Should you talk about your competitors?
By Josh Bernoff
It’s a truism in the marketing world that you don’t, in general, talk about your competitors. The apotheosis of this was reached in those silly old soap commercials that compared the company’s product to “Brand X” which it beat hands down. As a consumer, your reaction was “who is this brand X? Of course you’re better than them – that could be anybody. Show me you’re better than the brand I actually use!”
In the social world, and especially among social technology
Purists, the wisdom is the opposite. You’re supposed to stop pretending you
have no competitors and talk about them whenever they do something interesting.
My colleague Jeremiah Owyang (though he’s hardly a Purist) calls this one of
the “impossible conversations” in the groundswell and explains that not talking about competitors is "welded deeply into nearly every corporate culture."
Here’s my problem. One of the other sacred tenets we’re supposed to uphold in the groundswell is to “be authentic.” I strongly agree with this – pretending to be something that you’re not is a big mistake, because you will be found out, and there will be a backlash. But what if you authentically believe your company’s products are the best? Shouldn’t you say so? Why give props to the other guys?
This is real dilemma, especially as more corporations start building social strategies. It’s an archetypal example of the Purist/Corporatist spectrum, with the Purists holding up their competitors and the Corporatists saying “we’re not gonna give those other guys free publicity.”
As usual in these debates, I try to find an appropriate middle ground. And the principle here is “Don’t try to prohibit conversation about your competitors – you’ll lose out. But when speaking yourself, you don’t need to bring up the competition. Just don’t always behave as if they don’t exist."
For example: you run a community of your customers and similar people. People in your community insist on talking about your competitor’s product. What should you do? Certainly, don’t shut them off – they’ll just bug out and talk about the competition somewhere else. Instead, join the conversation, and respectfully offer your perspective.
You write a blog. Should you blog about the competitor’s products or announcements? You don’t have to, but if everyone is talking about it, you might be better off. That’s what HP blogger Eric Kintz did in response to Jonathan Schwartz’ blog post about HP.
Should you twitter about the other guy? Again, only if
you’re trying to make a point of your own.
I agree with Jeremiah (I asked him about this in an email) that talking about the competition shows confidence. People will respect that. But if you really think their announcement isn’t worth commenting on – and nobody else is talking about it either, then don’t bring it up. But if they are talking about it, you'll look silly if you don't give them credit for what they do well, then articulate your own position/
And I think that’s a position people in real companies can live with.