22 Mar 2018


There’s a fine balance that needs to be drawn between looking outside and inside.

Words: Alice Hoey

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu says, “If you know yourself, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat”. While most of us have competitors rather than enemies, the importance of knowing who we’re up against is just as great.

Whether you’re faced with a head-to-head battle or are struggling to survive in a crowded marketplace, information on your peers is valuable ammunition. Armed with a constant flow of data about your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, past performance and preferred strategies, you can make predictions about what they’ll do next and adapt your decision-making and plans. It’s valuable in the long-term too, providing inspiration and verification, and deepening your understanding of the sector in which you’re operating.

Yet, for all its benefits, competitor analysis can also be a massive drain on manpower. In an environment where time and patience are luxuries, shining the spotlight in the right direction, asking the right questions and knowing what to do with the answers is crucial.


Understandably, some organisations are now exploring more automated ways to sift through the incredible volume of data out there and to highlight key traits of interest in an opponent’s game. According to STATS’ director of data, Dr Patrick Lucey, such solutions are yet to be widely deployed because of a major bottleneck. “Those in football, and indeed in businesses around the world, face the problem of trying to get all the disparate data, which in football would include tracking data, event data and match video, into a single ecosystem. They also often get the results back in the form of a table or raw numbers, rather than something that they can easily digest and interpret.”

The potential of such analytical tools, though, is huge, promising to free up many hours of staff time and allow them to focus on higher-level analysis or to spend more time preparing the team.

One reason this is important, says Lucey, is that there’s a fine balance that needs to be drawn between looking outside and inside. “When you have limited time, you have to prioritise and there is currently a risk that an organisation could be so focused on examining what its competitors are doing that it neglects to address some of its internal needs,” he says. “Technology could help here, because by automating a large part of the work involved, organisations won’t have to decide which analysis or data is important; they can let the technology do its thing and concentrate on working with their teams.”


In reality, of course, most organisations have to make important decisions about where to focus their opposition analysis and what to look for, and in the case of a football team or a business competing for a tender, it’s likely to be all about their immediate rival.

Other organisations, however, monitor the competition more widely and continuously in order to find ways to raise their game. For digital marketing specialist Blue Digital, such analysis is crucial when putting together an actionable plan that delivers on a client’s business objectives. “When we bring a new client on board, we carry out an in-depth analysis of the current marketplace, competitor tactics and top-line objectives,” says the agency’s Araminta Hannah. “We ask them who they see as their closest competitors and we look into those competitors from both digital and technical perspectives. Interestingly, this process often brings to light other, less obvious or new competitors that weren’t initially identified by the client.”

The company critically analyses each competitor’s performance, identifies the tactics they are using and then analyses the effectiveness, strengths and weaknesses of that brand or campaign. “As well as helping to identify new opportunities for our client, analysis of this kind can be a great way of better understanding the market in which they are operating,” says Hannah. “What is proving effective? What isn’t working? How well are brands performing? Once we have conducted our research and presented it to the client, we’ll pull together a full strategy, including industry best practices and inspiration from competitors to enable the client to achieve its goals and gain authority in its sector.”