Fight your competition in private, not in public

It’s rare to find salespeople who aren’t a little bit too concerned about their company’s competitors. However, this is a trait which needs to be kept well apart from their company’s advertising strategy. When I was a magazine editor, I’d often have to fend off the ad sales department, who always wanted to know which companies we were featuring in forthcoming articles. The reason? So that they could approach those companies’ competitors to sell advertising space next to the articles. It was well known that some advertisers would pay anything for such an opportunity. One or two had standing arrangements with the magazines: “Let me know whenever you’re writing articles about (our competitor) and we’ll always put a big advert next to it”.

Did this lead to well-targeted, cost-effective advertising? No, of course not. But it made a sales director feel smug, as well as generating above-average page rates for the magazine.

We do see the same tendency with search advertising. Clients often enquire about the possibility of advertising above searches on a competitor’s name. I always reply that it’s quite possible (although they probably won’t be allowed to mention the name in the advert copy). But it’s usually a terrible idea.

It’s easy to see why. If somebody has entered the name of a company into a search engine, it’s because they want to go to that company’s website. You can put any amount of advertising around the search result, but it’ll be the company’s result which they’ll click on. Your click-througn rate would be minuscule, and in turn, that would lead to the cost-per-click being sky high. I’ve rarely seen instances where that represents good value.

However, that won’t stop companies from doing it, and you may find it annoying if a competitor does it to you, however bad an investment it might be for them. The best way to stop this happening is to advertise against searches on your own company name, which – conversely to a competitor – is very cheap, and fills the space which the competitor might want. We always recommend this to clients, as I explained yesterday.

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