Comparative Advertising: 6 Steps to Creating Better Content That Converts

Comparative Advertising: 6 Steps to Creating Better Content That Converts Would you like to double your annualized revenue in half-a-year? That’s exactly what I did for the early-stage startup Decibite. I was able to double their annualized revenue (+127%) in large part by using comparative advertising. From McDonald's vs. Burger King to Visa vs. MasterCard, brands continue to leverage comparison ads to gain more customers. Comparative advertising isn’t an exclusive playbook to Fortune 500 companies. Startups like Sellbrite and Podia are using this in their marketing strategy too. So what is comparative advertising? Why is it effective? And how can you create your own comparative ads? I’ll answer each of these questions and more throughout this article. Let’s dive in.

Comparative Advertising: 6 Steps to Creating Better Content That Converts by @jdquey via @CoSchedule

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What is Comparative Advertising?

Comparative advertising is any marketing which compares your product to a similar product. Comparative advertising is any marketing which compares your product to a similar product. Since comparative ads are a way to present your message, it’s not exclusive to paid advertising. So why is it less prevalent in content marketing? Comparative ads have been around since the mid-1800s. Yet, it wasn’t a popular approach to marketing before the ‘70s. Then in 1972, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) began to encourage comparative advertising. As a result, this form of marketing became more common, but still far from widespread. Although comparative ads are rare in online marketing circles, they are quite effective. Let me show a few examples to illustrate. In 2006, Mac ran their famous, “I'm a Mac, and I'm a PC

” campaign. One month after starting this campaign, Apple saw an increase of 200,000 Macs sold. This was roughly an 18.2% sales increase compared to the previous quarter. By the end of July 2006, Apple announced that it had sold 1.3 million Macs. Apple ended its fiscal year in September 2006 with an all-time sales high and an increase in sales of 39%.

Macintosh Sales & Market Share Figures from 1998 to 2006 The Bing It On challenge compared Bing and Google head-to-head. Bing’s goal was to show why they were an equal or superior choice. According to their analysis, 52.9% of respondents preferred Bing to Google. 32.9% preferred Google to Bing. You may have seen comparison ads in the 2020 Super Bowl. Pizza Hut claimed their chicken wings were 25% bigger than the competition’s wings. (Because no one outwings “The Hut”). On Reddit, I wrote an article explaining why entrepreneurs should avoid GoDaddy. On top of getting over 800 upvotes, this article led to at least 60% of Decibite’s increase in revenue. This leads us to the next question…

Why is Comparative Advertising Effective?

Comparative ads are targeting comparison shoppers. According to the copywriter Eugene Schwartz, comparison shoppers are the 2nd most likely customer to buy your product. In his book Breakthrough Advertising, Schwartz identified five stages of customer awareness. Here are the five stages, from least likely to most likely to buy:
  1. Unaware: A potential customer in this stage is unaware of the pain. Think of this customer as someone who has cancer, but a doctor has not diagnosed his issue.
  2. Problem-Aware: A potential customer in this stage is experiencing pain. But she doesn’t know what’s the right solution. It’s likely she’ll read your blog articles to learn about solutions to her problem.
  3. Solution-Aware: A potential customer in this stage is reviewing solutions. He knows the outcome he wants. But he may not know of your product, or that it provides the results he’s looking for.
  4. Product-Aware: A potential customer in this stage is learning about your product. She’s also likely comparing it to other products that solve this problem. But she isn’t sure which solution is right for her.
  5. Most Aware: A potential customer in this stage is ready to buy. Offer him relevant social proof, and he’ll buy today.
Five Stages of Customer Awareness Comparison ads educate product-aware customers. It can also help solution-aware customers buy your product, depending on how you frame the message. To better understand why comparative ads are effective, let’s look at the customer journey of some of Decibite’s customers. Earlier I mentioned writing an article on Reddit to avoid GoDaddy. During this campaign, Decibite used a live chat tool to talk to these Redditors. This allowed us to put together the customer journey, which went something like this:
  1. A frustrated customer went to Reddit’s entrepreneur community.
  2. The customer read my article on why they should avoid GoDaddy like the plague.
  3. The customer saw my suggestion to consider switching to Decibite, among a few other web hosts.
  4. The customer went to Google and looked up “Decibite vs. GoDaddy.” (Or they Googled their web host and Decibite).
  5. The customer clicked on this comparison between GoDaddy and Decibite.
  6. They saw Decibite’s USP, guaranteeing 15% or faster hosting for non-technical entrepreneurs.
  7. After reading the information on Decibite’s landing page, the customer went to Decibite’s pricing page.
  8. Still having some questions, they went to Decibite’s live chat to get answers.
  9. The customer switched from GoDaddy to Decibite.
As you can see, the ability for customers to talk to contact someone on your team is priceless to both parties. Which may explain why 76% of 30 SaaS startups studied allowed customers to contact sales or support. You may notice that comparative advertising does not require you to present false claims about your competitors. Depending on your country, that can get you into potential legal trouble. (Though please note, I’m not a lawyer). Instead, you should use comparative advertising to educate customers with information which:
  1. Teaches a customer why they should switch to your product.
  2. Accurate about your competitor’s product.
  3. Not changing or manipulating your competitor’s trademark.
  4. Not misleading or deceiving.
Just like any other marketing campaign you do. Here are the six steps I take to creating effective comparative advertisements.

