Primary Research & Ethics

In the field of Competitive Intelligence (CI) there are few areas more fraught with doubt and risk than primary data collection. It is also one of the few CI tools that can produce truly insightful results that are uniquely differentiated from what competitors can obtain.  What primary CI provides that no other information source can is the direct and unfiltered connection between the information collector and the information source. Running a successful, and ethical Primary CI operation requires following some rules of disclosure to remain ethical and legal.

All secondary data is, by its very nature, filtered though the process. If the source is company literature, it is often vetted by the company guardians to prevent any embarrassing, or competitively useful information from being disclosed. If the source is a news report, it is filtered by the reporter who may not be looking for the same insight as the CI professional. And if it comes from an industry data collection service such as IMS, NPD, and GfK (among many others), the data is limited to companies that participate in the panels.

In contrast, primary CI comes unfiltered. The interview process addresses the specific key information points of information collection goals. An additional benefit is that during the interview process, follow-up questions can be asked, and relevant related information explored.  Further, since the information is collected for a specific purpose and not shared, it is exclusive to the collector and their client.

When the primary CI collection follows clear and simple ethical guidelines, it is a very efficient tool to gather unique competitor insights. The ethical collector must properly represent the purpose of the interview and the collector’s employer, which is usually not the end client. The collector must disclose that the work is for a client, even if the client identify can’t be disclosed, and clearly state that company confidential information should not be shared.  And of course, the information collected for one client can’t ethically be used for another client. Nor should the agency, or any subcontractors used, work for direct competitors in the same product line.

Selecting a primary CI agency comes down to trust that they will follow ethical guidelines and stay within the bounds of primary CI limits. One key function to building trust is to interact with the data collection team. This can be difficult if your primary CI partner relies on third party sub-contractors, but it is an important tool to assess their commitment to practicing ethical and legal CI.

Do you know who is collecting your primary CI?

Author: Erik Glitman, CEO Fletcher/CSI