Why Your Blog Should Talk About the Competition…a Lot

by Marcus Sheridan

There is this unwritten law online that companies aren’t supposed to talk about other companies. Competitors aren’t supposed to talk about competitors. Brands and products should not be compared. Names should not be dropped.

I call bull on all of it.

Actually, let me check that for a second….I call bull on all of it if you’re serious about building your brand and becoming a go-to source of information for those in your industry (i.e. thought leader).

Hey Marcus, Where should I spend my money?

In the last 3 days, I’ve received 8 emails from consumers in the swimming pool industry asking me to choose which brand of pool they should go with and/or what contractor they should use for their project.

Think about that for a second. People I’ve never “met” are leaving it in my hands as to where they spend their $50,000 (take or give a few bucks).

And why are they doing this? I can tell you this much—it’s not because I’m particularly cool or awesome.

Frankly, the reason is simple—My swimming pool blog talks about subjects no one else talks about. We compare brands. We compare companies. We talk about best and worst practices of pool builders.

For years, fiberglass pools were improperly built on sand due to the erroneous teachings of certain manufacturers. This article attacked the subject head on and lead to major change in the industry.

And because we do, people all over the world trust us.

Brand Comparison of Other Products

To give you an example of what I’m talking about, I once wrote an article about two of the major fiberglass pool manufacturers in my industry—Trilogy and Viking Pools—about two years ago. Even though at the time I neither sold Trilogy nor Viking, I still felt it my responsibility to compare the two companies, as many customers in the past had asked me to do just that.

And like any great content marketer/blogger, when I hear a question, that almost always means I need to write about it.

Since publishing that post, the article has been read thousands and thousands of times. It ranks first page of Google for many keyword phrases. But even more importantly, it tackles a subject that consumers in the fiberglass pool industry want and need to know, therefore raising the brand and trust factor that is associated with River Pools.

Here is a screen shot showing one of the comments on the Viking vs. Trilogy post. In fact, the majority of the comments on this post are asking us at River Pools to help the reader choose the right brand and contractor for their swimming pool.

Since starting my blog at River Pools, I’ve written dozens of articles just like this one, and all have done very, very well from an SEO, social, and branding perspective.

Brand Comparison of Your Products

With The Sales Lion, there is really no difference in the strategy. In fact, if you look at some of the most successful articles I’ve written here in terms of reads, leads, and results, many follow this same pattern.

As an example, The Sales Lion brand  is often looked upon as the “consumer voice” of HubSpot, which only makes sense considering I’ve talked so much about them over the past few years. Sometimes I praise their efforts, sometimes I question their strategy, and then other times I compare them with others.

Case in point, many times since starting TSL business owners and marketers have asked me if WordPress or HubSpot would be the best solution for their web marketing. After hearing this question so often, I knew my only choice was to write an extensive post about it, which I did here:

If someone is asking you the question, you should be writing about it…

If you read that post, you’ll likely be surprised by one main thing—brutal honesty.

In other words, in that article I freely admit that HubSpot isn’t the best fit for every business, as it really comes down to the unique needs of that company and/or individual.

This is the key to talking about others in your industry—honesty. If you’re going to discuss the pros and cons of another product, brand, etc.—then you need to be able to do the same with your products and brands. Just because I’m a HubSpot partner doesn’t mean I’m not going to hold their feet to the fire as much as I would anyone else.

For the most part, few companies have been able to manage this properly, as their style is typically less educational, more attack and/or salesy.

Countless Content Opportunities

When it comes down to it, for those companies that are willing to talk about the competition and other products (in a factual and accurate manner), there is a content goldmine just waiting to be discovered. If you want to see exactly what I’m talking about, do the following activity, which I’ll keep short and sweet so as to keep things simple:

1. Write down every product/service your company sells.

2. Write down every comparable product/service sold by other companies (your competition).

3. Compare each with a blog post.

4. Make a list of everything you disagree with in your industry. (If you love what you do, this list will be long.)

5. Write about each in a blog post.

As I said above, this activity could be much longer, but by doing the 5 steps I just mentioned you will likely have between 50-100 new articles to write…which isn’t too shabby.