6 Steps to Creating High Converting Comparative Ads

The six steps to creating effective comparison ads are:
  1. Talk to your customers.
  2. Survey the market.
  3. Find your positioning.
  4. Turn your positioning into a value proposition.
  5. Turn your value prop into a USP.
  6. Apply a USP to create high-conversion comparative ads.
The first five steps will help you create a unique sales proposition. A USP will improve the effectiveness of your comparison ads.

Why a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) is Key to Effective Comparative Advertising

Do you have a favorite go-to restaurant when new friends come into town? Whenever someone visits Spokane, Washington, I recommend they check out Molly’s Diner. Here are three reasons why I love Molly’s:
  1. I never leave hungry. I’ve had almost every meal on Molly’s breakfast menu. It’s rare for me to leave feeling like I could eat more. Even better, I’m often content not needing to eat lunch that afternoon too.
  2. They offer a lot of good food for a low price. The price I pay at Molly’s for a six-egg omelet is the same as a three-egg omelet at other breakfast spots.
  3. Molly’s has friendly waitresses who get to know you. People like feeling at home and coming to a place where people know your name. When I visit Molly’s and the staff greets me with a warm hug, it sets a positive tone for my guests as well.
There are 100’s of restaurants in my city. But these three points of differentiation keep me coming back as a loyal customer. The reasons why customers pick your product over a competitors’ product are the foundation of a unique selling proposition. Let’s say your product is exactly the same as 99 other products competing for a customer’s wallet. Your odds of winning a new customer are 1-in-100. Do you want to improve your odds above a random crap-shoot? Then you need to clearly communicate your value. This is where a USP comes in handy. It will take some work to craft your USP. But the good news is, very few startups have a true USP. Joshua Jarvis, SEO Director for Blueprint Digital, explains why:
“Most entrepreneurs start their business on passion and sweat. That often means leaving the business strategy like creating a USP for later. For many, ‘later’ rarely comes today. If you take the time to clarify what separates you from your competitors, this will pay off in spades for years to come.”
Naturally, someone’s decision to buy your product rarely comes down to random luck. This is why the messaging you use in any marketing channel should come from your value proposition. This chart of the brand messaging hierarchy from Growth Ramp should help you visualize the USP creation process: Map of the brand messaging hierarchy and channels Source: GrowthRamp Once you have a USP, you can apply it to every marketing campaign, not just your comparison ads. Here’s how to do each of the six steps to creating high-converting comparison ads.

