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Competitive intelligence gathering for international markets

This post is part of a series offering guidance to companies considering international expansion.  Today’s theme is competitive analysis: it’s an introductory view, and a theme I’ll return to again in future posts. 

Marketing planning (also, a future theme) is a crucial tool for any company, irrespective of size. Think of it as the blue print around which all decisions surrounding your operational and strategic planning will flow.  Competitive analysis or competitive intelligence is one strand of this planning process. 

Not All Customers Are Alike

Whilst success within a domestic setting may point to overseas expansion as a natural next step, management should not simply assume that it can supplant its current business model within a new setting and run with it.  For the purposes of this post, I am assuming that firm decisions have already been made as to which specific country or region to enter, and if English is not widely spoken, that this is will be accommodated.  Undoubtedly some form of information gathering (formal or informal) will have been conducted to back up your geographic and market targets, pointing to a demand base for your products or services.  However, regardless of whether we are considering either a B2C or B2B environment, the old adage of “think global, but act local” remains very true.  Not all “consumers” will think and act alike. 


The make-up of your prospective customer base is an area we will consider in a separate post, but crucially you need to tap into how it perceives the concept of value-add, and how high a premium this can carry. Customers today are spoilt for choice, with the Internet enabling even more immediate access to products.  Investment in marketing is expensive; a poorly executed campaign which bears little relevance to the market’s needs, is a wasted opportunity. Therefore, creating a sufficiently strong brand image through which to generate demand for your portfolio is crucial. Differentiation is key here, and ideally, not based purely around competitive pricing. 

Learn From Your Rivals

Gaining as much insight into your competition will better equip you to position yourself appropriately. By learning how a local market is shaped and is evolving, you can then decide your USP, product offering, target vertical markets, pricing model, and appropriate channel partners.  Learn from those out there already doing it. 

Typically any market comprises:

International competitors: You may already be competing with some of these names and feel you understand their tactics.  However, you need to confirm whether they are offering their complete portfolio; what types of channel partner they are working with; where they are positioned, pricing wise. They may only be dealing with the international branches of existing companies for instance.

Local competitors: these can be large and very dominant, creating some form of market entry barrier. They may be afforded preferred supplier status in e.g. public sector contracts; Some may manufacture locally, generating better economies of scale;  Their quality of service and products may or may not be on a par with international standards (increasingly, senior management comprises personnel with significant international experience).  They may be strong in particular market sectors. 

Low cost imports (from Asia, Middle East) and/or “me toos”/grey market. Whilst you may not rate them as serious competitors, they do form part of the whole market. Their actions may impact on your ability to offer some higher value services e.g. fully certified warranties.  The level of activity within this sector may fluctuate from year to year. With the global economy still largely in downturn, many sectors will be flooded with cheaper goods.  Your channel partners, acting as your eyes and ears on the ground, can best keep track here. 

So, where to start…

  • The Internet is a great tool to find top level data for free.  Global analysts such as Datamonitor, Euromonitor, Forrester Research, Gartner, IDC, and Mintel, will typically publish summary data for free, outlining a market’s value, average annual growth rate, and perhaps the top 5 suppliers and share ranking.

See example of Competitor Analysis grid prepared by Gartner (and in the public domain) on GRC platforms for instance:

Competitor analysis grid

  • EI provides excellent support including country analysis, local market competitor analysis: if you have an export orientation you can tap into EI’s support infra structure including Business Advisors and its library of information.


Check out EI’s First Flight Programmes:


 EI First Flight Programme

  • Competitors’ web sites will provide valuable insight. They may have a separate web site for each country, or at least a listing of their channel partners, which you can then search separately for clues on market positioning. Press releases will announce major contracts secured, upcoming customer seminars or attendance at trade shows. White papers will reveal potential gaps for you to exploit.    Follow your competitors’ international blogs, follow them on Twitter. 

    Competitors on twitter


  • Identify relevant local trade publications and subscribe. Often the core publishing houses will have sister magazines in various countries, and businesses can subscribe for free, electronically. Track competitors’ ads, interviews with suppliers, channel partners and/or key customers. This is an invaluable way to keep abreast of market developments, more so than individual web sites.  
  • Whilst travel budgets may have been slashed, identify the principal local trade show, and aim to attend for some of its duration. This will definitely fast-track your intelligence gathering in a more informal setting. You can see first-hand how the market operates, visit competitors’ stands, attend presentations, connect with local trade associations, and meet prospects. Within the technology sector, there is an increasing tendency to exhibit at shows with a specific vertical market focus, rather than a more generalist show such as ‘Cebit/Hannover Fair  and WITSA’s 17th World Congress on Information Technology in 2010 in the Netherlands

A'dam WCIT2010

Only once you start to appreciate the dynamics of your target market, can you start to assess the level of opportunity open to you, the cost of market entry, the implications for your branding , and how best to support and motivate your resource base.

Did you find this post helpful?

I am an International Strategy and Marketing Consultant with over 20 years experience in marketing and strategy and international operations both in the US and Europe. Broad functional experience in: Marketing and Communications Strategic and Financial analytics including Business Case Development Consulting and Operational management Client Relationship Management Deep financial services sector knowledge. Worked in organisations ranging from technology start-ups, fast-paced direct marketing agency to large corporates. Member of Enterprise Ireland Mentor Panel Member of IIA (Irish Internet Association) International Strategy Working Group Committee member of the MBA Association of Ireland:

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  • Anonymous

    Great Article Una. I think you touch on it in your post, but the first thing many businesses should do when looking to target International markets is to establish if your product offering is suitable for foreign markets, one should not assume that going International is right for your business. There are positive and negative triggers for a business which is looking to go International, positives may be that you have spotted an opportunity or that going International was embedded as part of the early strategy of the business. While negative triggers maybe excess production capacity or a saturated market at home. Assessment of personal and business readiness is a key foundation on which to base your decision to go International.

    Following on from this, Competitor Analysis is a must and a I find a Grid like the example you have given is a very effective starting point. Market research provides critical information to facilitate decision making. When carrying out analysis it is important to ensure that information gathered is both relevent and timely, this is particularly the case when gathering information online. Building up competitive intelligence is essential but not always an easy task, obtaining information from private companies can prove difficult. While you have a comprehensive list of means of obtaining intelligence, if at all possible it is important to try and talk to competitor’s customers and establish what motivated them to buy the product. People are resistant to change and the status quo can often be the toughest competitor of all. It is important to plan your research, remember it is an investment. As Sun-tzu states in his book ‘The Art of War’: “Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.”

  • Hi Una – super article, and also excellent added commentary from Michael. Thanks guys – as someone who will be venturing abroad with the product, this was insightful.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Michael and Barney for taking time to consider artice and give your own comments. There are 2 more in this series on competitive intelligence gathering.


  • Thought provoking post Una and very relevant pointers to key cornerstones to have in place before branching out internationally. I firmly believe that once the key decisions are made and the market is right for the product or service – being prepared for marketing warfare is crucial and your ‘brand arsenal’ critical to win hearts and minds. Looking forward to the series. Sharon

  • Without gathering good quaility Competitive intelligence for international markets you are heading for uncharted waters. Going international is tough enough and without knowning what you are getting yourself in to, it becomes almost impossible and very dangerous for your business.

    Your blog post has outlined the basic steps required to enable success abroad, giving Irelands current economic state and the fact that we have a relativily small home economy, it is important spread the risk internationally.

    Mark Cahill MBA BEng

  • great post nice point and the picture explain very well vert useful

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