When I saw my good friend and frequent collaborator, Wendy Scherer, present on this topic earlier this year, I asked her to share her gray matter with us. One bit of back story is important here. I often describe Wendy as my smartest friend. She’s a researcher, a netnographer (you know you want to know what that is) and hands-down one of my secret weapons when it comes to delivering results for clients.
And when any of my peers in the industry come to me with a problem and/or express a need for data or research, I immediately refer them to Wendy. Pretty soon, the phone calls and emails about how Wendy has changed their lives and made everything they are doing exponentially better start pouring in. Yup, she’s that good. And now you know the rest of the story. Not only is she one of my dearest friends, she’s one of my most intelligent friends. So let’s get down to business with the following overview from Wendy.
Competitive Intelligence: How to Get it on a Startup Budget
While those of us in the research community would love for everyone to have generous budgets for competitive intelligence and knowledge gathering, it’s just not realistic. For start-ups and even for small to medium-sized companies, the knowledge needs are huge and the budgets? Not so huge. Maybe, even, non-existent.
In fact, many companies (of all sizes) don’t yet understand the wealth of business intelligence that’s available to help drive business strategy and allocating budget dollars for data acquisition is not even on their radar screens.
Smart marketers, however, realize that information is power. And the proliferation of the web means that there’s a huge amount of information out there that’s available at no cost other than the time you invest to find it–and that’s great. The challenge, however, is figuring out how to find, vet and harness the best and most relevant and applicable information in a useful way and, in the process, create a resource for ongoing data discovery that will serve your needs and save you time and energy.
Start With The Basics
As mentioned before, effective marketing is data driven. And when it comes to collecting data, you need to do it strategically. Start by asking yourself some basic questions. What do you want to know? And what do you need to know? Because before you can start planning, you need some context. And if you don’t start the process strategically, there’s a chance you could soon be overwhelmed by a mountain of data that amounts to nothing more than a whole bunch of noise. We don’t want that!
Things you might want to know and track might include the following:
- Brand position in the marketplace
- Target audience (lifestyle, demographics, etc.)
- Opinions, reviews, satisfaction, dissatisfaction…
Knowing and continuously learning about the context surrounding your business like the items mentioned above will provide background, insight, and yes, context. And these are the crucial elements you need to know as you strategically plan to do things like:
- Launch campaigns
- Increase awareness
- Drive traffic and sales
- Design outreach programs
- Develop and improve product and services
- Consider strategic partnerships
Tools You Can Use
These days tools are pretty much a dime a dozen and the space has become so crowded that it’s hard to figure out where to start, what to use, whose marketing schtick to listen to—you know the drill. So, while I use many tools for our research that are complex (and pricey), what I really love are tools that deliver great results that are free and/or very cost effective. And some of these favorites are what I’m going to share with you now.
Search engine research can serve up some awesome results, but the process of collecting them can be arduous at times. When you want a quick solution for some basic keyword research, try my favorite little search engine, Addictomatic. Addictomatic is pretty awesome and it allows you a comprehensive look at keyword results from both social media and news searches in a jiffy. Here’s a peek at some results on the scintillating topic of “particle physics” from Addictomatic.
Another tool that’s a favorite is Mention. You read articles and posts online. I know this because you are reading this particular post right now. It’s also likely that you have Google Alerts set up so you know when someone writes about you or your company or your industry. Seriously, who doesn’t? But, have you noticed that your alerts have gotten a lot thinner lately? That’s because it’s one of the many products that Google is slowly doing away with, so if you’re relying on Google Alerts exclusively for your brand data, know that finding an alternative should be high on your list of things to do.
Mention is one of the things we’re working with as a replacement for Google Alerts. With Mention, you can set up alerts, share them with team members, and respond right from the dashboard. You’ll thank me later.
Another site worth setting up alerts on is Biznar. Never heard of it? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. While you’ll find some results are old (I like to call them retro, it sounds cooler), you are sure to find results here you won’t find elsewhere. Biznar is a great barometer and can help inform other exploratory work.
Bringing it all Together: Enter Netvibes
What if you could create a single dashboard (are you as tired of that word as I am?) for your intelligence gathering? Well, of course, you can. Even better, you can fill it with incredible useful resources and visit it daily. You’ll be brilliant. And the most popular person on your team. That’s where Netvibes comes in.
Netvibes has been around since about 2005. While they call it a “personalized dashboard publishing platform,” I’d like to suggest that it’s your ultimate start page.
When you sign up for a Netvibes account, you get a clean slate. How you organize it from the start will – I promise – make you happy down the road. Set up tabs to segment your personal life from your business life – and get specific with them by industry or category you want to track. The system is made up of widgets that are categorized and easily searched for. So start searching, drill down by categories, and see what’s there. When you find one you like, drag it and drop it on the tab you want. Some have personalization options, some don’t.
For quick set-up, click the plus sign at the right, type in your subject and it will populate. On this one, I only added a couple extra modules – the big picture search was done for me. This is my particle physics tab in module view:
And in reader view:
Note I’m learning about the field because one of my sons has shown interest in this as a career path. Not kidding.
A few modules/widgets that I can’t live without: Google News Search (I have tons of these!), Delicious tags, New York Times (by section!), Bing News Search, Google Plus Search, Google Analytics, Craig’s List. Take a look and keep an open mind. I promise you can figure it out.
You can also get fancy and bring in anything else with an RSS feed, such as your favorite blog, an Instagram feed, or even your Biznar searches. If you want, you can also bring your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, email, and more straight in to the dashboard. And don’t forget to set your Netvibes page as the start page for your computer to be sure you actually look at it every day!
A couple more bonuses? Your dashboard works on your smart phone and tablet and you can easily share any module with others. It’s all easier than it sounds to get started, so just give it a shot.
Public Service Announcement: Search Terms
You probably know this, but it bears repeating. If your searches aren’t good, your results are going to be disappointing. The old saying, “Garbage in, garbage out” definitely applies here. Most platforms allow for advanced searching. Use it. Think about your search terms and what do you want in and what don’t you want in. Do you have date parameters or whole sites to eliminate? File types to limit? Read the search documentation. I know, it’s boring, but it’ll help you get more streamlined and accurate results. Don’t forget to improve your search over time as you watch the results served up by your actions and see what they deliver. Okay, lecture over.
Now What? How About a Strategy
All the data in the world does not a strategy make. You need to read and stay informed about your competitors and your industry. Drill down into the results you gather to get specific information – and be creative. Think like a strategist. Work to understand consumer behavior. Ask yourself questions about what you’re learning and be curious to find out more. Great researchers are infinitely curious and have an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Model yourself after us and you’ll soon find that the more you know, the more you want to know—which is awesome! Good strategic research should lead to more questions, better queries and exponentially better data and results. And once you have data, develop theories as part of your marketing strategies, test them, measure, test some more, measure some more—and know that this cycle will continue.
And what can you do with all this new knowledge? Use it as input along with other research, knowledge, and feedback. Look for trends and emerging new ideas. Check your dashboard daily – even if you can just glance – and set yourself up for continual learning.
Wendy Goldman Scherer is the managing partner of The Social Studies Group, a market research firm that specializes in using social media conversations to help companies better understand their customers, competitors, markets and industries. Custom service offerings include netnography (virtual ethnography), identifying and analyzing niche communities and influencers; comparative linguistic analyses of social media used for organizational and brand messaging; creating “universes” that can be monitored and analyzed over time; and in-depth social media monitoring for knowledge accumulation and analyses. Follow Wendy on Twitter at @wendyscherer and see what else she’s up to and where she’s hanging out at wendyscherer.com.