Step 1: Talk to Your Customers

Before you start positioning your product, you need to talk to your customers. Talking to your customers will give you the data to make sure you correctly position your product and create your USP. As a bonus, you can use a customer-first approach to your copy. Let’s go back to the example of Molly’s Diner I gave in the last section. Molly’s Diner has three points of differentiation which are valuable to me:
  1. Never leave a restaurant hungry.
  2. Good food at a low price.
  3. Friendly staff.
But if you were to talk to every person who lives in my city, not everyone would recommend Molly’s.
  1. Some customers might not like their “no frills” diner feel.
  2. Some customers might complain their bathrooms are a little drab.
  3. Some customers might say the food is too greasy.
I can see why these customers might not like Molly’s. But to me and most of my friends and family, these aren’t areas we value as much. I don’t mind the “no frills” feel. While it’s nice if the bathrooms are well-designed, I don’t avoid a restaurant if the bathrooms aren’t picture perfect. And although I eat healthily, I don’t mind a little grease when I’m eating out. Every person values something different in a restaurant. To create a unique selling proposition, your first goal is to find out what your customers value. This is known as getting the voice of the customer (VOC) data. What’s the value in talking to your customers to get VOC data? In 2015, Aberdeen Group ran a survey on 207 businesses that collected VOC data. They compared the top 20% of businesses (“Best-in-Class”) with the bottom 80% (“All Others”). Here’s what they found: Aberdeen Group Performance Findings, April 2015 Using VOC allowed the Best-in-Class to retain 55% more customers too (87% vs. 56%). Further, the Best-in-Class had 9.8x higher year-over-year revenue over the remaining 80% of businesses (48.2% vs. 4.9%). How does VOC help you create a USP? Talking to your customers will allow you to find out why they choose to do business with you. That’s why getting voice of the customer data is your first step to creating a USP. Here’s a quick process how to get your customers on a phone call:
  1. Get a list of customer names and emails from your customer database.
  2. Prepare a list of questions to ask during the interview (more on what questions to ask in a moment). I recommend putting this in a Google document. This allows you to share it with the customer if they don’t want to hop on a call.
  3. Set up an email outreach sequence using a tool like Mailshake. My benchmark is at least 10% replies in 24 hours for customer interviews. You should expect double your reply rate with two follow-up emails.
  4. Use your email’s follow up tool (Gmail has one built in) or a sales tool to help you not lose a lead after getting a response.
  5. Schedule the interview with a tool like Calendly or Woven.
  6. For your video meeting, get a web camera, microphone + foam ball, and a video room to record like Whereby.
What questions should you ask your customers to create your USP? Here are some questions I ask during customer interviews:
  1. What is the main benefit you receive from our product?
  2. If you were to run our company, what is ONE thing you would do differently?
  3. What competitors have you used in the past or are using right now along with our product?
    1. What did you like most about them?
    2. What was your biggest complaint?
    3. Was that the reason you left our competitor or was there another reason?
  1. Think back to the days before you started using our product. What was your life like before using our product?
  2. Since using our product, what improvement has it made to your work/life?
  3. What made you start looking for our product?
  4. How do you feel our product is different than any other product like ours out there?
Once you ask a question, stop talking. Your job is to listen. Document everything the customer says to you. You can also record every interview with your customer’s permission and have a VA transcribe it. Whatever you decide, be sure to note what you want to ask more questions about during the interview. This will reduce the gaps between what you understand someone to say and what they meant. Now you’ll want to see if the market agrees with what you’ve learned.

Step 2: Survey the Market to Validate Brand Messaging

After interviewing your customers, I recommend you survey your market. Your goal is to validate or invalidate the brand messaging you learned during the customer interviews. Keep in mind that you can never guarantee you’ll survey someone who will become a future customer. Segmenting who you’re surveying is critical. But, you can never “guarantee the perfect brand message” until you do a marketing campaign. Here are 3 ways to survey the market:
  1. Listen to the over 3 billion users on social media. (Reddit is my favorite channel to do market research).
  2. Read product reviews. Write down what your customers complain about and love about competing products.
  3. Use a tool like Pollfish (my recommended tool), Survey Anyplace, SurveyMonkey Research, or Google Surveys to run an actual survey.
The goal here is to look for answers to similar questions you asked in step one. This will give you a new point of reference to positioning your product.

