts long, and it is not a very smart strategy to attract customers long term. Buying the market happens a lot less than people think.
It is possible that your rivals may hold a significant cost advantage over you. You have to do something but armed with intelligence, not hearsay. Take a look at your cost structure and then compare them with your competitors. Or Benchmarking as its called.
Compare yours and their labour costs, materials, technologies used, distribution, the cost and structure of the sales and marketing teams. Look for usually looking overheads and obvious omissions.

What about suppliers?

What about their suppliers? How do they differ from each other? Their production capabilities and actual production rates. Please don’t rely on what they say in the press. We know from experience what a production plant says it’s producing bears little resemblance to what they are actually doing. Take a look at their past and current sales figures, right down to product level if you can.
Are their products really like for like? Does your product have certain features, but do your customers care about them enough not to switch sides? Also, are the prices really like for like. What about their extras?
Analyse the results and get a better picture of what’s going on, why its happening and then decide what you can do about it. Then tell the world.
Brought to you by Octopus

Intelligence is just knowing…

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Click the image to download our “Competitor Pricing” cheat sheet.

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What if you are wrong but right?

By | Intelligence Analysis

Sometimes highly intelligent people get stuck on a nail about a theory and will not budge even when everyone is telling them they are wrong.

Something they believe to be true because that’s always been the way or it was how it was taught at university.

Just look at the political situation in your country or Brexit. You will see perfectly intelligent people on both sides of an argument fighting and falling out for what they believe.

Some even argue their view even when they know, deep down, they are wrong themselves.

Point to the data

They point to the data and use it to argue their point. They ignore information which disagrees with them, distort the evidence.  And, they try and explain why they are right, and you are wrong. If they are the boss, then it is view easier to push their viewpoint wrong. Any alternative theory will not sway them.

There are also those who come up with great theories but reject immediately upon seeing the first piece of opposing information.

What if you have ingrained belief built on unstable foundations of weak data? You are not going to gain any intelligence; you are not going to answer the questions.

Amazingly, some people carry on with their plans as it saves face and the effort of having to build a new strategy.

A military example: Market Garden

An excellent example of this occurred in the Netherlands in 1944. On the 17th September, the Allies launched Operation Market Garden. And sent paratroopers to capture and hold bridges along a 64-mile section of the Rhine. Once the bridges were captured, an armoured spearhead was to smash into the industrial heartland of Germany.

It was Intelligence which told the decision-makers that there was a German Panza Division outside the town of Arnhem. And that they could come to the aide of the final bridge.

In the film depicting Market Garden, “A Bridge too Far“, the actor playing Brian Urquhart showed an overhead photograph of German tanks hidden under trees.

There may have been photographs, but it was Signals Intelligence from Bletchley Park who isolated the German forces.

Cancelling or changing the plan at such a late stage of the game was politically and practically very hard to do. Any delays or failures in the plan would see the whole operation fail. The generals were too eager and wanted to downplay bad news.

They also questioned the interpretation of Intelligence. After all, this SS Division had retreated battered and bruised from the fighting after D-Day. So it was assumed it must have been weak. Also, Intelligence only confirmed the location of German forces outside Arnhem.

The British could not use the Dutch the resistance to take a look to see how many tanks were there.  They had been compromised and not to be fully trusted.

Now there will be counter-arguments on why the generals were right not to use the Intelligence. It was a tough decision, and they did not have the benefit of hindsight.

Listing our inbuilt beliefs

Neither do we.  So listing our own inbuilt , theory, beliefs and biases is an excellent way of increasing the awareness. And reveal better insight.

That’s why Competitive Intelligence is best used independently to decision-makers. The truth may not always be popular, but it is still right, and I, for one, would rather make a decision knowing I have the best possible Intelligence to hand.

Intelligence is just knowing…

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How about putting the phone away as it’s time to think?

By | Intelligence Analysis

We live in a world where there is always too much data, a lack of intelligence, independent thinking and empathy for the other person’s point of view. A world where we are all attached to our tiny little screens it is good to take time to think. Thinking in the real world, not just using the latest App or dataset. Decide on a question or two you are looking to answer. Print out articles, webpages and press reports or write keywords, phrases and thoughts on a piece of card?

Cut important items out and spread them on a table. Use a highlighter as you see fit and put them into piles. The choice of how you sort the piles and their meaning is completely up to you. Now take each pile and lay them out in front of you. Sort them again, perhaps chronologically, geographically or any way that feels right.

What patterns are revealed? Are there any patterns? What’s the information telling you? Then, look at the other piles and do it all over again.

Intelligence is more than just collecting data.

So, do you what more answers to the questions you need to ask? Does your competitor possess those two killer things? Get in touch here or follow us on Twitter

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Can early warning systems help you?