But as I mentioned before, be honest. Keep it real. Tell it like it is. Be willing to answer on your website the same questions you answer face to face all the time.

By so doing, your brand and voice will grow. Consumers will look to you as a leader. So will the search engines.

And ultimately, leads and sales will grow too.

Your Turn

Why are companies so afraid to talk about the competition and compare brands/products online? Also, have you experimented with any of this and what have been the results?

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts so jump right in folks.

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{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

John Falchetto July 17, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,

I would moderate the statement and say it depends.

For service providers, most of the time there is no competition. Someone who has a real reputation as a an excellent coach, consultant has zero competition.
Who does Marcus Sheridan compete with? Nobody except himself.

That’s simply because you have your niche, your voice and your skills that you bring to the scene and nobody can do what you do, the same way.

Now when it comes to products like cars, pools, and other consumer goods, yes we can compare them and say x is better than y because it’s stronger, lighter, cheaper, more resistant etc…

Again it also depends because many companies have internal rules which go against comparing their products with the competition. In some countries, like France, you aren’t allowed to do comparative advertising.
Depending on what you write you might also expose yourself to legal consequences.

So write about the competition? Not just a straight, just do it !

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Paul Onwueme July 17, 2012 at

“Again it also depends because many companies have internal rules which go against comparing their products with the competition”

Exactly John, my exact thoughts as well. There is the danger that talking about the competition could lead to ‘de-marketing’ and other related law suits which may not be good for a company’s public image.

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Marcus Sheridan July 17, 2012 at

I think most internal rules on this subject are way off, which is why I wanted to write about this subject.

For example, let’s look at vehicles. If you look at their TV adds, they compare against each other all the time. They even mention names.

Yet they don’t do the same online.

Why is that?

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John Falchetto July 17, 2012 at

Most large firms will ignore the competition and highlight their products.

Less legal headaches, in the US you can do vs. ads but not in many other countries around the world so this means they could get sued.

Then there is a gentleman’s code inside most large firms which refrains them from speaking ill of their competition publicly.

So difficult topic that will be met by a stonewall in almost every multinational I know.

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Scott Golembiewski July 17, 2012 at

There’s the story about when Alan Mulally first joined Ford, drove a Lexus at the time and was pretty vocal about it being the highest quality vehicle.

When you want to be the best, you have to be willing to look at who’s doing it better than you and find out what has to change.

Of course, we didn’t see a commercial on TV where Ford was saying “Lexus > Ford” – it’s an internal mission that gets communicated through the product and spoken through the voices of the customer who hopefully gain some of the vision when visiting local Ford dealers.

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Christina Pappas (@C_Pappas) July 19, 2012 at

Telling the truth and ‘speaking ill of their competition’ should not be seen as the same thing. It’s annoying that we still put these in the same bucket. It’s like the whole notion that we called their baby ugly.

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John Falchetto July 19, 2012 at

Tell this to judge Christina!

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Marcus Sheridan July 20, 2012 at

That’s exactly it Christina, and I think I should have done a better job clarifying that in this article. “Comparing” isn’t “disparaging”.

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Cheryl Pickett July 19, 2012 at

John, I have to disagree a bit where you said that for service providers, there is often little competition. Even though there is only one Marcus, there are more than plenty other content and online marketing coaches/consultants. He does stand out, but he still isn’t the only one teaching on the subject.

As for other service providers, whether you are talking about coaches, plumbers or virtual assistants, there are always others doing the same thing.

What I do see a lot is these types of folks comparing themselves to their competition in ways that do not make them stand out. For example, they say they offer great/better customer service, or more timely response or competitive rates. People who sell products can fall into this trap too.

That kind of comparison doesn’t help and in fact, mostly lumps you in with everyone else saying the same thing. So I think sometimes the issue is not that people don’t do comparisons, it’s that they don’t do them in a way that will get the results they want.

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John Falchetto July 19, 2012 at

That’s the thing Cheryl, NOBODY is like Marcus.
Yes there are tons of people in the content marketing space, but who can deliver a session like he does and share the same way he does? Nobody

I am not saying the others are lame, everyone has his/her strengths. This is why comparing service providers is a waste of time.

