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Fighting Negativity Without Getting Dragged Down Into The Mud Pit

A reader wrote to me in response to my Burning Blog Bridges post. He was concerned that in his industry there was a big, powerful but sleazy competitor. How can he compete without resorting to critical articles attacking their business practices and violations?

While it would be tempting to just give them a good kicking I always try to stick to the philosophy of “praise in public, criticise in private”. Now I have slipped quite a few times but always have been careful to stick to supportable and justifiable statements. Any powerful company, especially one with a bad history, will have a team of powerful lawyer-types willing to tie you in legal knots if you take direct action so if you do take that approach make sure you stick absolutely bullet-proof within the law. There are other tactics to use though that do not put you at legal risk and allow you to take the higher ground.

My preferred strategy is to use positioning and differentiation. Use your positive attributes in comparison to your competitors to place you as the preferred option and put the seed of doubt in the potential customers mind. “Unlike our competitors, we X, Y and Z. This means for you {benefits}{because}”.

It is possible to go on the attack but criticise behaviours and not individuals or companies and stay away from specific (traceable) products, services or customer stories. How can you do that? Here are some examples

  • “questions to ask your company”
  • “how to find the right supplier for you”
  • “10 reasons to choose your {product} carefully”
  • “before you buy, 10 warning signs”
  • “Rip-off tactics of bad {product} salesmen”

Ensure you make it clear what a good company looks like (you!). This is a positive approach but will educate those customers who want to be educated without tarnishing your own reputation by getting drawn into a public fight.

For example the car rental company Avis could have said “competitor X is this, that, the other” but instead said “We are number two, which means we try harder”.

In your materials and posts you can say “Unlike our competitors we encourage you to check our track record. Here is a link. Ask around. Here are some testimonials.” – no competitor with a bad record could do that.

Your service will not differentiate itself. People need to be told how it is different, why that is good and some encouragement to tell other potential customers. Think of ways you can encourage positive word of mouth. Perhaps also you could do a deal for people switching from competitors if that is possible in your industry. Think of how great it would be to see comments like “I was with _____ but these guys were so much better, thank you”

Every industry has bad guys. Unfortunately some customers only look at price and so like lemmings will keep being pushed over cliffs no matter how many signs you put up. The best you can do is educate those who will listen and do so without exposing your own company to legal threats or tarnished reputation.

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