By | Intelligence Analysis

Can early warning systems really help you? Well, if you are going to get a kick in the groin it’s always good to see it coming.  So you can get out of the way.

Everyone should have an early warning system. Because it is an excellent way to understand situations you may be facing in the future that can affect you. And then be in a strong position to do something about it – As we know from experience surprises are rarely pleasurable.

So, the first thing to do is map out your competitive environment, think about who you want to keep an eye on and who could be future competitors.

As you can’t monitor everything take each competitor in turn. Conduct an assessment of the impact they have on you and your current/future performance. — The more significant the potential situation, the higher the priority.

Detect Changes

Then take a look at how you could quickly detect and define any changes with each target. Find people in your team who are best placed to find the information quickly.  Have an understanding of the clearly defined signs.

Collate the data you find into a single source (CI software or just a spreadsheet). You will be surprised how much useful information is out there – and how many new questions need answering!

Critically, once you have looked at what they are up to you turn the data into usable intelligence using analysis. Techniques such as Competing Hypothesis or Scenario Analysis are great tools for this.

What can you do about it?

For each piece of insight, you need to decide what you are going to do about it.

For instance, if company X purchases X product, please let us know straight away.  Have a handful of predefined associated actions, one of which could be of course to do nothing.

These actions should take into account the situation you find yourself in and the capabilities and resources you have to hand. For any actions taken it is important to understand how your competitor will respond. Again, making you even more prepared and perhaps unbeatable.

Pretty soon you will be in a position to be able to predict your rivals next move.

That’s why we say “Intelligence is just knowing…

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Marshalls ethically paving a way to success with amazing results

By | Intelligence Analysis

Why they are fab...

``Established British brand, with a reputation for supplying natural stone, successfully developing innovative concrete products, with clearly defined markets - construction, landscape and home improvement``.

How they differentiate themselves – Marshall’s

A leading brand and driving force in the isolation and eradication of modern slavery. Also, they actively understand their supply chains and can point to where their stone quarried.
Superior customer service, based on their down to earth, friendly but professional approach you would expect from a Yorkshire based company.
Also, an attention to detail. Marshall’s stone products are important enough to be delivered in their own vehicle. And the use of superior stone which looks beautiful but also has the right technical details such porosity, so their stone is long lasting and safe to walk on.
Marshall’s constant search and development of new products to enhance their traditional stone based services. Excellent use of online media.
Bringing anti-terror protection products into the public environment without damaging the aesthetic or pedestrian flow.
Then there is the enhanced profile with strategic projects, such as London 2012 Olympic Park landscaping and key players in major garden and landscaping exhibitions.

Their competition

Hardscape, UK Stone Imports, BBS Group as well as Breedon.

Octorating

8/8

For more information get in touch here or follow us on Twitter

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Is the excellent Caffè Nero roasting their competition?

By | Intelligence Analysis

Why they are fab...

``Caffè Nero, a UK independent Italian-style coffee bar brand are renowned for excellent coffee and fresh quality food. They offer an inviting atmosphere served by friendly people who try to get to know their regulars``.

How they differentiate themselves – Cafe Nero

It’s an Italian coffee house feel, good coffee and food. They focus on their core brand values.
They try and encourage a welcoming atmosphere. You are greeted and made to feel that there is no rush. They is no pressure to leave, and the layout is relaxing allowing friends to chat informally. They want to create a neighbourhood feel.
There is an attention to detail in the coffee house, from the lighting, colour of the wood, seating etc. The packaged cakes, biscuits and chocolate at the front of the counter are all Italian.  Despite being a national chain; they work hard to ensure it does not feel like it.

European theme

They create a European feel and avoid the American style of their competitors. Their branding is subtle and not plastered everywhere.
High quality coffee, broad product range and food offering are a given, but the overall feeling of the coffee house makes you think the coffee is the better than their competitors. Is it? Matter of opinion and taste. We think so.
They have resisted the temptation to roll out their coffee houses to every street corner, and you will not find a coffee machine in a tired petrol station. You will not find a Cafe Nero on an M1 Service Station; they will not sell burgers in the future and drive in’s are not for them. Their mobile coffee shop offering is even small and European styled.
They have a simple loyalty scheme too. No sign ups, just stamp a card.
They possess just under 15% of the UK coffee shop market, and they are financially secure with cash in the bank proving their model is working.

Their competition

Costa, Starbucks. Macdonalds, local coffee shops

Octorating

6/8

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Best decisions made with your animal instincts

By | Intelligence Analysis

Decisions: Blink

In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell explores how we process our intuition and instinct.  Suggesting how we make split-second decisions and judgments.  Both good and bad ones. And the best decisions made with your animal instincts.

