Technology is no substitute for strategy

Technology is not a substitute for strategy

Do I keep a 30,000 feet overview of what’s happening in my competitive space?

You bet.

Do I follow those competitors carefully, analyse traffic on their websites, compare their products, prices, keywords, AdWords, page load time, linking roots domain, changing text, quality of photos, mobile optimization, or zillion other minutiae to mine, and obsess over social network chats about them and us?

Not for one minute.

The pundits’ advice is often wrong.

Go on LinkedIn, and a horde of consultants advise entrepreneurs to keep a close eye on competitors by watching social media like a hawk, tracking competitors’ online moves, analysing site traffic patterns, and many other magical tricks.

This is simply bad advice.

If you want to stay in business, you can’t obsess about competitors.

Not knowing what to look for, what is crucial, and what to ignore is a waste of time and resources. Web intelligence and web analytics are not competitive intelligence. Not by a mile. It’s a toy that makes it easy to “spy” on competitors, right from your desk, compiling tons of useless data.

If you are serious about your company’s long-term success, you don’t want to bring a toy gun to a real gunfight.

The real competitive questions worth asking:

Real competitive intelligence answers the following tough questions:

  • What do I offer that’s unique and who can truly benefit?
  • What are the activities that are crucial to this uniqueness? Which are the most reliable links in delivering the offering? Who or what poses the real competitive threat to your business?
  • How do I stop competitors from imitating quickly?
  • What are the strategic risks and opportunities opening up for us as the market changes?

The problem with relying heavily on web analytics and other online intelligence tools is that they replace strategic thinking with hyped-up statistics or meaningless noise. A focus on web or online analytics only is a sure way to lose sight of the competition.

Internet trolling and social media obsession haven’t delivered one iota of better performance to anyone but the vendors supplying the tools.

For professionals like us who’ve been analysing the competition for decades, the hype surrounding web intelligence tools borders on the hilarious; its serious consequences, however, can lead to your company’s early demise.

Best advice #1: Never follow competitors

Competitive intelligence is about competing, not chasing the tail of your competition, whether direct or indirect. Sometimes, the best way to compete is actually to ignore competitors. That’s why Harvard Business School never succumbed to the wave of MOOCs free courses and cheap online education.

Best advice # 2: A channel is just a channel. 

Never forget that your company website is just a channel. What will make you win will depend on what your offer is – and who needs it. If you don’t fill a real need you will disappear, together with your fast-loading, button-happy, feature-rich mobile site with all the right SEO-grabbing keywords in place, state of the art technology just like everyone else.

Digital marketing is not a strategic insight. Continuous alertness to possible market evolution is where strategic minds win.

Technology is not a substitute for strategy.

There are dozens of companies today offering free or low-cost subscription web intelligence services (e.g., Alexa, Compete, HitWise, Google Trends, SimilarWeb, and Tregia are just a small sample). Are any of them a clear winner over the others? The same companies that allow you to “spy” on your competitors’ traffic and analyse their data to death can’t even win their own competitive race.

Best advice #3: Technology is no substitute for thinking.

This is the third lesson I teach my high tech start-up audience. If you are ready for hard work, it is worth it.

The realm of competitive intelligence is the realm of “standing out.” Don’t obsess over competitors’ minutia. Instead, obsess over your strategy and its underlying competitive perspective. It is a magnitude harder than collecting web noise, but it will pay off if you get into the habit of answering strategic questions with real competitive intelligence.

Leave web analytics for the kids who get excited with toy guns. Don’t be young, foolish and self-employed.

This article has been edited and condensed and sourced from my favourite CI guru, Ben Gilad, back in 2016.  Sadly not much has changed, so I thought it was worth revisiting. What do you think?  Do you do think differently four years on?

Benjamin Gilad is the co-founder and president of the FGH-Academy of Competitive Intelligence, the leading institution that pioneered the training and certification of competitive intelligence professionals (CIP™) world-wide. He is a former strategy professor at Rutgers University’s School of Management and author of three books on competitive intelligence’s role in companies’ success.


If you need help developing real competitive intelligence that will inform your business strategy – get in touch.

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