Marketers want to know what their competition is up to. Setting up Google Alerts and following your competitor's Twitter feed can get you only so far, and the old "hide your badge trick" at tradeshows is just annoying. Does it ever work... or does it just arouse suspicion?

So what's the best way to gather competitive intelligence?

Some of the information you want is not public. Other information is just hard to find and takes some work. Luckily, with the troves of information now online, plus some new tools, it's never been easier.

January is auspicious in the history of covert intelligence-gathering. At a lunch on January 24, 1946, President Harry Truman appointed the first Director of Central Intelligence.

In honor of that just-passed anniversary, we're going to look at some CIA-style techniques for spying on your competition. I won't tell you all of my secrets, nor pick favorite tools, but here are five bits of tradecraft.

1. Ad Spying

Ever wanted to know where your competitors are advertising and what they are saying? Maybe you come across their banner ads here and there, but how big of an investment are they making? Are there places where they are advertising and where you should advertise, too?

Some tools let you actually see where companies are advertising. Two of the more prominent are AdBeat and WhatRunsWhere. These tools crawl sites every day to find out what ads are running, and you can find out just what ad creative your competition is running and where.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Tim Matthews

Tim Matthews is VP of marketing at Incapsula and the author of The Professional Marketer. He occasionally publishes thoughts on marketing at Matthews on Marketing.

Twitter: @timmatthewssv

LinkedIn: Tim Matthews