Step 3: Use Your Brand Messaging to Identify Your Market Positioning

Brand positioning is how your customers view your brand. More specifically, customers are considering how your product solves their problem compared to competing products. Before you position your company, you need to know how your competitors position their companies. There are two steps to know how your competitors position their companies:
  1. Get a list of all your competitors.
  2. Learn how each competitor positions their company.
Listing all your competitors is simple. Start by brainstorming a list of competitors you know about. Then go back to the answers your customers gave in step one. You’re looking for answers to the question, “What competitors have you used in the past or are using right now along with our product?” You can also use Google auto-suggest to help you find even more competitors.
  1. Type in the name of your biggest competitor and add "vs." afterward.
  2. Then go through each letter of the alphabet.
Here are a few TurboTax competitors: Turbotax competitors Google Search Now that you have a list of competitors let’s learn how to find how each position is in their company. A simple way to learn how each competitor positions their company is to write down:
  1. What each competitor lists on their homepage title tag.
  2. What each competitor has as their main header on the home page (typically their H1).
For example, after doing a quick Google search for CoSchedule, you’ll learn their title tag is, “Organize Your Marketing In 1 Place.” CoSchedule Title Tag Google Search CoSchedule’s main header on the homepage is the same, “Organize Your Marketing In One Place”. CoSchedule homepage screenshot "Organize Your Marketing In One Place" With this 80/20 trick, we learn CoSchedule’s focus is to help you organize your marketing. If this step seems unnecessary, it’s helpful to know that most companies do not use the same title tag and main header. So it’s worth taking the extra 40 seconds to check both the title tag and main header. Perhaps you’re asking yourself:
"How is CoSchedule different than Hootsuite, Hubspot, and 50 some-odd other marketing management tools out there?"
Great question. This difference is what you’ll learn how to create in the next step.

Step 4: Turning Your Brand’s Positioning Into a Clear Value Proposition

Before starting this step, I need to get something off my chest. Value propositions and USPs are not the same. In my years as a marketer, I’ve seen entrepreneurs and marketers confuse the two. An example should help you see why I encourage you not to equate value props with USPs. In 2002, Blake Mycoskie took an eye-opening trip to Argentina during The Amazing Race. Four years later, Mycoskie went back to Argentina on vacation. He met a woman there who was volunteering to deliver shoes to children who had no shoes. This experience fueled Mycoskie's desire to start a footwear company to help more children in need. His goal was to donate one pair of shoes for every pair someone bought. You may have heard of this shoe company: TOMS. Mycoskie had very little going for him. But with 200 shoes and a strong value proposition, Mycoskie began to pitch journalists. Finally, the LA Times picked up his story. To his surprise, Mycoskie generated $88,000 in orders over the weekend. Eight years later, in 2014, TOMS valuation was $625 million. A value proposition is the value you promise to deliver to your customers. The better you communicate the value you promise (AKA your value prop), the more sales you’re likely to make. Of course, this assumes you talked to customers to learn why they love what you do. This brings us to the next step of creating your value proposition: A strong value proposition should be:
  1. Relevant to your customers’ acute pain. It’s written in the language of your customers, so they know it addresses their ongoing problems.
  2. Clear about the value you offer and how it will improve their lives. A customer should be able to read and understand your value prop in five seconds (or less). There should be no hype or fluffy business jargon.
  3. Specific about the benefits you offer. There is a concrete result a customer will get from buying from your product.
  4. Different or significantly better than what your competition offers.
The questions I recommended you ask your customers earlier in this article will give you the data to create your value prop. But here’s where things get tricky… Your competitors can easily copy most value props. For example, I’ve found over 30 companies using TOMS one-for-one model (source, source, source). More precisely, your competitors will often offer a similar value prop as you. Perhaps they will phrase it differently. But it’s almost an exact copy in the eyes of your customers. So how do you write a powerful value prop that makes sales, yet is nigh impossible for your competition to steal? By turning your value prop into a USP.