If you are doing the ‘same thing’ as everyone else then you are already dead on arrival.
The real secret in finding our niche is to make sure we don’t do the ‘same thing’ as everyone else.

This means knowing our strengths, values and leveraging our experience.

Then instead of fighting in a sea of sameness you are only fighting against yourself.

So I guess I agree with you :) For most service providers there is a lot of competition, however there is zero competition for the good ones like Marcus.

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Cheryl Pickett July 19, 2012 at

In the spirit of friendly discussion :-), I still gotta say that even those who have a super strong USP have competition, even though it may be at a different point in the game than for those who don’t.

For example, let’s say a meeting planner/person in charge of training is considering bringing in someone to their company to talk about marketing. They make a list of 10 possible people. Marcus is on that list. He definitely has competition at that point because there is a list, not a single consideration. At this early level he may be competing against people who can speak on other kinds of marketing, as well as someone else who talks about blogging/content marketing.

From there, as the planner begins to narrow the list, they are going to be comparing and somewhere in his material, directly or indirectly, Marcus has to show how he stacks up & stands out. If there was no competition, he, and everyone who has a strong USP would get every gig they try for and that’s not the case. They may eliminate the competition faster, but it’s still there in most circumstances I believe.

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John Falchetto July 19, 2012 at

If the client does their job right they will realize Marcus doesn’t deliver the same value as others in this space.

Do you know many successful brick and mortar businessmen who ALSO are expert at inbound marketing?
Personally most of the people in this space have zero real business experience, managing dozens of employees and handling million dollar budgets.

That’s Marcus’s niche and he owns it, his only competition is himself.
I know he thinks we should draw attention to others in the market, I disagree, a real business owner should only focus on what he does.

Marcus is great at what he does, not because X is weak or Y is more expensive. His value comes from what he brings not what the others fail to bring.

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Marcus Sheridan July 20, 2012 at

Actually, I think Marcus Sheridan Vs John Falchetto: Who is more awesome? would be a great blog post sometime JF ;-)

Thanks for bringing it like you do man!

Marcus

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Marcus Sheridan July 20, 2012 at

You’ve made some really great points here Cheryl, that’s for sure.

People compare. That’s what they do. Even though they like X over Y, they’ll still often compare. That’s just what they do.

Way to bring it lady!

Marcus

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Nic Natarella December 5, 2012 at

I talk to small to medium sized businesses all the time and ask, “Who is your competition?” Without fail, 99.9% of every business proudly exclaims, “We don’t have any competition!” and they point to their “outstanding customer service” (which they can’t define) or their “convenient location” (which is the justification for handing them money…?)

The first thing I tell business owners is: your advertising needs to be from the customer’s perspective. And this is where we fall into the same trap about our businesses: “Competition” is from the business’s perspective.

What we are discussing here is: “alternatives.” Like you said Cheryl, “.. there are more than plenty other content and online marketing coaches/consultants.” That’s from the customer’s perspective.

And later, Cheryl, you said, “For example, let’s say a meeting planner/person in charge of training is considering bringing in someone to their company to talk about marketing. They make a list of 10 possible people. Marcus is on that list. He definitely has competition at that point because there is a list, not a single consideration. At this early level he may be competing against people who can speak on other kinds of marketing, as well as someone else who talks about blogging/content marketing.”

That’s from the customer’s perspective – I would suggest you change the word “competition” to “alternative”. They are considering alternatives – not competition.

Once you see yourself from the customer’s point of view, you will see, every business has alternatives. How you separate yourself from the alternatives is your USP.

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Jacob Voncannon July 17, 2012 at

Marcus! Thanks man. Fuel to my fire. I appreciate you willing to stick yourself out there with your own business. What would you say to the naysayers who are afraid of big companies attacking them with more money and resources?

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Marcus Sheridan July 17, 2012 at

Jacob, great question brother, a couple of points:

1. Large companies generally don’t do any of this because they have too much red tape (Goliath)
2. Smaller companies can act quick, have opinions, and lead thought. (David)

I’ve gone head to head with the big boys and always come out fine assuming I was honest in my writings Jacob.

