We have already mentioned the importance that competition plays in a marketing organization. At a minimum, marketing companies must thoroughly understand their competitors' strengths and weaknesses. This means more than making sweeping generalizations about the competitors. It means basing intelligent marketing decisions on facts about how competitors operate and determining how best to respond. Often the identification of competitors is fairly straightforward. It is the supermarket on the next block, or the three other companies that manufacture replacement windshields. There are instances, however, when the identification of a competitor is not clear. Marketing expert Theodore Levitt coined the term "marketing myopia" several years ago to describe companies that mis-identify their competition.3 Levitt argued, for example, that the mistake made by the passenger train industry was to restrict their competition to other railroads instead of all mass transit transportation alternatives, including automobiles, airlines, and buses. Today we see the same mistake being made by companies in the entertainment industry (movie theaters, restaurants, and resorts), who assume that their only competition is like-titled organizations.
Since practically no marketer operates as a monopoly, most of the strategy issues considered by a marketer relate to competition. Visualize a marketing strategy as a huge chess game where one player is constantly making his or her moves contingent on what the other player does. Some partners, like Coke and Pepsi, McDonald's and Burger King, and Ford and General Motors, have been playing the game so long that a stalemate is often the result. In fact, the relative market share owned by Coke and Pepsi has not changed by more than a percentage or two despite the billions of dollars spent by each on marketing.
The desire of companies to accurately gauge competitors has led to the growing popularity of a separate discipline—competitive intelligence. This field involves gathering as much information about competitors through any means possible, usually short of breaking the law. More is said about this process in the integrated marketing box that follows.
Spying to stay competitive
Most corporate detectives avoid terms like spying and espionage, preferring the more dignified label "competitive intelligence", but whatever they call it, snooping on business rivals has become an entrenched sub-industry.
Nearly every large US company has an intelligence office of some kind. Some, like Motorola, Inc., have units sprinkled in almost all of their outposts around the world. Their assignment is to monitor rivals, sniff out mergers or new technologies that might affect the bottom line, even to keep tabs on morale at client companies. A veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency formed Motorola's intelligence unit, viewed as a model in the business, in 1982.
Corporate intelligence relies on a slew of tools—some sophisticated, many quite basic. On the simpler end of the spectrum, business sleuths do everything from prowling trade show floors to combing through rivals' web sites and patent office filings. They keep their ears open in airports and aboard flights. Sometimes they go further. They take photographs of competitive factories, and, increasingly, they rely on new data-mining software that permits them to scan the Internet at high speeds for snippets about their rivals. 1