What are some of the likely problems facing the marketing manager in a small firm who plans to search the Internet for information on competitors’ marketing plans? How can the marketing manager minimize those problems?
Industry associations, industry publications, media coverage, information from the financial community, and their own marketing materials and websites may be good resources to identify these factors and "rate" the performance and position of each competitor. (Tim Berry, Founder and President of Palo Alto Software and a renowned planning expert)
Small firms, like the one hypothesized in your question, are limited as to what information is publicly available to them if they are investigating the marketing plans of equally small firms of competitors. Large corporations are bound by financial reporting laws and must produce annual public financial reports from which competitors--and investors--can learn much about the firm's marketing plans. Small, privately owned firms, on the other hand, are not bound by the same financial reporting requirements, so small-firm competitors do not have the same resources available as are available when investigating the marketing plans of large corporations, or any firm listed to trade publicly.
Nonetheless, the Internet, and especially competitors' own websites, can yield information relevant to assessing their marketing plans. One strategy that planning expert and regular contributor to Huffington Post Tim Berry suggests for hard-to-find information on privately owned firms is to take up the role of customer and make inquires that help reveal their marketing plan.
The most significant problem for the marketing manager of a small firm who wants to gain competitor information from the Internet is the limited amount of information that is available compared to the information available for corporations. One way to minimize this problem is to contact the competitor(s) in the role of a customer.
Another way to minimize this problem is to supplement Internet investigation of competitors' marketing plans with information published, as Berry suggests, in media reports, by industry associations and publications and by information available from the financial community at large.
When examining competitors' websites for marketing plan information, the About Us, Careers, In The Press and Press Releases sections, as available, can often give information that is useful in forming an understanding of the firm's marketing plan. An example of these sections is available from OnlineShoes.com, a growing firm that "broke virtual ground" in 1996.