Increasingly, companies are purchasing analytics software to help them pull and make sense of internally generated information. Analytics software allows managers who are not computer experts to gather all kinds of different information from a company’s databases—information not produced in reports regularly generated by the company. The software incorporates regression models, linear programming, and other statistical methods to help managers answer “what if” types of questions. For example, “If we spend 10 percent more of our advertising on TV ads instead of magazine ads, what effect will it have on sales?” Oracle Corporation’s Crystal Ball is one brand of analytical software.
The sporting goods retailer Cabela’s has managed to refine its marketing efforts considerably using analytics software developed by the software maker SAS. “Our statisticians in the past spent 75 percent of their time just trying to manage data. Now they have more time for analyzing the data with SAS, and we have become more flexible in the marketplace,” says Corey Bergstrom, director of marketing research and analysis for Cabela’s. “That is just priceless.” 1
The software analyzes the company’s sales transactions, market research, and demographic data associated with its large database of customers. It uses the information to gain a better understanding of the marketing channels Cabela’s prefers and to make other marketing decisions. For example, does the customer prefer Cabela’s’ one-hundred-page catalogs or the seventeen-hundred-page catalogs? The software has helped Cabela’s employees figure this out. 2
A good internal reporting system can tell a manager what happened inside his firm. But what about what’s going on outside the firm? What is the business environment like? Are credit-lending terms loose or tight, and how will they affect what you and your customers are able to buy or not buy? How will rising fuel prices and alternate energy sources affect your firm and your products? Do changes such as these present business obstacles or opportunities? Moreover, what are your competitors up to?
Not gathering market intelligence leaves a company vulnerable. Remember in Chapter 8 "Using Marketing Channels to Create Value for Customers" when we discussed Encyclopedia Britannica, the market leader in print encyclopedia business for literally centuries? Encyclopedia Britannica didn’t see the digital age coming and nearly went out of business as a result. (Suffice it to say, you can now access Encyclopedia Britannica online.) By contrast, when fuel prices hit an all-time high in 2008, unlike other passenger airline companies, Southwest Airlines was prepared. Southwest had anticipated the problem, and early on locked in contracts to buy fuel for its planes at much lower prices. Other airlines weren’t as prepared and lost money because their fuel expenses skyrocketed. Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines managed to eke out a profit. Collecting market intelligence can also help a company generate ideas or product concepts that can then be tested by conducting market research.
Gathering market intelligence involves a number of activities, including scanning newspapers, trade magazines, and economic data produced by the government to find out about trends and what the competition is doing. In big companies, personnel in a firm’s marketing department are primarily responsible for their firm’s market intelligence and making sure it gets conveyed to decision makers. Some companies subscribe to news service companies that regularly provide them with this information. LexisNexis is one such company. It provides companies with news about business and legal developments that could affect their operations. Let’s now examine some of the sources of information you can look at to gather market intelligence.