Tips and Tricks for Boosting Growth and Profit through Marketing Intelligence
Marketing is such a broad topic that it no longer comes as surprise when we realize there are other aspects of it that we didn’t know about. In fact, even marketers, or people who are heavily engaged in marketing processes, will tell you that they do not know everything about this discipline or business aspect. For them, learning about, practicing and implementing marketing and its many processes is a continuous process. In the conduct of the different marketing activities, they learn something new every day.
Certainly, one of the many business activities considered to be vital to marketing involves how businesses deal with data that will be used in making decisions, specifically marketing decisions: how they collect or gather the data, where the data will be sourced or collected from, and the impact or relevance of the data to the marketing program of the business and the business, as a whole.
In this context, we are not talking about just any random data. We are specifically referring to data about markets. This type of data has a name: marketing intelligence.
WHAT IS MARKETING INTELLIGENCE?
Earlier definitions described “marketing intelligence”, or MI, as “primarily external data about markets collected and analyzed by businesses for decision-making and planning purposes.” However, the outlook on MI has expanded in recent years, so that the focus is no longer restricted to external data.
Therefore, we now often hear MI being defined as the set of activities conducted by a business to obtain or acquire knowledge and understanding of a market using all existing sources of information – both external and internal – for marketing planning and decision-making purposes. Take note that the concentration is no longer on external data alone, but also on internal data and, increasingly, social media monitoring.
MI covers a whole slew of data and information, such as:
- An overview of the features of a market;
- Prevailing issues, problems and controversies in the market;
- Identity of competitors within the market, and their behavior;
- Identity of customers within the market, and their behavior; and
- The market potential for new products or services.
Depending on the nature of the business, industry and market, there are other forms or types of data that may be considered as marketing intelligence, but the ones listed above are what you’d usually find in every business’ MI list.
The responsibility of gathering and analyzing MI falls on the shoulders of individuals with the necessary knowledge and skills in identifying and tracking potential sources of MI and making in-depth and detailed assessments of the MI collected. They are often referred to as Marketing Intelligence Specialists and Market Analysts.
Before conducting market research, the people undertaking this task already have a clear idea where to get their information from. Fortunately, there are multiple sources of marketing intelligence that they can turn to.
Incidentally, the sources of the data to be collected and analyzed came to define the two classifications or types of marketing intelligence.
1. MI based on external data
This type of marketing data is derived from external sources, or from outside the business organization, and obtained through desk researches. The most frequently used external sources include:
- Market analysts’ reports and publications. From time to time, market analysts release publications containing their assessments of the current state of markets, and these could provide the business with valuable insight about the market.
- Competitor intelligence, covering everything from operational to financial data. Usually, the focus of gathering MI about the competition is on their market positioning and differentiation strategies, as well as their pricing policies.
- Press release (PR) or mass media monitoring. By keeping their eye on the news, businesses can also glean valuable information that will impact their marketing decisions.
- Social media monitoring. This basically entails collecting data about the market from Facebook status updates, tweets, and other posts in various social media platforms. It is a fact that there is increasing usage of social media by consumers across markets and industries, and the social nature of these platforms make them ideal venues for consumers to provide commentary that will, in turn, be interpreted for market analysis.
2. MI based on internal data
The sources of data for this type of marketing intelligence are identifiable within the confines of the organization. More often than not, they are information generated by the company through its own efforts and data-gathering activities. They include:
- Historical market data, or data obtained from previous market researches and studies conducted by the company. Marketers often refer to historical data – even dating as far back as several decades ago – when their analysis calls for making comparisons and identifying trends and patterns.
- Company’s internal database, which was periodically maintained and kept up to date with any relevant information as they came in. The database may include records of past transactions and results of operations of the business.
- Prospect lists drawn up by the marketing team through its various marketing efforts such as subscription programs, loyalty programs, and the like.
- Feedback from key members of the organization, such as the sales team, marketing team, distribution team, suppliers, and other partners. They are the ones on the front lines, so to speak, so they have a better handle on the “pulse” of the market and the consumers.
- Online activities of the company from its website and social media accounts. This is not to be confused with the “social media monitoring” in the first type of MI, since the social media activities monitored were undertaken by external players or forces. In this specific case, it is the company that actively takes steps to use its online and social media presence to gather MI. For example, analysis of website traffic can provide an insight on what the customers are interested in, and how they behave when faced with the prospect of purchasing the products and services of the business.
Now, between the two types, which MI is more reliable and persuasive? Generally, externally-sourced MI may be considered more reliable, boasting more objectivity. Some businesses may be wary of their own internal data, for the simple reason that personal interests may cloud the objectivity and validity of the information.