But yeah, it takes guts. :-)

Marcus

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Jon Loomer July 17, 2012 at

Indeed, Marcus, indeed…

I think it comes down to two approaches: 1) A “corporate” blog that is only concerned about promoting themselves; and 2) A “resource” blog that is focused on helping the consumer.

When you let the needs of the consumer guide you, your content will often cover and highlight competitors. My website is a resource for Facebook and content marketing tips. As a result, I regularly link to my “competitors.” I see them as competitors privately, comparing results and what we’re doing. But in the end, I don’t need to hide their work from my readers if what they are doing is valuable.

Many brands think that they need to do #1, when in reality they can do a much better job of promotion by focusing on the consumer.

Thanks for the good stuff, Marcus!

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Marcus Sheridan July 17, 2012 at

Many people that read this article won’t fully get it, but the following statement you made shows me you clearly understand what I’m trying to say here Jon:

When you let the needs of the consumer guide you, your content will often cover and highlight competitors

You rock brother,

Marcus

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Paul Onwueme July 17, 2012 at

Well Marcus one thing I totally agree with you about is that people will trust you if you’re known for being brutally objective. But it’s important to add that brutal honesty has to be very polite and sensible not so as to please others but to actually sound professional. If a business offers crappy service and that is highlighted in a blog post, the tone of that post could be viewed as derogatory if brutally objective and there could be problems that such a thing could lead to. So a note of warning to all aspiring honest critics, be careful!

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Marcus Sheridan July 17, 2012 at

Good thoughts Paul. I’d say honesty is huge, but not necessarily “polite” per se. In other words, there are times for righteous anger in my opinion, times for tact, and a time for polite.

I’m not inferring you’re wrong at all Paul, just that I think there is a time for each of these.

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Adarsh Thampy July 17, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,

I’d have to disagree with you on this one…

Not on that fact that you should or should not talk about the competition.

But you haven’t exactly done the same.

I mean you install pools. You are providing a service here with different brands. In the example you are simply talking about different brands. Those are not your competitors. In fact, one day they could even be your partners.

About the Hubspot article. You are comparing a completely free product and a product that’s worth hundreds or thousands of dollars each month. So again. that’s not exactly a fair comparison.

What you are talking about is not writing about direct competitors. In that case, then you’d have to start writing articles about pool companies that offer installation services like you.

And how would you think it would sound if you write on your own blog your service is better than a competitor? Not very convincing huh?

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Marcus Sheridan July 17, 2012 at

If you sell Ford vehicles Adarsh, is chevrolet your competition?

You say no.

I say yes.

If someone uses Wordpress instead of HubSpot for a marketing campaign (which happens often, with more details involved, but this does happen all the time)–does this mean HubSpot and Wordpress are competing?

You say no.

I say yes.

As a business owner, I use the word competition very loosely to cover ANYTHING I may be selling/competing with.

This could be a company. It could be a product. It could be a service….just as I mentioned in the article.

And by the way, I also write about direct competitors for pool installations too, which kills it with keyword rankings. To watch how it’s done, just go here. http://www.riverpoolsandspas.com/blog/local/bid/80632/Who-Are-The-Best-Pool-Builders-in-Richmond-Virginia-Reviews-Ratings

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Adarsh Thampy July 18, 2012 at

If you sell Ford vehicles Adarsh, is chevrolet your competition?

So if I own a bakery and I sell snickers chocolate, so galaxy is my competitor?

If someone uses Wordpress instead of HubSpot for a marketing campaign (which happens often, with more details involved, but this does happen all the time)–does this mean HubSpot and Wordpress are competing?

In a way yes. What I meant was that it’s not exactly a fair comparison- A completely free tool vs a high end product. Technically, yes, you can say they are competitors. Just like Windows and Linux are competitors.

As a business owner, I use the word competition very loosely to cover ANYTHING I may be selling/competing with.

Again, going back to the bakery instance, I think the usage of the word competition maybe a bit misleading!

I also write about direct competitors for pool installations too

That article is a list of pool providers with some basic information. But not exactly a comparison or case study or anything of that sort.

In the real estate industry I have tried the comparison approach and I have got legal notice for doing so. Not sure I would win or not if I try the legal route, but I chose to avoid complication.

