For many marketers, the competitive external force is the one most relevant to immediate day-to-day decision making. While the other external forces we’ve discussed tend to be examined periodically (or in some cases rarely), monitoring competitor activity is often a daily undertaking.

Monitoring competitors can serve several goals:

Competitors as Threats

The most obvious reason to monitor the competition is to see how they are responding in the same markets in which the marketer operates. Many larger companies recognize the importance of keeping tabs on their competition and create specific positions or even departments that focus on gathering and analyzing competitor data. These competitive intelligence programs mainly employ high-tech methods to locate information about competitors, such as news reports, government filings (e.g., patents, stock reports), social media postings, and changes to competitors’ websites. Even small-sized marketers can track competitors’ actions. For instance,  several news and information services that will alert a marketer (usually via email) when a competitor is mentioned in the news.

Competitors as Partners

While many may consider competitors as representing the enemy, there are situations where competitors can present opportunities. This happens often to large companies that offer a broad product line serving many target markets. In some markets, a company may compete aggressively with another firm but in other markets both firms may be lagging and it may make more sense for both to work together. This can be seen in the computer industry where Apple, which at one time would not consider building computers with Intel processors since these were used by competitors that run the Microsoft operating system, has now adopted these processors for much of its computer line.

Competitors of Tomorrow

In many industries and, in particular, those in technology-focused industries, the most dangerous competitors are the ones that have yet to emerge. Because technology-dependent industries, such as high-tech, consumer electronic and pharmaceuticals, rely heavily on innovative new products, serious competitors can emerge quickly from what seems to be out of nowhere. For instance, news organizations have been quickly and significantly impacted by social media, especially by the continuing growth and influence of Twitter and YouTube. The ease by which information can be posted and made available for mass viewing essentially allows nearly anyone to become a broadcaster and, consequently, a threat to traditional news outlets.