Something you may not know about me is that I’m a big fan of the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Every day, Ellen reminds us to laugh, to dance, to do something for others, and most importantly, to "be kind to one another."
In the course of business, we can sometimes forget that it’s possible to be successful AND nice. I’m not suggesting being a pushover or not being a fierce advocate for your clients (as the famous line goes, "Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness"), but I am suggesting that it’s possible to be excellent at your job without tearing someone else down. That extends to marketing as well.
It’s long been a pet peeve of mine when one brand uses their advertising to tear down another brand. It’s more than just an adverse reaction to the "bullying;" it’s the sense that the company must not really be any good if they have to resort to such immature tactics. If a company or firm is excellent, does excellent work and provides an excellent product, then that all stands for itself without having to show how they’re "better."
Further, it makes me question how much they’re paying attention to serving their customers – I’m wondering whether they’re so consumed with seeing what their competitors are up to and trying to tell us that they’re better, that they don’t worry about just showing us and actually being better.
Why do I bring this up? I won’t name any names publicly, but as I was scrolling through Twitter last night, a photo came up – the branded account for a legal directory had posted a photo purportedly taken at a major law firm that showed a competitor’s hardcover directory with darts in it and the note "New game invented – no comment!"
I took to an industry group on Facebook to see whether I was being too naive or sensitive about it, and was assured that those commenting agreed with me wholeheartedly that it was tacky and in poor taste. Some of the reactions I heard included:
- "It’s bush league."
- "It probably does more harm than good."
- "They just verified that [their competitor] is seeing [them] in their rearview mirror…and fading."
- "Bad form and in bad taste."
- "I agree that it crosses the line."
All things I agree with.
We know that humor can work for brands, and I’m giving the person behind the account the benefit of the doubt – he or she probably thought that this was a funny thing to say (or because it was during a cocktail hour, they didn’t think it through as clearly as they should have).
But poking fun at your competitor is a dangerous business, and can seriously backfire. So my two tips for Tuesday are:
Tip One: Focus on your own service’s benefits. Period.
It can be tempting – really tempting – to want to show that your company, product, service is better by pointing out flaws or making fun of your competition. But what does it actually say about you?
Clearly, it suggests those reactions above – and are those things you really want to be associated with your brand? Definitely not.
My friend, President of the Legal Marketing Association, and adviser to law firms, in-house counsel and vendor on legal process management and business process improvement, Tim Corcoran (@tcorcoran) offered the following, which says it best:
In my corporate life when I led a sales team, there was usually one testosterone-laden young buck (or doe) who wanted to flip over his/her name badge and visit a competitor’s trade show booth and pretend to be a customer in order to hear the pitch. Or worse, steal all their literature. I always politely declined such moves, suggesting that such low-class acts validate the strength and importance of competition, when in reality if we focused on our offering they’d be stalking us. A variation on legendary coach John Wooden’s approach of ignoring the competition: ‘If we execute our game plan properly, it doesn’t matter what they do.’ Although I have to give props – when we found ourselves in a restaurant entertaining clients while our competitors did the same a few tables away, Stuart N. Goodman would typically take the counter-intuitive move of sending over a fine bottle of wine. Not only was it a classy sign of respect that all clients noticed, it usually generated an even nicer bottle of wine in return. Win/win!"
The key phrase here is "if we focused on our offering they’d be stalking us."
Make your own service so good that the competition doesn’t stand a chance – you won’t have to point it out to anyone – your clients and reputation will do it for you. Wouldn’t the time spent trying to tear down your competition be better spent focusing on your clients’ needs and wants? Trust me, they will notice.
The most successful brands don’t have to pick on their competitors to rule the market – just take a look at Apple. I’ve seen scores of commercials trying to show how a competing product is better, cheaper, smaller, etc. than its Apple counterpart. But who is the top recognized name in the industry? Who is known for sleek, excellent products? Which company has people camping out in front of their stores for days for the new product releases? And which company has never picked on their competition in their advertising?
You got it, Apple.
Just focus on what’s good about your service and your firm. Pay attention to what your competitors are doing, but don’t try to start a battle over it. You’ll always come out looking like the chump.
Tip Two: Be careful what you say and post
With the way the world is today, privacy is virtually a thing of the past. We can share every moment of our lives, if we want to, and if we’re not, there’s usually someone else right there willing to share it for us. We’ve even seen recent reports of people who take out their smartphones first at an accident scene to record it for later use on the internet, instead of helping anyone injured. Everyone has a smartphone these days, so we’re basically carrying around small recorders that can also access the world within seconds with anything and everything that happens.
Even if you’re not the one sharing something questionable, you never know if someone is recording you, posting your comments, overhearing a "private" conversation and repeating it, etc. So employ some common sense, and ask yourself these three questions, which I often hear recommended by Heather Morse (@heather_morse), who wrote about it here:
- Is it true?
- Is it nice?
- Is it necessary?
A variation on the third point that I’ve heard is "does it need to be said by me?" and "does it need to be said now?"
If the answer to any of those is no, don’t say or post it. Once you say or post something, you can’t take it back. Just look at all of the brands with accidentally offensive (or in some cases, purposefully offensive) tweets – they may take them down from their account, but someone has always already grabbed a screen capture that they continue to share. It never goes away.
My philosophy is that you can always say something later…but you can’t un-say something. So it’s best to have a little restraint of pen and tongue, as they say, and not have to worry about repairing reputations and relationships.
The saying "honey gets more bees than vinegar" is not an idle one – be kind, do the right things, and focus on making sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to for your clients first, and you’ll be far more successful than anyone who is too busy trying to tear you down to see that their clients are walking out the door.