A very thought provoking article Marcus :)

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Scott Golembiewski July 17, 2012 at

I think it comes down to trust, incentive, and knowledge.

To gain trust the individual, or company, must first be willing to talk about their own products / specific features that aren’t as good as the competition – not an easy thing to do. However, the goal is to educate the customer, and make them aware of everything they should know about so they aren’t disappointed afterwards. They need to put themselves in the customers shoes, and write stuff down when they see problems being reported by customers, and listen intently to what would solve the problem for the customer.

If the incentive is to “sell more stuff” then comparing the competition will likely consist of “reasons why ours is better” as opposed to the level of detail needed to objectively explain these differences in the simplest way. If they have built trust, the incentive will be to earn more customers who appreciate that kind of transparency. These are higher value customers who will tend to refer so it will pay off even if it loses some along the way.

Finally, one must have a great deal of passion to seek out the knowledge on how to compare products, know the materials used to make the products, and how well one product might last in certain conditions over another. This means staying connected long after the sale, insuring the product is living up to expectations.

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Bob McClennan July 18, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,
This is a great blog post and really is an excellent outline on how to generate content that differentiates a company from the competition. My question for the group is this: Would you recommend comparing your patented product online vs. a product you are pursuing patent infringement litigation against? Ammunition for the fight or a potential liability?

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Amy Fowler July 18, 2012 at

Great post,

I was explaining just this to a client earlier after they asked me why I had followed a competitor of theirs on Twitter.

Even if nothing was said to the competitor, and so nothing *good* ever came from it, I can’t imagine what the client thought might come out of it that would be *bad*.

Here’s another example of a company that use this strategy very, very well http://www.factory-beds-direct.co.uk/ I’m honestly not affiliated with them in any way, but I’m in the market for a new bed, and after looking in depth at their site, there’s no way I’d go to anyone else when i finally have the money to buy one. Their knowledge, expertise, and commitment to customer service shines through with all their articles, Q&As and videos, that they’ve got my business secured already.

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Lana Waller July 18, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,
Wow, I have another list of topics to write about. There is a long list of things we can find to disagree with in our business. The major one being Big Name realtors who have team working for them.. The “big name” realtor is in all the marketing, goes to the listing appointment to secure the listing and then hands everything off to their team. The team is usually less experienced and learning the business. The “big name” realtor does not deal with the showings, feedback, or offers. We have had many times recently where we have been trying to negotiate an offer with someone who does not know what they are doing and they lose the deal for their seller. All because the “big name” realtor is so busy trying to get the next listings. We have had to request to only speak to the “big name” realtor. This is so deceiving to sellers who think they are hiring the realtor with the years of experience negotiating to look after them. This really makes me angry as I feel many innocent sellers are being taken advantage of. This is probably part of the reason realtors get such a bad name.
In our business my husband with the 25 years experience is the only one to deal with the offers. After all that is who the clients are hiring to represent them.

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Wade Balsdon July 18, 2012 at

Thanks Marcus. I am busy reading your book Inbound and content marketing. What an eye opener! I am happy to see that I am more or less on track, however will be tweaking a lot of things. I am totally optimistic about my results going forward.

I would like to add that your book is a fantastic and easy book to read. Thanks once again.

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Kevin Morgan aka FitOldDog July 18, 2012 at

Great article, I’ll take that to heart. My competition is kind of odd, including companies like Medtronic and the Mayo Clinic; they don’t really provide what I’m trying to provide, but I do have to beat them in the Google keyword game in order to be seen. There is some competition, in the form of closed minds, but let me think about that. I like the idea of talking about my competition in a positive manner, and taking people to the best stuff I can find. Great photos, by the way. Thanks again, Kevin aka FitOldDog

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Ryan Aspy July 19, 2012 at

Some of the earlier comments brought up very good points about the hesitancy of doing this within big companies based on potential legal issues. In my previous position I was involved with marketing communications. Before anything could be published on our website or submitted as a press release it had to pass through our legal department. Lawyers usually take a very conservative stance on these issues, which is why you don’t see the comparison thing done much in large companies. Although Marcus is right that some do engage in comparisons in their TV ads. I’m not quite sure why that inconsistency exists.