Step 5: Turning Your Value Prop Into a Unique Sales Proposition (USP) by Adding Specifics

To understand the difference between a value prop and a unique sales proposition, let’s look at three USPs:
  1. GEICO: “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on your car insurance.”
  2. Domino’s: "Fresh, hot pizza delivered to your door in 30 minutes or less or it's free."
  3. FedEx: "When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight."
What do you notice is the same about each USP? There are two attributes these USPs have in common:
  1. A benefit their customers find valuable. This, by itself, is a strong value proposition. “Save money on your car insurance” could apply to GEICO as it could any other car insurance company.
  2. A specific claim that a customer can test to see if it is true. “15 minutes could save you 15% or more on your car insurance” is a specific claim. This reduces a potential customer’s risk to switch. The prospect might think, “I’m paying $120/month for car insurance. 15% is $18/month or $216/year. Yeah, I think it’s worth taking 15 minutes to potentially save $216/year.”
Yes, your competitor might steal the claim you made in your USP. Yet a USP often influences a change to the product or company’s operations to fulfill the promise. This is why creating a USP is a necessary next step to creating effective comparative ads. Let’s look at how I created Decibite’s USP to learn how you can create your own. For context, here’s Decibite’s USP: Decibite Screenshot As mentioned before, any web host can promise faster web hosting. That’s their value proposition. Offering 15% or faster web hosting transforms the value prop into a USP. Sure, any web host could also offer 15% or faster web hosting. But Decibite’s entire operations center around this promise. As a result, while some web hosts do not own their servers, Decibite can improve  its product to offer faster hosting. According to Decibite’s high performance hosting page, they guarantee faster hosting by:
  1. Improve your website performance with page load optimization.
  2. Compact and reduce slow-loading page resources with page caching.
  3. Watch and upgrade your load speeds with performance monitoring.
  4. Improve your server’s processing speeds with enterprise-grade central processing units (CPUs).
  5. Increase your data storage retrieval speeds with high-powered solid state drives (SSDs).
  6. Accelerate your data processing speeds with modern, HD random access memory (RAM).
  7. Expedite your browser storage speeds with dynamic local web storage.
  8. Improve your networking speeds with over 1,000 megabits per second connections.
Pro tip: Product feature pages target customers who are next-in-line to buy after comparison shoppers. Decibite’s high performance hosting page is an example of a product feature page. Once you have a strong USP, the next step comparing your product to your competitor’s products will be a breeze.

Step 6: How to Apply a USP to Create High-Conversion Comparative Ads

Customers want information that’s believable, reliable, and easy to process. For comparative advertising, studies show these qualities are important to comparison shoppers. Beyond that, what other information should you consider including? There are four questions I recommend you consider when creating comparative ads:
  1. What will push someone away from what they are currently considering?
  2. What will pull someone to your 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?
Here’s the good news: by creating a USP, you’ve got the answer to these four questions.
  1. What will push someone away from their current web host to Decibite? Slow web hosting.
  2. What will pull someone to Decibite over a competing product? 15% or faster web hosting.
  3. How will we decrease a customer’s fear of buying from Decibite and their uncertainty of change? By guaranteeing the specific result of 15% or faster speeds.
  4. How will we decrease attachment to how things currently are? By educating customers on the value of faster web hosting.
Let’s look at this comparison page between HostGator and Decibite to see the USP in action: Comparison page between HostGator and Decibite In this section, Decibite educates the customer on the value of fast hosting. Further, they include different stats and references which back up their points. Comparison tables are another way you can educate potential customers quickly. Again, your USP will shape what features you mention. Here’s an example of Sellbrite’s comparison table to ChannelAdvisor: Sellbrite comparison table If you don’t have a USP, you can still create a comparison page. My recommendation is to use the data from talking to customers in step one to inform your comparison. Podia is a third of the cost of its competitor Kajabi. So they began their comparison between Podia and Kajabi as an affordable alternative. Podia is a third of the cost of its competitor Kajabi. So they began their comparison between Podia and Kajabi as an affordable alternative. People are searching for these comparisons online. Especially if you have a SaaS product. Not only will this content improve the customer journey, you can rank these landing pages in Google. Let’s take a look at what keyword phrases comparison shoppers use.

