If you want your business to become a leader, or simply don’t want to be left in the dust by competitors, you need to know what’s happening and changing with your industry, customers and market.
You might be a bank executive trying to deal with a competitive threat like Apple Pay, or a exporter trying to find a market niche in China.
What you’re looking for is market intelligence.
“If you’re not aware of what’s going on in your space, then somebody else is and that would give them some competitive edge,” says Mario Thériault, founder and CEO of Moncton-based market intelligence agency ShiftCentral.
Market intelligence is generally defined as information gathered and analyzed that’s relevant to a company’s markets. This information is used to guide things like decision-making and determining a company’s strategy for market opportunities and development.
Yet in a world where we’re over-saturated with information, gathering and sorting through useful intelligence you need can seem almost impossible. That’s where companies like ShiftCentral come in. Founded in 2000, ShiftCentral specializes in offering customized marketing intelligence services as well as a platform to help track market and industry knowledge based on individual client needs.
Even if you’re a local business, Thériault says market intelligence is crucial to survival.
“Every organization does market intelligence in some form or another, even the local businesses here in the Maritimes or Atlantic Canada,” says Thériault. “If we don’t, we should compete globally and even if we don’t compete globally, we need to learn from best practices that are happening globally so we have some sort of competitive edge and the offering of either the product or service stays fresh and competitive. I say any winning organization does competitive intelligence.”
ShiftCentral takes a human-based approach when delivering market intelligence to clients. They have 40 employees working in their Moncton office who report, research, edit and analyze the intelligence. About 75 per cent of ShiftCentral’s clients are in the United States and are mostly larger organizations in the health and life sciences, professional services, banking and financial institutions and IT and telecom sectors. Some their clients include Bank of Montreal, AARP, and Citrix.
“The market issues are different for every organization. So if I say I want to open up in China, and you say you want to open up in China, well we’re probably looking for two different things, but we still call it China,” Thériault says. “Our job is to curate the content and contextualize the content clients need to support their strategy, to support their business development initiatives and to keep them a breadth of market moves on an ongoing basis.”
But to gather and create this kind of content, it’s not just a simple browse through social media and the the business section. The process of gathering useful intelligence is intense.
“Market intelligence looks forward. Our job is to try to find a nugget. We’re not media monitoring. We don’t look backwards. If it’s in media, it’s already too late for organizations. Then, they need to react to it,” says Thériault.
“But we’re looking for emerging signs. We’ll sit in on financial analyst calls, we’ll scour through speeches of thought leaders or competitors at some conference. Even if it’s not newsworthy, there might be a nugget in there. Our job is to pick up some market signals that would prompt our clients to either pick up the phone or set up a lunch, or inform their strategy.”
Having good market intelligence doesn’t mean a company will never be blindsided, but Thériault says it will help give them an idea of what’s coming by looking at relevant information from both inside and outside their industry.
“If you take banking right now, one could argue that Apple Pay, Google Pay are big threats to banking and they’re coming from the mobile economy as opposed to some other bank. That’s a clear example of needing to look outside their own comfort zone and their own industry to try to pick up signs or signals,” says Thériault.
“Client experience, customer satisfaction, for example, you can learn strategies of that from different geographies and different industries than yours, but it’s clear that you’re competing for customers, so the customer experience becomes a critical part of that.”
Like any industry, marketing intelligence itself is changing. While some go the human route with companies like ShiftCentral, others choose to use automated aggregators. But Thériault says he sees the future of market intelligence as a mix of both human and artificial intelligence.
“I think it will be a mixed bag with emerging tools of the day and sort of the best minds aligned with the best tools,” he says. “Then after that, the organizational issues remain the same. It’s competing to win in a global environment with the best strategy, the best product, the best team, the best resource.”
But one thing that won’t be changing is the need for the competitive intelligence itself.
“Right now, [ShiftCentral’s] story is much more easy to convey than it was five or 10 years ago because it’s becoming self-evident that we live in a world of too much information,” he says.
“You don’t have time to look at everything and you can’t afford to miss out on anything and I thinks that’s going to stick around for a while.”