In the News

Turning customer intelligence into competitive intelligence

August 21, 2012
Source: Fast Casual

If you're like most fast casual restaurants, you're listening to what your customers are talking about online. And with good reason: Aberdeen Research reveals that Best-in-Class organizations that engage in social media monitoring and analysis activities are three times more likely than the industry average companies, and 82 times more likely than the industry "laggards," to improve their ability to identify and reduce risks to the brand.

But did you know that mining social media unearths a goldmine of competitive intelligence as well? Savvy organizations have long used competitive intelligence to understand their competitors' strategies. Given the explosion of consumer generated content, there are few more optimal places to gather all of this critical data than from social media. This is different than knowing about how your competitors use social media; true competitive intelligence gives you insight into what draws customers to your competitors and allows you to use that insider knowledge to drive your strategy. True competitive intelligence also allows you to assess your industry standing in areas that most matter to you — such as service, ambiance, food quality, etc., — so you can make impactful changes that will drive the effectiveness of your customer acquisition and retention initiatives.

Many organizations, however, do not harness the competitive intelligence inherent in online conversations. As Zach Hofer-Shall of Forrester is quoted as saying, "We've found that while most companies do in fact listen, few have Social Intelligence strategies and most don't yet gain true actionable business insights from the data they collect. So even though listening is still very important for brands, it's time Customer Intelligence teams start using social data."

Most online data is innocuous in little chunks, but when combined with lots of other bits and pieces of information it gives you a revealing window into your competitors. More than simply summarizing myriad statistics that are unearthed from all these chunks of information, true competitive intelligence comes from turning these chunks of unstructured data into actionable knowledge about competitors' capabilities, intentions, performance, and position — and using this knowledge to confidently make strategic business, marketing and operating decisions.

As an example of the power of competitive intelligence derived from social media comments, here is the actual, real data collected over a six month period about two well-known burger joints displayed in theme clouds. Let's call the first theme cloud "Burger Joint A," and the other can be "Burger Joint B."

It's not surprising that when talking online about their experiences, customers referenced the word "burger" most often for both competitive brands. What we can learn, however, is while "burger" is mentioned at the same rate, Burger Joint B's customers talked more positively about their burger. Hence, the more saturated green color of the word. The same can be said for the second most referenced product offering at both joints, "fries." Yet, because the word is slightly larger and a brighter green for Burger Joint A, we know they have a slight advantage in customer sentiment about its fries over Burger Joint B.

Knowing they have a proven edge in customer sentiment for their fries, Burger Joint A may opt to make the menu item a focal point of a marketing campaign. By the same token, the data should prompt the COO at Burger Joint B to drill down into the data to find out which of his locations were scoring the poorest for the theme "fries" and evaluate ways to improve the offering, such as upgrading the frying equipment.

Sentiments about both "burger" and "fries" were fairly positive, but the theme clouds reveal negative commentary which is important to decipher because as we know, when one person posts a negative review it lives online for all to see. (In fact, according to, 62 percent of Americans read online reviews.) So the general manager of Burger Joint A, should find out more about why the bun was attracting negative commentary. With the right solutions, its possible to understand if customers thought they were too hard, or too mushy and determine next steps, perhaps changing bakeries. Compare those actions to what the GM of Burger Joint B should do. He/she would probably be most concerned with the word "wait" that's called out in red, which points to a time and service issue.

Looking at these theme clouds illustrates how having the right social market intelligence tools enables you to drill down into the performance of your competitors — as defined by their customers — to gain a deeper understanding of their strengths, weaknesses and latest initiatives. Success in customer-focused industries relies on the customer's intent to return, with the right information you can ensure your customers not only return but choose you over your competition. Learning what draws customers to your competition gives you the critical insider knowledge needed to optimize your customer retention and acquisition strategy.

Susan Ganeshan is CMO for newBrandAnalytics. She focuses on customer success, and leads the charge in creating buzz around the company's "software-as-a-service" products. To hear more from Susan and to learn where your restaurant is on the Social Market Intelligence Maturity Scale, check out the Fast Casual's webinar on Oct. 9, 2012