What Keyword Phrases Can I Use to Get More Comparison Shoppers From Google?

There are five main keyword phrase categories I recommend you should target. These are:
  1. {{Competitor}} Alternative. Example: Slack Alternative.
  2. {{Competitor}} Pricing. Example: Slack Pricing.
  3. {{Competitor}} Review. Example: Slack Review.
  4. {{Competitor 1}} vs {{Competitor 2}}. Example: Slack vs Hipmunk.
  5. {{Competitor}} {{Product Type}}. Example: Slack Hosting.
  6. Best {{Product Category}}. Example: best group chat apps.
Let’s say you have one product and 10 competitors. You have potentially 85 landing pages to help frustrated customers find your product. That is 10 alternative pages, 10 pricing pages, 10 review pages, 45 competitor vs. competitor pages, and 10 product pages. Further, you can create landing pages and articles targeting the same keyword phrase. While landing pages often convert higher, articles are easier to share and get more traffic. This allows you to cover twice the search result real estate. Grammar Gang reviews various grammar tools. Here’s a review article they did of Grammarly: Grammar Gang reviews various grammar tools. Grammarly Review: Best or Overhyped? review article This approach to comparative advertising works well if you have an affiliate program. Simply look at who your top affiliate bloggers are, send them this comparative advertising article, and suggest these comparison keywords. You can also create content like a list of the best podcast microphones to showcase different product options. You can also create content like a list of the best podcast microphones to showcase different product options. Even service businesses can do this too. Fannit compared SEO vs. SEM, giving detailed charts of the pros and cons of each marketing channel.  Fannit compared SEO vs. SEM, giving detailed charts of the pros and cons of each marketing channel. Heck, if you’re real gutsy, you can even compare your company to Amazon. Here’s an article Will Harris did comparing Amazon to Grocerkey: Heck, if you’re real gutsy, you can even compare your company to Amazon. Here’s an article Will Harris did comparing Amazon to Grocerkey: Grocery Chains are Afraid of Amazon – But This Guy Isn't There are several opportunities to target comparison shoppers to help them make an informed buying decision.

Final Thoughts

Comparative advertising is an effective part of any marketing strategy. You may not have the name recognition of McDonald’s, Burger King, Apple, Visa, or MasterCard. But it still works well for tech products like Decibite, Sellbrite, and Podia. To create high-converting comparative ads, I recommend you take these six steps:
  1. Talk to your customers. Find out intriguing insights about why they chose to do business with you over the competition. Use those learnings to inform your brand messaging.
  2. Survey the market. This helps get you more quantity, adding a dash more science to the art-and-science.
  3. Identify your positioning. Here you’ll get clear how your competitors are positioning themselves and what sets you apart from them.
  4. Turn your positioning into a value proposition. Once you know your position, you need to get clarity on what is the value customers get from doing business from you. This is your value prop.
  5. Turn your value prop into a USP. Any competitor can steal your value prop. Yet if you make a specific claim to reduce your customer’s risk, you add another layer of protection.
  6. Apply a USP to create high-conversion comparative ads. With your USP, you now know where you will educate customers using a comparison landing page.
You could be an early-stage startup like Decibite, who I doubled their annualized revenue (+127%) in half-a-year using comparison ads. Or perhaps you’re closer to Apple’s $4.84 billion revenue when they began their Mac vs. PC campaign. They sold 18.2% more Macs the month after starting this campaign. Wherever you are in your startup journey, comparative advertising is an effective page in any marketing playbook. If you’d like more advice like this to help you on your journey from idea to scale, I put together this free 14-day email series on product marketing. I think you’ll enjoy it because it goes deeper into different product marketing strategies like this one.
About the Author

Jason Quey is the CEO and founder of Growth Ramp, a product marketing agency that helps entrepreneurs from idea to scale.