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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.
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.
Start your next piece of comparative advertising with this brief template that outlines each piece of information you’ll need to nail your messaging:
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%.
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…
Comparative ads are targeting comparison shoppers.
According to the copywriter Eugene Schwartz, comparison shoppers are the 2nd most likely customer to buy your product.
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:
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:
Just like any other marketing campaign you do.
Here are the six steps I take to creating effective comparative advertisements.
The six steps to creating effective comparison ads are:
The first five steps will help you create a unique sales proposition. A USP will improve the effectiveness of your comparison ads.
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:
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:
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.
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:
But if you were to talk to every person who lives in my city, not everyone would recommend Molly’s.
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:
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:
What questions should you ask your customers to create your USP?
Here are some questions I ask during customer interviews:
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
Here are a few TurboTax competitors:
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:
For example, after doing a quick Google search for CoSchedule, you’ll learn their title tag is, “Organize Your Marketing In 1 Place.”
CoSchedule’s main header on the homepage is the same, “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.
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:
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…
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.
To understand the difference between a value prop and a unique sales proposition, let’s look at three USPs:
What do you notice is the same about each USP?
There are two attributes these USPs have in common:
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:
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:
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.
Beyond that, what other information should you consider including?
There are four questions I recommend you consider when creating comparative ads:
Here’s the good news: by creating a USP, you’ve got the answer to these four questions.
Let’s look at this comparison page between HostGator and Decibite to see the USP in action:
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:
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.
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.
There are five main keyword phrase categories I recommend you should target. These are:
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.
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.
Even service businesses can do this too. 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:
There are several opportunities to target comparison shoppers to help them make an informed buying decision.
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:
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.
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