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Geoff Reiner July 19, 2012 at

Hey Marcus,

Great post! Reading through bits and pieces of the discussions above, I think there’s a huge difference comparing larger businesses vs. smaller businesses discussing the competition. Larger companies seem to have less finesse when starting the discussion and in my expereince have no purpose for their actions and do very little or nothing with the results. They are too slow moving but don’t want to be left behind.

Smaller companies can ask their audience questions and compare brands or products, but in the end they are nimble enough to change! They have a purpose behind their initiative and use the information to its greatest potential.

Thanks again for sharing!

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Marcus Sheridan July 20, 2012 at

Yep, the classic David Vs Goliath Geoff. Love it bud!!

And great seeing you man!

Marcus

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Alan | Life's Too Good July 19, 2012 at

Hey Marcus,

do you think this is more important when talking about products or just the same for services?

I completely see why you are successful having the confidence to talk about your competitors and I often do this kind of thing myself when it comes to products – I even do something similar when buying products if some kind of negotiation is involved (but that’s a different story), but I do tend to think it’s probably more effective or perhaps easier for products than for services.

In any case being confident and open is always a good strategy.

I wonder though, for example if you were an online web designer offering purely a service to build websites for people whether it would make sense to talk about other web design companies (excepting the fact that they could offer things you couldn’t)?

It’s the perfect strategy for your swimming pool business though and hats off to you for spotting that – e.g. where you have predominantly two very different types of product (right?) and you can honestly talk about the pros and cons of each.

Another aside – in my business and particularly online, I just don’t see others who do similar work as competitors. I can’t bring myself to look at them like that – they probably are but I wish everyone trying to make a living online all the luck in the world and generally think that online is so vast that there’s enough to go around anyway (naiive?)

keep rockin’ dude…

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Marcus Sheridan July 20, 2012 at

Alan, thanks so much bud for your question, it’s a good one.

Although I think it may be a little easier comparing products, I find that services can certainly be compared as well, as there are almost always different methodologies involved.

But yeah, it’s a bit more difficult.

Thanks again brother,

Marcus

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Christina Pappas (@C_Pappas) July 19, 2012 at

I will just say this: the people that fear the competition, fear giving them any acknowledgement, fear someone will call upon them instead themselves, fear telling the truth with cast the in a whiter light. All these ‘people’ I just described, do not believe they are the leader. They do not believe they can beat the competition. They do not have confidence in their own products and services. They do not believe they can be the leader. They don’t ‘get it’.

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Marcus Sheridan July 20, 2012 at

That was officially AWESOME!!!!

Wow CP, wow. :-)

Marcus

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Matthew Stock July 21, 2012 at

While I agree “versus” articles are definitely a content goldmine, I have been reluctant to compare our service business to another. Why? As you would say, it’s a blog, not a brag!

Now, if was in retail or selling someone else’s product, I’d have no problem doing it. And I have had good success comparing one process against another in a few of our . I just don’t want to get involved in a game of one upmanship. And by talking about my competitors, I’m giving them free publicity.

You know what…you gave me an idea for my new internet marketing company: “Inbound Storm vs. The Sales Lion”

We’ll do that one after we wrestle :)

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Roman @ Roman Design in Toronto July 22, 2012 at

“Why are companies so afraid to talk about the competition and compare brands/products online?”

Well, obviously that would drive your website visitors to your cometititor websites. Even if your web design is better, if you say good things about competitor you might lose a client, and if you say bad thing – it doesn’t look good.

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Marcus Sheridan July 23, 2012 at

I think it’s foolish to think in this information age that our prospects won’t find these companies online anyway Roman. I’ve never been “scared” that someone would find another competitor’s website. After all, if I’ve done what I’m supposed to do in terms of messaging, this will only increase the chances of the sale as they find out site and business is much more superior.

I’ll simply never adhere to the concept of fear based marketing.

Marcus

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Matthew | golf accessories July 25, 2012 at

Premium brands will have internal understanding and they wont’ confront with competitors unless the issues of copyright voilation occurs.

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