That’s a tough sell, because in the business-to-business (B2B) world, many clients are obsessed with their competitors. I see this in the research phase: file after file of competitive ads and brochures, deep analyses of competitive media and marketing strategies, and feature-by-feature product comparisons. I typically get more complete information about the competition’s products than from our own clients about their products.
Eventually a client’s products become defined by everything the competition’s products aren’t. What matter most are unique points of differentiation. And in concentrating on those distinguishing details — the “competitive advantages” if you will — the client loses sight of the fact that they’ve built a really good machine that solves a unique problem.
Without question, this obsession with competition bleeds into marketing materials. The most familiar symptom is the ubiquitous product comparison chart, in which a product sits side-by-side with competitive products (often named for convenience) above a grid of features, with big red checkmarks highlighting unique achievements and a humiliating black X marking where a competitor seemingly fails. (Of course, the competitors have their own charts, where our client’s product doesn’t fare as well. Touché.) Competition obsession sometimes bleeds into raging attack ads, in which one company so vigorously condemns the outrageous claims of a competitor that it neglects to say anything about what it has to offer.
Less visible is self-censorship, when a client walks away from a major selling point because a competitor has caught up. For example, in our sustainable times, many of the accounts I work with tout the energy savings realized by their equipment. Reducing energy consumption by up to 62 percent is a headline achievement, well worth highlighting. But since every company has an R&D department, within a few months, a competitor will probably launch a product every bit as energy efficient. Suddenly, a product’s exceptional energy efficiency isn’t a star anymore; it’s a bullet point. This ignores the fact that those amazing energy savings are still a gorgeous attribute of a really good machine. A customer won’t see it as pointless at all in light of the total package.