However, that generalization is inconclusive. Before deciding whether external MI is more reliable or not, there is a need to take a look at the information gathering and maintenance system of the business. A well-designed system may justify high reliance on internal MI.
Intelligence is mainly about asking the right questions.
THE IMPORTANT ROLES OF MARKETING INTELLIGENCE
Information is power, and nothing can be truer in business, which cannot survive, much less begin, if there is no information to start with. Without raw data, there will be no information available for the business to work with. There will be no basis for making decisions, and certainly no parameters to measure performance against. Running a business without data or intelligence is akin to driving in the dark without a map, a navigation system, or even a single headlight.
Marketing intelligence plays a vital role in business growth and profitability, although some may not be able to spot the direct connection at first glance. It is in the usage of the gathered and analyzed marketing intelligence that will have an impact on the company’s profit level and potential for growth.
As stated in the definitions earlier, marketing intelligence is essential when management is making business decisions or drawing up plans for the business. We will be able to understand this concept better if we know exactly how market intelligence will be used.
MI is a useful tool in the assessment or evaluation of opportunities for entering new markets.
A business may be able to spot a dozen market entry opportunities. However, there is a high probability that only a few of those opportunities will be viable for the business. Marketing intelligence will aid in the identification of which opportunities are worth taking a second look at. This way, decision-makers can rule out the not-so-good prospects and focus their planning and strategizing on those that have potential.
MI is used in the design of market development plans.
A business adapting market development as a growth strategy has to put a lot of effort and resources in studying the new market that it plans to develop, and subsequently sell its existing products to. The risk in market development is that the new market may not accept what the business is offering. Collecting and analyzing MI will help lower that risk, allowing the business to get to know its new customers first before devising marketing techniques on how to introduce their products.
MI can serve as basis for the creation of market penetration strategies.
Market penetration involves selling existing products or services into an already existing market in order to increase the market share of the company. One of the huge challenges faced by businesses in this strategy is in the presence of competitors that are also offering similar products and services. Therefore, businesses have to implement positioning and differentiation tactics, such as increasing promotions, lowering prices, offering discounts and special offers, and the like.
However, making the decision on what tactic to use is not something that can be done at random. This is where MI will play a role. Its analysis will help in identifying which tactic to employ in order for the business to penetrate the market and get a bigger piece of the market.
MI can help management in deciding fund and resource allocations for its marketing initiatives.
MI addresses issues such as where the business should devote more of its marketing budget. Say, for instance, that the marketing team is currently running three marketing campaigns simultaneously. According to MI, the first two campaigns are doing very well, attracting customers and driving conversions, more than the third one. As a result, more resources will be poured into the third campaign in order to push it further into the target market’s awareness.
BOOST PROFITABILITY AND BUSINESS GROWTH THROUGH MARKETING INTELLIGENCE
Cast your MI-gathering net wide.
There are multiple sources of MI, and you have to take advantage of as many of them as you can, if not all of them.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make in gathering MI is by restricting it to one or two sources. There is a reason why MI is no longer primarily focused on external data sources, and that is because of the general realization that internal data, too, is relevant.
Often, it is the most obvious and accessible sources that are overlooked. Many businesses fail to optimize the use of data resources that are readily (and often freely) provided by the government. You will find relevant data on population, economy, trade and labor, and market trends provided by the various government agencies.
Usually, what is stopping companies from using all sources of information available is the cost and manpower that it will require. They want to cut back on spending, so they will choose only one or two sources. If this is the case, there is a need to identify the sources of information that will provide the most relevant and reliable data.
Motivate from within… and without.
The quality of MI will improve if all the key players – inside and outside – the organization are involved and supportive of the conduct of MI gathering and analysis.
Start with your sales team. They are the ones directly engaged in the selling activities of the company, exposed to the market and interacting with the customers. That makes them your prime gatherers of marketing intelligence. You can look at them as the conduit or link that connects the business to the market, so they are likely the first ones to know about relevant information on market trends and movements, consumer behaviors, competitor actions, and market opportunities.
Therefore, the business should invest in training all the members of its sales force in intelligence gathering. Motivate them, not only to do their jobs, but also to contribute in the company’s MI initiatives.
Take a look at the company’s relationship with distributors and other partners and collaborators. They are usually the external parties in your distribution channels, such as dealers, retailers, suppliers and other intermediaries. With the right motivation and prompting on your part, they can act on your behalf in gathering high quality and reliable marketing intelligence. For example, retailers can utilize mystery shoppers to collect data that will be used by the manufacturer of the products.
The best form of motivation, by far, is maintaining a good relationship with them. However, in some cases, businesses hire the external parties, in their capacity as specialists, to collect MI for the company. As in the previous example, these hired MI specialists will be the one to conduct mystery shopper activities instead of the retailers.
