Comparative Advertising Applying The Art of War to Content Marketing

Comparative Advertising: Applying The Art of War to Content Marketing

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Coke vs Pepsi. Mac vs PC. McDonald’s vs Burger King.

These are some of the biggest brand battles in history. And we know about these battles in part due to comparative advertising.

Comparative advertising isn’t exclusive to Fortune 500 companies. Startups like Intercom, Podia, and Groove are using comparative advertising, and blending it with content marketing. They do this by creating landing pages which target comparison keywords to win over comparison shoppers. Here’s an example of Podia compared to their competitors:

When done right, comparative advertising will help you win potential customers looking to buy now. It can also help you win over frustrated customers ready to leave your competitors. So while SEO traffic isn’t the highest for these keyword phrases, the ROI tends to make it one of the first content strategies to prioritize.

In this article, we will look at:

  1. What is comparative advertising?
  2. Why use comparative advertising? And what are the potential risks of doing so?
  3. When doing comparative advertising, what matters most to potential customers?

What Is Comparative Advertising?

Comparative advertising is a marketing strategy which compares your product to a competitor’s product. The goal is to show why you are a worthwhile choice compared to your competitor.

Before the ‘70s, comparative advertising was widely avoided. But in 1972, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began to encourage comparative advertising. Their goal was to increase informative advertising. They believed this would spark positive competition to increase sales.

The comparison can associate or differentiate your startup from the competition. It can also be a direct or indirect comparison. Contrary to popular opinion, the message you send doesn’t have to be negative either.

The Bing It On challenge painted Bing and Google as two excellent search engines. Bing’s goal was to show why they were a superior choice. According to their analysis, it worked.

So, will comparative marketing work for you? Is this a worthwhile way to get new customers? Like all marketing strategies, yes and no.

Why Use Comparative Advertising With Content Marketing? And What Are the Potential Risks of Doing So?

“Do not engage an enemy more powerful than you. And if it is unavoidable and you do have to engage, then make sure you engage it on your terms, not your enemy’s terms.” Sun Tzu

Do you remember the “I’m a Mac, and I’m a PC” ads? A year before their launch, Apple was experiencing low sales. Then, they began their “Get a Mac” campaign. In a month, Apple saw an increase of 200,000 Macs sold. By July of 2006, Apple announced it had sold 1.3 million Macs. At the end of September 2006, Apple announced an increase of 39% in sales from the previous year.

Comparative advertising allows you to tell your story to customers who are ready to buy. We also remember negative information better than positive information. So comparative advertising has the potential to stick in your customer’s head longer.

Not every comparative advertising campaign will be a success. When Burger King launched the Whopper Virgin ads, some saw the campaign as racist, insulting, and exploitative. A study showed negative emotions created by comparison ads sometimes transferred to that brand, igniting the backfire effect.

There are also potential legal issues. While they vary by country, the information you present should:

  1. Include accurate claims about your competitor’s product.
  2. Not mislead or deceive customers.
  3. Include a disclaimer that you are not affiliated with your competitor in any way.
  4. Not change or manipulate your competitor’s trademark or logo in any way.

You may be wondering, “How can I make accurate claims about my competitor’s product?” The easiest solution we use is to survey customers. You can ask your customers who they think are your competitors, and why they switched to you. This allows you to present accurate information about your competitors to avoid legal issues.

So, what should you keep in mind when creating comparative landing pages for your startup?

When Doing Comparative Advertising, What Matters Most to Potential Customers?

Customers want information that’s believable, reliable, and easy to process. Studies show customers think about these qualities when looking at comparative advertising.

Beyond that, what information should you include to show true thought leadership? I find it is best to answer the questions in your customer’s head. If you look at Intercom’s comparison landing page, you will notice it answers these four questions:

  1. What will push someone away from what they are currently considering?
  2. What will pull someone to my product over the competing product?
  3. How will we decrease a customer’s fear of buying from us and their uncertainty of change?
  4. How will we decrease attachment to how things currently are?

Let’s look at how they answer these four questions in their comparison landing page. The first section answers the first two questions.

Intercom Comparison Advertising 1

Intercom starts by highlighting what Zendesk does poorly. They then show why they are a better alternative. To prove this, Intercom then follows up with a testimonial that restates their point.

Intercom Comparison Advertising Testimonial

Next, they add a few more sections that also answer questions one and two. Then, Intercom focuses on the third question to help relieve a potential customer’s fear of making the switch.

Intercom Comparison Advertising 3

This section shows what they do to support customers. It also includes a guide to help customers switch to them. As you go down the landing page, they include an FAQ section to further reduce someone’s fear of buying.

Intercom Comparison Advertising 5

Finally, Intercom tackles the fourth question. By stating what will happen if a customer stays with Zendesk, Intercom increases the customer’s FOMO.

Intercom Comparison Advertising 4

Pro tip: Want to optimize your landing page for search engines? You will typically want to target the keyword “{{Competitor}} alternative.” “{{Competitor}} vs. {{Your Company}}” is usually an excellent secondary keyword phrase. The phrase “Switch from {{Competitor}}” is another phrase worth exploring, although it usually has less traffic potential.

Final Thoughts

Comparative advertising is an excellent opportunity to get new customers to your startup. Although some companies use it to sling mud at their competitors, there are companies like Intercom that strive to accurately show why a potential customer should buy from them.

By giving clear and compelling reasons why your startup is a better alternative to your competitor’s solution, you can use comparative advertising to get new customers who are ready to buy from you today.

Growth Ramp helps startups hire professional contract marketers and agencies to grow their business faster. Learn more and request a free quote here.

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