Competitive Intelligence For All – A Pipe Dream or a Possibility?

This article discusses Urban Legends and Competitive Intelligence’s ability to counter them and the damage they can do to your business.

What are Urban Legends?

We have all heard them. And perhaps passed them onto friends as facts even though most were created in the pub as a result of fear, hope or banter. An Urban Legend is a story or reputation that appears mysteriously and spreads spontaneously in various forms and is usually false. 

In business, Urban Legends can be very dangerous to the strategic future of a company. Urban Legends in business are usually the result of fear. Fear that a particular competitor is too strong and wins every contract available. Fear that a rival is getting one upon you and they are doing better than you. 

How many of your competitors have always been in the paper, and then they go bust? How many of those articles, consciously or subconsciously, influenced your strategic decision making processes? BBC TV’s QI shows every week that a lot of urban legends exist in all walks of life. For instance, did you know Lemmings don’t jump off cliffs? Walt Disney created this story for a film? That story about Richard Gere and a Gerbil is also an Urban Legend. 

Examples of business Urban Legends include: 

  • Our rival is selling product X as a loss leader to gain more market share  
  • The sales director of that company knows everyone. It’s all whom you know
  • That recruiter must be doing well, they are always in the paper, and they have fantastic new offices 

Snippet of truth

Most have some basis of the truth but have been exaggerated, distorted or sensationalised. Perhaps a rival has created some to destroy a competitor. Managers who have been in the same industry or company for years create deep-seated beliefs based on experience about their environment. These managers reinforce these beliefs by allowing recruits to think the same. And these recruits repeat these snippets of gossip to all and sundry. Excellent ones are repeated in pubs. 

There will always be one rival more aggressive than you, one with unique products, one in the paper or supporting the latest charity event. There’s the one with an excellent sales team and one described as cowboys. 

Understanding of your competitive environment

Isolated Urban Legends can be beneficial as they create an understanding of the competitive environment, allowing managers to start thinking about their environment. Not all Legends are damaging in the short term. If one is a positive one for your company, then you will generate a better reputation than you deserve. 

Over time, unchecked, some Urban Legends can damage your ability to operate correctly as managers begin to rely on these legends allowing future strategies to be built based on incorrect assumptions on themselves and their rivals. Predicting your rival’s future moves or taking advantage of new emerging markets is difficult if you are basing their actions on incorrect information. 

Put you on the wrong foot

They cloud the real issues, cause frustration and prevents you from taking decisive action or attacking the wrong front. Urban legends can also become an excellent excuse for a sales team not winning business or even worse, not bothering tendering for business. It would be best if you looked beyond the competitive reality of your rival’s sales success. 

Smashing the Urban Legends   

Analyse your industry and your company. Listen out for Urban Legends and assumptions. Analyse internal management and determine their perceptions of their rivals. Build concrete evidence to counter or support urban legends. Get everyone involved. Ask team members to collate all urban legends and isolate which ones the management believe. 

  • Highlight them to the management team and the people that encourage them 
  • Isolate the top 5 competitors and industry Urban Legends 
  • Ask the classic analysts question – So what? Each of the ten legends is objectively evaluated and assessed on their merits

Then prove they are Urban Legends and get the support from a senior manager. Back up your beliefs with the facts and figures, you have isolated.  Confront the legends head-on and highlight the flaws with systematic presentations together with evidence. Be very aware more deep-seated the legend is the more influential the management will be against your work. 

Let people know

Develop a strategy to communicate your findings to all areas of your company. Present the urban legends you have blown out of the water and the ones that have proved to be true. Keep listening for management messages that suggest the urban legends are still embedded. Introduce an Early Warning System stopping Urban Legends quickly before they do any damage.


This article discussed Urban Legends and Competitive Intelligence’s ability to counter them and the damage they can do to your business. Destroying urban legends will allow you to enhance your future intelligence end product credibility, perhaps enabling you to tackle more complex and controversial Competitive Intelligence issues. 

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