Gain a Big-Picture Perspective
In this four-part “DIY competitive intelligence” series, the Competitive/Market Intelligence Shared Interest Group hopes readers will learn the ways in which legal marketers can incorporate competitive intelligence (CI) practices into their business development workflows without incurring significant costs. The first installment covered research tools, the second covered company research, and the third explored effective resources and methods for making current awareness information available to law firm decision-makers. In this final installment, we look at the value of industry research in helping you gain a big-picture perspective.
The Bigger Picture
The goal of industry research is to place the client’s challenges and opportunities in a larger context. Each company has its own story, but they all have to react to industry changes. A detailed industry review will help your attorneys understand the bigger picture.
Defining an Industry
Many research sources use government codes when assigning industries to companies. NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) codes were developed jointly by the NAFTA countries in 1997. They include industries not dreamt of when the more-familiar SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) codes were developed in 1937. However, even NAICS codes can fall flat when dealing with industries developed in the last 20 years. Some analysts use their own systems to track hot industries such as drones, digital currency or litigation finance.
Understanding an Industry
A straightforward way to start industry research is with an analyst report search. Sources such as IBISWorld and Plunkett Research are excellent, but require subscriptions. Others, such as Alacra On Demand, allow users to pay for reports as they go. A good rule of thumb is to look at the summary and table of contents before purchasing. A good analyst report will identify an industry’s strengths and weaknesses, the size of the market, trends and the major players. Such reports are a good starting point, but they don’t come cheap and they may not give you all of the information you need.
News articles are also a good way to find industry information. Both a traditional news search and ongoing current awareness will help flesh out an industry in ways an analyst report may not. It also may be the only way to research a new or ill-defined industry. If a news source includes filters, look for ones that limit results to specific industries. Brainstorm synonyms. Search not just on “renewable energy,” but also on “green energy,” “solar,” “wind” “hydropower,” etc.
Some products that track litigation, such as Monitor Suite, will allow you to search by industry. This is a good way to understand what litigation issues the industry might have. What are the most common litigation practice areas? Which courts are most frequented by this industry and for what practice areas? (E.g., is there a lot of patent litigation in the Eastern District of Texas?) What companies see the most litigation, and who is representing them?
Company screeners available on sources such as Hoover’s and S&P Capital IQ can identify companies within an industry – and, conversely, let you know what industries a particular company fits in. Cross-referencing these results with client lists will help identify new targets. Who in the industry is not currently a client? Who is a client, but one that your firm is not working for in that particular industry?
Increasingly, law firms are forming industry practice groups. Sources, such as Chambers and Legal 500, will give you the highest-rated practices in these areas. Competitor websites, LinkedIn profiles and state bar associations will give you a sense of who the opposition may be. Those same competitor websites will also tell you where those firms are situating themselves within a broad industry (i.e., whether they are focusing on regulation, mergers, litigation, etc.).
Understanding an Industry
Industry research is more nebulous than much of what we have covered in this series. It is also highly rewarding if done with thought and foresight. If your firm is looking to start new industry groups, industry research can show where the opportunities are. Even established groups may notice shifts or new entrants (both potential clients and rival law firms) by engaging in ongoing industry research. A bigger picture is always helpful to see where you are positioned and what opportunities and threats may lie ahead.
Ben Brighoff is the competitive intelligence manager for Jenner & Block LLP and is serving as the 2017 co-chair of the Competitive/Market Intelligence Shared Interest Group. Ben resides in Chicago.