Gut feeling is an inbuilt reaction which allows us to accurately read a dangerous situation or a person who may wish us harm.

The book offers an appreciation of judgments based on less information rather than more. On expert intuition or instinct rather than the less seasoned novice judgments.

Gladwell suggests that intuitive or “snap” judgments are valuable. And that the more experienced you are on a subject, the more this will allow you to make accurate decisions.

We agree with Gladwell, that gut feeling can be an excellent tool for minor points, life and death experiences. (not too many of those at Octopus towers recently) To give a general direction of understanding of what’s going on, but gut feeling must be backed up by significant verifiable information.

Gladwell introduces the concept of “thin-slicing”.  That’s your unconscious mind’s ability to isolate patterns and meaning within the most fleeting “slices” of experience and impressions.

He gives an example of the ability of one psychologist to predict, with 95% accuracy, if a couple would still be together in fifteen years’ time. According to Gladwell, this and other examples, show how experts can take small samples and make fantastic, accurate predictions.

However, we need to take into account our environment when using gut feeling, as gut feeling can change depending on where you are and how threatened or content you feel. Within Intelligence, if you are up against a deadline, then validated gut feeling is more achievable if you are relaxed, with all the time in the world.

Not as good as we think

Our gut feeling is not as perfect as we might think. Even though, It can be a great tool to deploy when we are trying to analyse what’s going on with a competitor or a market. However, it is not the magic bullet, and we must be aware that our gut feel is exceptionally open to wishful thinking and bias, and this must be taken into account.

The more market and life experience you have, the more this could prevent you using your gut reaction and picking up on those intangible warning signs if your industry changes or new competitors come along.

And yes, your industry can and almost certainly will change; it’s up to you to realise this. That industry experience and know-how should not let you lose sight of how potentially useful your gut feeling could be.

We can take gut feeling into account, as one part of a whole repertoire of tools, but the future direction of your business in an ever-changing market needs considered detailed analysis.

So, whilst we shouldn’t ignore our intuition, we should not make critical business decisions with it either.

Feel free to comment or get in touch here.  And follow us on Twitter.
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Brand intelligence – Paul Smith

By | Intelligence Analysis

Why they are fab...

``Iconic well made fashion presented within a superb, but understated experience``.

Brand intelligence – How they differentiate themselves

This is our first Brand Intelligence article. Walking into a Paul Smith store is rather like walking into a top 5 star hotel.

You are walking into an experience where the products for sale are part of the experience. Also, Part of the art.

Therefore, you are not bombarded by the brand and signs proclaiming discounts, sales and directions. So, you have take your time and explore the store to find something interesting.

Subtle branding does not shout at you or the world. You know it’s Paul Smith and that is all that matters.

Brand Intelligence: Moreover, the fashion has extreme attention to detail and quality with a premium price that you appreciate rather than struggling to understand the value.

Even the receipt is placed into a well designed envelope.

The staff are considered, professional, welcoming and leave you alone.

Fashion with a twist. Classic cuts with the unexpected. Like this year’s Octopuses.

Their competition

Hugo Boss, Prada and Burberry

Octorating

8/8

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Time to get competitive with Intelligence analysis tool

By | Intelligence Analysis
Competitor Analysis. When gathering Competitive Intelligence, there is often more than one path we can go down.

To help us decide the best path, we use a tool called Analysis of Competing Hypotheses, or ACH to keep things simple.

Competitor analysis: The Analysis of Competing Hypotheses

Created in the 70s by the CIA, to reduce limitations in its analysis, ACH is proven and effective, and we find it to be a great tool. At the same time, there is a lot of conflicting information out there about how it works. We’ve found it has often been explained in a way that makes it sound more complicated than it actually is. In short, ACH works as a 7 step tool to test all the options open to us. It then judges which path is best for our clients.

Step 1

Collect the information surrounding the problem, and start to think about what is going on and what you are going to do about it.

List all the things that could be going on. No silly answers excluded or criticised.

Step 2

Find the evidence, assumptions and deductions for and against each theory found in Step 1.

Step 3

Put the theories where you have found evidence into a matrix to enable you to compare and contracts with each other. Try your hardest to disprove each hypothesis.

Each hypothesis is given a number to rank them between -2 and 2 to test the evidence, assumptions and deductions against the hypothesis. The higher the number, the more likely that evidence supports the theory.

Deductions – The process of reaching the answer by thinking about the known facts.

For instance. The Russians will support the Syrian regime because they want to maintain their influence in the Middle East and have a Mediterranean seaboard.

Octopus Intelligence

We are Octopus, the Global Competitive Intelligence Agency. Get the better of your competitors and market.

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