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Media Confuses Dumpster Diving with Competitive Intelligence

By: Leonard M. Fuld, Fuld & Company, Inc.

While P&G has managed to settle its corporate espionage case involving alleged theft of corporate secrets from Unilever (Wall Street Journal at wsj.com, 9/6), I believe that P&G could have obtained the same information about its competitor without engaging in unethical business practices.

Yes, P&G took the right position in approaching Unilever about this activity. But, to say the P&G-Unilever event should never have happened is overly simplistic. The media sees "theft" and says that the "cause" is competitive intelligence. However, the cause is someone who wanted raw information to prove a point or to uncover competitive activity - and this "someone" at P&G management believed that the only way you can understand the competition is by somehow invading the rival.

By using industry expertise (instead of gumshoes), you don't crash through the china shop in hopes of locating the prize. Instead, you take whatever signals or information lies in the public domain, and draw conclusions based on this experience. Making a lot out of a little by using industry expertise and astute - but honest - information gathering is what wins the day. It also keeps companies honest, yet aggressive.

Competitive intelligence can be described as applying industry expertise to analyze bits and pieces of information and draw a conclusion. Competitive intelligence analysts regularly have to predict the nature and direction of a rival's new product rollout, as was apparently the goal in the P&G and Unilever incident involving hair care products, he said. The difference is that the true analyst does so by piecing together a strategic puzzle by reading (analyzing) industry signals and bits and pieces of these signals, all in the public domain.

Competition is not war in the pure sense - we cannot throw civilization to the dogs. We can't steal or kill for the information. Competitive intelligence, when done right, allows companies to fiercely compete, yet do so honestly with hard-won bits and pieces of information.

If you look at the competitive landscape as a mosaic of data dots, the dumpster diver would say, "I want it all." The savvy competitive intelligence analyst would say, "I have to act quickly, so what is the minimum of information I need to draw a conclusion?" The dumpster diver wants it all, even though it may be the wrong garbage, and will invariably get a company into trouble. The second approach may not always result in correct answers, but it allows the company using competitive intelligence to move in a fleet-footed manner in fast changing markets. It allows such companies to draw tactical and strategic conclusions based on knowledge, not on ignorant swoops into the garbage.

P&G made a mistake. What the magnitude of the infraction might be, we don't exactly know, yet, if the company had applied true competitive intelligence, it would have never found its way into the press in the first place.

Based in Cambridge, Mass. and founded in 1979 with offices in London, England and Geneva Switzerland, Fuld & Company is a pioneer in the field of competitive intelligence and has a staff of more than 50 providing research and analysis to financial services, utility/energy, manufacturing, high technology, telecommunications, healthcare and consumer product sectors. Leonard Fuld is a worldwide-recognized expert and author in the field of competitive intelligence. Additional information can be found at www.fuld.com.

About Leonard Fuld

Leonard M. Fuld is the founder and president of FULD & COMPANY. He is a leader in the field of competitor intelligence and created many of the information-gathering techniques currently used by corporations around the globe. A recognized expert, Fuld was among the first four people to be named a Fellow of the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals (SCIP). Learn more about Len Fuld ( www.fuld.com/leonard.html )

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