Originally posted, with graphics, on the LAC Group blog.

We live in an age of data overabundance, where it’s often difficult to identify important information and how it may be used to drive business growth.

As providers of market and competitive intelligence research services, we’re deeply familiar with ethical and legal concerns and the sometimes fine-line between intelligence gathering and espionage. Those issues don’t come up often, because the research we do involves secondary resources, not gathering intelligence firsthand or undercover.

Yet even intelligence-gathering online or through fee-based information services comes with ethical considerations. For example, social media monitoring can be a grey area, as can deep dives into news archives and court records. We live in an era of information affluence for many reasons, including the push toward greater transparency and the growing challenge of keeping something under the radar.  Depending on which side you’re on, it’s either good news or bad news that digging up dirt is easier than ever.

Gathering competitive intelligence the right way

Fortunately, there’s a wealth of information available for analysis and consideration. For example,

Financial information—More challenging for privately-held concerns than public companies of course, but available to those who know where to look and how to find reliable financial data.

Customer information—Start with the case studies, blog articles and testimonials in which most companies now identify and talk about their clients.

Executives and key employees—Social listening and many company websites often divulge a wealth of information on the comings and goings of these individuals.

Market perceptions—Social listening is a good resource for seeing how you and your competitors are faring in the eyes of the marketplace. Most successful concerns are active on social media, giving you a line of sight into market perceptions.

The primary issue for all of these methods, and one of the reasons our clients come to LAC Group for research and intelligence, is finding the right information and doing the work. It requires research skills and experience to uncover useful information, make sense of the information and make sure it gets distributed and noticed by the right people.

Ethical primary sources of competitive intelligence

While the following tactics are not generally services we can or would provide, a variety of primary intelligence-gathering options are available, key among them:

Customer surveys and other client data—Competitive intelligence is more than researching competitors, it’s about identifying your own competitive strengths and weaknesses in comparison. For example, reaching out to your customers a few days or weeks after they’ve made a purchase decision is an opportunity to ask why they chose your product or service over another.

Trade shows and industry events—Frequented by industry experts and competitors, trade shows offer the perfect opportunity to find out more about them and to identify emerging players if you approach them with a CI view.

Data analytics—If your organization is adept at gathering internal and external data and able to create a unified collection, you can put the power of “big data” to work for CI purposes to reveal trends or other insights that might otherwise remain hidden.

As you can see, there are plenty of ways to gather competitive intelligence without resorting to ethically questionable or outright illegal tactics. The biggest challenges lie in knowing which information is important and how to turn it into actionable insights like understanding what you’re doing better or worse than your competitors and identifying gaps that are under-served or not served at all so that you can fill the void.

Drawing the line between competitive intelligence and corporate espionage

Sometimes the term “competitive intelligence” conjures up an image of corporate spying and cyber hacking to uncover trade secrets and intellectual property details. CI ethics and corporate espionage are popular Google searches. While some intelligence-gathering activities aren’t actually illegal, they are nonetheless unethical, like pretending to be a customer or posing as a job-seeker to gain access to inside information. The risk of legal action might be low, but there’s a huge risk of embarrassment and serious reputational damage.

A sufficiently detailed portrait of the competitive and market landscape helps law firms and other business concerns gain a closer understanding of the challenges they face and identify the strengths and unique value propositions that will solidify and sustain their place in the market. It’s what we call actionable insights, which can be put to use in order to:

  • Launch a new offering or enter a new market
  • Create more effective marketing plans
  • Understand lost deals or reverse the tide of flat growth
  • Hang onto important clients

No matter what your reason is to gather market and competitive intelligence, it’s important to do so in a responsible, ethical and regular way.

As you have probably heard by now, the company for which I work has tied the knot again. This time, we have acquired the competitive intelligence firm of ShiftCentral. Based in Canada and known for its exceptional team of business and market researchers and analysts, our combined portfolio of services and specialties promises to deliver great new added value to the clients of both corporations. The pairing also means that I get to work with some awesome new professionals, each of whom is every bit as excited about research and information services as me. I would like to take a moment to introduce you today to one of those new faces.

Please welcome Chris McKee, LAC Group’s new Director of Content & Curation Services as well as our new Director of Moncton Operations. We absolutely cannot wait to show you the fantastic work that Chris and his team can accomplish for you!

See the full introduction here.

Legal librarianship is constantly in a state of flux, with continual changes in job titles, habitual shifting of responsibilities and the explosion of legal artificial intelligence all playing a part. In January of this year, LAC Group surveyed their internal personnel about the future of law librarianship, based in part by the responses collected from the 2018 American Association of Law Librarians conference. The resulting blog post, Legal librarianship in 2019-2020, showcased three major takeaways: Continue Reading More thoughts on law firm research and librarianship

Former British prime minister and noted novelist Benjamin Disraeli is often credited with saying, “Change is inevitable. Change is constant.”  I may not care much for his politics, but I always found it an admirable admission from someone so well-known for his staunch conservatism. It is a pragmatic outlook on life that I have come to not only embrace but celebrate myself.  And so, it is with excitement that I share the news of big changes.  As of today, TiLT has a new name, a new look, and a brand new home.  Under the new moniker of informed.JD, my blog and I have joined the LexBlog platform! Continue Reading TiLT joins LexBlog with New Look and New Name! Welcome to informed.JD!

If you peruse the LAC Group blog, you’ll see many articles on the growing need for law firm librarians to demonstrate their value.

My colleague Ron Friedmann, a highly-respected expert in legal technology and knowledge management, recently presented on how law firm research and intelligence centers can contribute to firm profits. This was at an ARK (Applied Research & Knowledge) Group hosted conference, Best Practices & Management Strategies for Law Firm Library, Research & Information Services. LAC Group was a sponsor. Continue Reading Boosting your firm’s profits

Competitive intelligence (CI) can be especially valuable to private equity (PE) and venture capital (VC) firms, which often operate somewhat in the dark within their industry segments. Holdings in newly-forming or niche industries have few public companies or established business models to provide adequate references for benchmarking and other meaningful insights. Continue Reading My latest for LAC: CI considerations for PE and VC firms

Devotees of the fast, affordable, and efficient service of Documents Delivered were surprised today by a jarring message on the platform’s front page.  It appears that the company has shuttered its business without warning.  Customers are now greeted by the news that company has not only closed up shop, but also disposed of all confidential information.  All that remains is an e-mail address for anyone having accounting or billing concerns.

What gives?  And what has happened to the great team that kept so many patrons so happy over the years?  If you have any insights, please post them below.  This is a sad day indeed!

Here we are on May 31 and I just realized that I was derelict in sharing with you all my list of “must read” articles for the month. As they say, it is better to be late than never. Luckily, the day is not quite done where I am sitting, so I will chalk this one up to making it in just under the wire.  Here’s hoping some of these resonate with you. Continue Reading May Library “Must Reads” – Leadership