Understanding your competition is not new. Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military strategist, wrote The Art of War back in the 6th Century BC and is still heavily quoted in business for good reason; Business is becoming increasingly challenging and most industries face new and diverse competitors. Sun Tzu said:

“Conquerors estimate before the war begins, and they consider everything; the defeated also estimate before the war, but they do not consider everything. Estimating completely creates victory; estimating incompletely causes failure. When we look at it from this point of view, it is very obvious who will win the war.”

‘Estimating completely’ can feel a little overwhelming, whether launching into an unknown marketplace or looking at new and disruptive competitors in a market where historically you have been dominant. This suggests going deep, to get ‘under the competitor’s skin’, to go beyond the obvious, and to develop an understanding of how they think, feel and act with a goal to broadly understand the nature of the risk or opportunity. There is a need to understand changes to customers and market dynamics as whole, connected to the strategies that competitors could deploy and what it will take for you to win.

So how can we break this down and make it a little less daunting?

Over the next 6 weeks or so I will unpack a 6D approach to competitive management with some bite-sized tips and hints based on experience working in this area within the Pharmaceutical and Biotech industry. In this blog I will introduce the 6Ds and cover the first of the D’s. Define:

1. DEFINE your competitive set

2. DISCOVER insights about selected competitors

3. DECODE their strategy

4. DISTIL the implications for your own strategy

5. DELIVER a competitive plan

6. DASHBOARD to actively track competitor moves


1. DEFINE your competitive set

This is probably the most obvious but critical step. You could spend significant time looking at each of your competitors in depth and detail. You could play out each of their interactions, the interplay and interdependencies, however this is often impractical and inefficient. First, I recommend starting with a clear set of intelligence questions that you wish to ask of the process as this will help you define a core set of competitors and dynamics to review in detail.

TIP: Good key intelligence questions help inform your strategy, direct competitive intelligence gathering and your overall approach including which competitors to hone in on. E.g. a key question about how the treatment algorithm will be influenced by future competitors will define a very different competitive set vs. a key question focused on how your differentiation is being eroded by fresh activity by existing competitors 

Or keep it really simple. A practical route to defining the right competitors to explore in more detail is to start with the market leader and consider what they do to maintain their position, how they challenge the market or react to competitive threat. Secondly, consider the fastest growing competitor, what are they doing to grow and how are they changing the market dynamic? What can you learn about their approach to competition? Thirdly, are there new competitors entering the market and how disruptive will their products or approach be? Finally, identify companies who are strategically significant to your company, or have strategically significant products. How does their wider impact on your portfolio impact your decision making?

TIP: Identifying a range of polarising competitors will help stretch your thinking and provide a richer final plan than focusing your analysis around one specific question or one obvious competitor. Think about the whole system; market, customers, influencers. As the economist John Maynard Keynes said “It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.” 

Once you have identified the competitors to explore ‘completely’ you are ready to discover some new and fresh insights. I will cover this next week…Here