How to Use Qualitative Marketing Research to Gain Competitive Intelligence

Gain competitive intelligence by listening your competitors’ customers.

Talk to current and former users of competitors’ products. Use focus groups or depth interviews.

Find out what product users think and do about competitors’ products and services.

Understand why people buy competitors’ products, and why they don’t buy your products.

Use qualitative marketing research to,

  • Gain competitive intelligence
  • Understand switching opportunities
  • Develop product and brand positioning

Continuously check your competitors by talking to their customers, using focus groups or depth interviews.

Topics - Competitive Intelligence

Interview your competitors’ customers.

Also, interview channels – distributors and retailers  to learn about competitors’ channel activities.

Ask about

  • awareness
  • overall opinions
  • likes and dislikes
  • problems
  • solutions
  • support
  • switching

Assess competitors’ strengths and weaknesses with information and knowledge gained from their customers and from channels and industry experts.

Use findings to conduct marketing SWOT analysis.


You want to understand how to switch users of competitors’ products to your products. And whether it is even possible.

Changing people’s product habits can be expensive.

You want to understand how well rivals hold their customers’ minds. You want to know about switching barriers. And what it will take and cost to switch users to your product.

Your product appeal must be powerful enough to break existing product habits and attitudes.

“What would it take to switch from brand Y to brand X?”

If you are in markets and segments where growth is stagnant, gaining share means taking it from competitors.

If switching barriers are high, winning over competitors’ customers could be costly. You may be better off looking for new segments to target.

On the other hand, if competitors are losing their grip on their customers, there may be opportunities for switching.

Competitors’ Positioning

Effective positioning for your product or brand requires understanding your competitors’ positioning.

Positioning is the reason people buy your products, and not your competitors’ products. It is the message you plant in the target’s mind. Positioning is relative. It is your claim or promise to users.

You interview competitors’ customers to understand how they perceive the competitors’ positioning. You assess how strongly the competitors’ positioning holds the users’ mind.

You use laddering. techniques with competitors’ customers to identify positioning. You map out the feature-benefits-emotions chain for each competitor. You look for weaknesses and gaps in positioning.

Then you develop your product or brand positioning.

More Competitive Intelligence Techniques

Here are some more techniques for comparing and contrasting competitors’ products and marketing programs.

The techniques include:

  • Perceptual Maps
  • Brand Attitudes

Perceptual Maps

A perceptual map is a technique to analyze how users view concepts, products, or brands. It analyzes how competitive products or brands compare on attributes. An attribute is a product feature or benefit.

A one-dimensional perceptional map shows a single attribute. A horizontal line represents the extremes of the attribute. You want to understand attributes that are important to users.

A two-dimensional perceptual map asks about two attributes. There are two lines – one is horizontal and the other vertical. Each line represents one attribute and its range. The two-dimensional map shows the relation between the two attributes.

The secret to the exercise is to ask basic open-ended and follow-up questions and probes

Seek to understand why.

Here is how to do it.

You ask respondents to place products or brands along an attribute line, according to where they believe the product or brand fits.

You write the names of brands on cards and ask respondents to sort the cards along the attribute line. Or, you give them a perceptual map and ask them to fill in the names of the brands.

After they complete the map, you ask them follow-up questions and probe answers.

Brand Attitudes

Use quantitative questions and scales as the starting point for open-ended questions.

Ask respondents to rate attitude statements. Then ask open-ended questions, follow-up questions, and probes about their ratings.

Here’s an example.

Please rate your agreement with the following statement. Use a 5-point scale, where 5 means completely agree and 1 means completely disagree.

“Changing brands is difficult.”

The goal is to understand why. Ask open-ended, follow-up questions and probe.


Gain competitive intelligence using qualitative marketing research.

Talk to competitors’ customers. And gain vital intelligence.

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