Wiep has posted an excellent link marketing campaign blog post that suggests that you look at nearby data to optimize your linking rather than seeking out brand new links from unchartered territory.
He proposes that you check Google Webmaster Tools to fix your 404s and to improve your internal linking structure. You can also optimize existing links.
If someone is already familiar with your site, you can just have them add a link to it. So for example, if they mentioned ABC Widgets (without a link), just email them and ask them to add your link to it.
There are a lot of ways to achieve that link and you don't have to start the competitive research to find them -- at least not yet.