In simple terms, MI is information that is gathered for the purpose of making business decisions. It is systematic gathering, recording, analysis and interpretation of information about a company’s markets, competitors and customers.
In practice MI tends to refer to the branch of market research called market assessment research, which is designed to help a company establish a foothold in a market, or increase its presence in a market. As such, typical areas covered would be routes to market analysis, market size calculations, competitor analysis, substitute products (or services) analysis, and market growth predictions – in summary, information about the external market environment.
MI can be obtained externally – by a market research and intelligence company, or by an internal department. Once the MI is obtained, it is usually managed in-house, often in an informal fashion, but increasingly with the assistance of IT-based MI systems provided by technology and market research companies.
MI is sometimes confused with competitor intelligence (CI). The latter is a more specific term, referring specifically to information about a particular company’s competitors. In effect, CI is a specific type of market intelligence. As a result, a good quality provider of MI should offer CI as part of its range of services.
Business intelligence (BI) is also a term that is frequently used interchangeably with the term MI, again incorrectly. BI refers to all of the information used by a company for the purposes of decision-making, but tends to refer to data relating to the company itself, rather than its market environment. BI therefore includes sales data, production data and financial data, and tends to be collected internally rather than by outside agencies. BI is usually closely related to businesses’ KPIs (key performance indicators).