Exercise competitive intelligence.
Competitive intelligence refers to a firm’s efforts in understanding and learning what is happening outside the business, and using that to make the business competitive. This requires taking a long, hard look at the external environment of the business, from the industry to the competitors, the media and regulatory bodies.
What activities are usually used by businesses to improve MI? Here are some examples.
- Expanding external networks to the press media and industrial players;
- Purchasing products and services of competitors, and testing them out; and
- Analysis of advertising campaigns, press coverages and publications of competitors.
Competitive intelligence should not be confused with corporate or industrial espionage, since it is within legal and ethical bounds while the latter is not.
Get customers involved.
Another external source of data that you should tap into is the customer. Market intelligence specialist Ajith Sankaran pointed out how many businesses, especially the small to medium-sized ones, often overlook the potential of customers as data sources.
This actually makes sense. MI includes data on the customers, so what better way than getting the information straight from the horse’s mouth? If you want to find out about the customers, then your best bet is to go straight to them to get the information that you need.
Usually, gathering customer intelligence is done through referring to market researches and reports, and maybe some active data-gathering techniques such as floating questionnaires and surveys. However, there are other, more creative but inexpensive ways of getting more customer intelligence.
Many businesses set up processes that are specifically designed to build and maintain customer lists. Large, successful companies also maintain customer feedback programs tailored to their unique setups, in lieu of sending their marketing teams out on the field to have customers fill out survey forms. Feedback fed by customers into these programs are mostly given voluntarily, which makes the customer intelligence more reliable. Most businesses with strong online presence these days apply this trick through well-designed online customer feedback facilities.
Another highly recommended tip is for the company to form a customer advisory panel composed of various customers with different reactions or perceptions of the product or brand. If you put loyal customers on the panel, balance it out by including customers that used to buy your products but have since moved to another brand. If possible, include customers whose loyalties lie with your competitor. Consider including in the panel customers that love your product, as well as customers that hate it.
The MI provided by this panel include insights on what the customers are looking for that you can (and cannot) offer, and what you are doing right (and wrong). By analyzing your customers, you will be able to identify additional sales opportunities, which clearly means higher sales revenues and profit.
Maximize the use of market intelligence tools.
Small enterprises operating in small markets may implement their MI initiatives by assigning several people or a small team on the job. However, this may be a challenge if they will end up dealing with large amounts of MI, or with MI boasting high complexity. Usually, the easiest way out for some would be outsource MI activities and hire a specialist to do them. Or, they could stick to the original plan of doing it by themselves, but with the aid of certain specialized tools.
Large and resource-rich companies are able to create their own customized tools for gathering market intelligence. Those who are not as “well-off” need not be disheartened, however, since there are still options available to them.
Market intelligence tools are developed primarily to facilitate the data-gathering process, but there are also tools made to aid in the analysis of the data as well. Companies may also rely on these tools for storage of the information gathered and analyzed.
Take a look at the following list of market intelligence tools – only a handful out of the many tools available today.
- SurveyMonkey – This free online survey software and questionnaire tool lets businesses easily create surveys and send them to the targeted respondents via web, mobile, and social media. A premium account will provide collaboration features, where teams can collectively analyze surveys. Analytics offered by the site will ultimately aid in decision-making.
- Pentaho – Pentaho claims to be a “comprehensive data integration and business analytics platform”. Among Pentaho’s list of products are Big Data, Data Integration, Embedded Analytics, Business Analytics and Cloud Business Analytics. Some of the noted Pentaho users are big names such as Caterpillar, Sears Holdings, and Nasdaq.
- Sisense – This business intelligence software is recommended for the analysis of large amounts of data, no matter how complex. It also allows presentation and viewing of analytics in an interactive and visual manner, making it possible for management to understand what the data is actually saying. Sisense was included in Forbes 2016 list of World’s Best 100 Cloud Companies, with a client roster including eBay, Philips, fiverr, and Sony.
- Oracle – Oracle is a popular choice among the many integrated cloud applications and platform service providers. This platform allows easier sharing of business and market intelligence across all stakeholders. As far as databases go, Oracle is a favorite because of its simplicity and ease of use, as well as its other cutting-edge features.
- Birst – Birst specializes in using data to connect the key players within the organization through its proprietary networked analytics and business intelligence platform.
Marketing intelligence is a vital part of any company’s marketing plan. As a matter of fact, marketing intelligence plays a very crucial role in the entire business plan. To ensure profitability and growth of the business through its marketing initiatives, it should have a strong and solid foundation, characterized by reliable, sufficient and high quality marketing intelligence.