The difference between competitive intelligence and corporate espionage

Competitive intelligence is an essential part of your business marketing research plan for striving in the market and staying ahead of your rivals. The benefits of competitive analysis are quite clear, but how do you make sure you’re not doing something unethical or even unlawful?

In this blogpost we will try to describe what the main difference is between competitive intelligence and corporate espionage.

Gaining competitive intelligence is easier than ever

Now, what is competitive intelligence if it is essential to your business? It mainly concerns the identification, gathering and “ethical” analysis of your business competitors. Some call it competitive analysis, business intelligence, corporate intelligence or even industrial intelligence.

Having an edge over your competitors, in today’s market, can highly impact how well your company is doing. Many companies have been able to do better and come up with creative and innovative plans, products and services by discovering their competition’s next move and learning about their business techniques.

Conducting a competitive analysis in this era has never been easier and more important. In the past, it was hard to gather information about a company’s rival and, often times, it resulted to illegal acts. But today, open company data which is at everyone’s disposal online, has broken down a lot of barriers.

In an act to gain more customers, businesses post a lot of information on the internet and even send out press release regularly. Customers’ reviews are made public. All of these have made competitive analysis easier to conduct.

Collecting information ≠ espionage

As a Competitive Intelligence Professional or a business trying to perform an ethical competitive intelligence, you can follow strict code of ethics formulated by the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP) lest you fall into performing the dark side of competitive intelligence, which is known as “espionage”.

What not to do?

This brings us into what corporate espionage is: it is simply the illegal side of competitive intelligence. This is when you decide to get your rivals’ information without granted or public access.

  • Pretending to be a staff and stealing confidential information is undoubtedly espionage. Unauthorized hacking into another corporation’s computer system is nothing but espionage and they do not conform to competitive analysis ethics.
  • Researching about your rival with the intention of tarnishing their reputation based on the knowledge you have about them isn’t a cool practice. Instead research to find ways to better your own corporation.
  • The aforementioned are, of course, not the only illegal practices. Blackmail, bribery and patent infringement also fall under corporate espionage.

Don’t forget GDRP

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) might also affect your ability to gain information. Most information within a competitive analysis, will of course be about your competitor. However when you’re trying to understand key influencers or find information about investors, founders or employees, you need to be more careful.

It’s simple

Don’t let the fear of corporate espionage or unethical activity stand in your way. Doing an extensive analysis of your competitors is (or at least should be) part of every business’s strategy. As long as you gain information with a clear conscience, while following the law, there is nothing unethical or unlawful about it.

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