Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your competition is paramount if you want to shape opportunity. Zhuge Liang, the great military strategist of old China wrote:
“A skilled attack is one against which opponents do not know how to defend; a skilled defense is one which opponents do not know how to attack.”
Mounting a skilled attack requires the ability to analyze and synthesize marketplace intelligence. The ability to convert marketplace intelligence into actionable strategy and tactics is both science and art. The meaning of intelligence is open to different interpretations and quite often results in fuzzy, ambiguous conclusions. Effective strategists have the ability to wade through this “fog of war” and generate the navigational beacons necessary to guide a campaign.
There are many techniques for analyzing intelligence. Many consulting boutiques have developed sophisticated processes and technologies for competitive analysis. While many are quite excellent, their cost and the resources required to utilize the processes are prohibitive for all but the largest enterprises. Michael Porter, in Competitive Analysis (Chapter 3 - A Framework For Competitor Analysis)(12) lays out a fundamental process for competitive analysis.
12. Competitive Strategy Michael Porter New York: The Free Press, 1980.