Praise your competitors
Publicly praise competitors (e.g. on social media) to improve attitudes towards your brand. People will be more likely to buy from you.
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Talking about your competitors may not seem like a smart thing to do. According to Neil Patel, “even mentioning your competition is a bad idea”.
Why give them free publicity?
So praising them - not only talking about them - seems like a terrible idea. Even more so to do that in public.
Turns out, it’s actually a good idea.
👍 In praise of Ariyh’s competitors
Since we’re on the topic…
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Here are some competitors and complementary sources that stand out:
Harvard Business Review. Excellent recaps of recent research in business, including marketing.
Mark Ritson’s Mini MBA. An effective (and entertaining) course to catch up on or refresh past research and fundamentals of marketing.
Everyone Hates Marketers. Well-researched practical advice on how to position and differentiate your business in a way that stands out.
Zero to Marketing. Great examples of how to apply strategies and tactics in practice (focused on online businesses).
Business schools. From Rotterdam School of Management (my alma mater) to Duke University (where today’s research is from), a degree in marketing or an MBA remains one of the most effective choices.
Publicly praise your competitors to improve perceptions and sales of your brand
Impacted metrics: Customer acquisition | Brand attitudes
Channels: Social media | Ads
For: B2C. Can be tested for B2B
Research date: January 2022
Occasionally praise a competitor publicly (e.g. on social media, in ads) to promote a warmer image of your brand.
People will like you more and be more likely to choose you.
It will benefit you more than it benefits your competitor.
People like a brand more and are more likely to buy from it when they observe it publicly praise a competitor.
The effect only works when people see the praise as costly or risky. That happens when it’s towards a competitor, not towards any organization.
For example, among a series of seven experiments:
A Facebook ad for a fictional car wash received clickthrough rates (CTRs) of:
5.4% when it praised a competitor (“Precision Car Wash congratulates LikeNew Car Wash. Our fiercest competitor and the Industry Best 2020 Award recipient!”)
3.3% when it self-promoted (“Precision Car Wash is proud to receive the Industry Best 2020 Award”)
1.8% when it showed an external endorsement (“The Industry Best 2020 Award committee is proud to announce Precision Car Wash as this year’s Best 2020 Award recipient”)
People saw one of two Tweets from KitKat:
Praising: “@twix, Competitor or not, congrats on your 54 years in business! Even we can admit - Twix are delicious”
Self-promoting: “Start your day off with a tasty treat!”
11 days later, 31.95% of those who saw the praising Tweet said they bought a KitKat. 23.77% of those who saw the self-promoting Tweet did
There was no difference in how many people bought Twix
An additional experiment found that positive comments about competitors are more beneficial than negative, snarky comments.
🧠 Why it works
We favor brands that give us feelings of warmth (i.e. sincerity, kindness).
But it’s not easy to convince us that a brand is warm. We are skeptical about empty promises. We want facts, not words.
When a brand praises a competitor, that feels like a painful, risky, action. So it breaks our barrier of skepticism.
It’s a meaningful signal of warmth - not cheap talk.
Bonus: usually what increases feelings of warmth reduces feelings of competence - and vice versa (e.g. how broadly a person smiles). This is not the case with praising competitors. It might even increase perceptions of competence.
The study did not test differences between praising direct and indirect competitors. It’s likely that the direct a competitor is perceived, the stronger the effect.
Some repetition of praise seems acceptable, but if repeated often it may become less effective or even backfire by making people suspicious.
It’s unclear what happens if the receiving competitor turns the praise against the praiser (e.g. “Even our competitors say we’re better than them”). It could hurt the brand that made the compliment, or it could hurt the competitor by making them look arrogant - while giving sympathy points to the praiser.
🏢 Companies using this
Xbox congratulated Nintendo in 2017 when it launched the Switch console. The likes and retweets of these praising Tweets were ten times higher than average.
For World Press Freedom Day, The New York Times encouraged its readers to read other news (paywall), including The Wall Street Journal.
A similar effect seems to exist for politicians when they praise a rival.
⚡ Steps to implement
Look out for opportunities to praise one or a few of your competitors. The more direct competitors they are the better.
For example, congratulate them for a product launch, a sustainability initiative, or a prize they won.
Don’t do it too often or the effect will fade, or even backfire.
🔍 Study type
Lab, online, and field experiments. United States
Befriending the Enemy: The Effects of Observing Brand-to-Brand Praise on Consumer Evaluations and Choices. Journal of Marketing (January 2022).
Lingrui Zhou. Fuqua School of Business, Duke University
Katherine Du. Lubar School of Business, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Keisha Cutright. Fuqua School of Business, Duke University
Remember: This is a new scientific discovery. In the future it will probably be better understood and could even be proven wrong (that’s how science works). It may also not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.
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