Competitive intelligence is a key instrument for effective digital marketing and SEO. Without understanding your environment and business field properly, it’s difficult to make informed decisions. However, even though every experienced marketer has heard about competitive intelligence, few actually know what it means. It’s often confused with business intelligence or competitor analysis. Whilst there’s certainly an overlap among these terms, competitive intelligence is a distinct process which needs to be differentiated. So what actually is competitive intelligence?

What is competitive intelligence?

Competitive intelligence is the systematic process of observing and gathering relevant information about the external environment of your business, analyzing the resulting data and distributing insights within your organization in order to make informed business decisions. Compared to espionage, competitive intelligence is a legal and ethical method for improved decision-making. It can focus on competitors, customers, other stakeholders, products, markets as well as on economic, technological or legal factors. Regardless of the scope of it, the main purpose of competitive intelligence is to understand the external environment of your business so that you can take appropriate action to stay competitive.

In comparison, business intelligence, while also aimed at obtaining information to enhance decision-making, primarily focusses on analyzing internal data and corporate processes via particular technologies, applications and methodologies. Competitor analysis is also a distinct field, because it mainly examines and evaluates competitors, whereas competitive intelligence takes into account the whole environment.

Why competitive intelligence is important

Today, competitive intelligence is fundamental for business success and survival. With the increased pace of innovation and technological advances, a lack of awareness of what’s happening in your environment could be fatal for your organization. This applies not only to small firms, but for global companies too. In fact, statistics show a drastic decline of average tenure in the S&P 500 index and if the trend continues, 75% of fortune 500 companies will be replaced by 2027. Clearly, no matter the size of your budget, the power of your brand or the strength of your technology, failure to spot and react to changing environments can have negative consequences. Competitive intelligence is the solution to this problem since it allows you to observe market conditions continuously, to detect threats or new opportunities in time, and to act accordingly.

How to gather competitive intelligence

In order to obtain competitive intelligence, companies can gather data and information from a vast amount of sources: customers, competitors, industry experts and reports, trade shows and conferences, financial statements, patent database, government records and of course news media. Additionally, due to the explosion of user-generated content on wikipedia, blogs, forums, social networks and more, there is now more information available than ever before. In fact, this has led to a new phenomena named ‘information overload’. To deal with this exponential expansion of data, companies are relying on tools and apps that help them collect, process and analyze data more efficiently.


As the pace of innovation is accelerating and markets are changing faster than ever, competitive intelligence has become the key to business success. By understanding and analyzing their entire environment and seeing the big picture, companies can grow their awareness of what’s happening around them, in order to make informed decisions. Thanks to competitive intelligence, firms can take action in time to react to threats or take advantage of new opportunities. As the amount of sources and data for information gathering is increasing rapidly, businesses are forced to turn to technological tools to automate, improve and speed up the competitive intelligence process.