Sunday, May 11, 2008

We're on the same page

Advertisements are typically designed to stand on their own. Expensive ad firms frame comps on black construction paper, focusing attention and emphasizing isolation.

But how would your advertisement stand up if it were displayed side-by-side with your competitor's ads?

This happens a lot actually. Your Google Ads are likely to come up next to competitor's. Product listings in catalogs and websites usually group products with their competitors. Magazine ads are often juxtaposed. Potential customers may even print out your website and physically place it next to your competitor's on their desk. In color.

How does comparative advertising affect your message?

In the age of user-driven information flow, you can assume that a person looking at your website is in the market for a product like yours.Therefore expending effort justifying your market space in general might be a waste of those precious few seconds when a person visits your website for the first time. Besides, extolling the virtues of your market validates your competitors as much as yourself.

Instead, what features (and benefits) does your product specially have to offer? What are your strongest claims, the ones your competitors have trouble competing against? If you're the fastest, explain how speed enables new features that would otherwise be impractically slow. If you're the most customizable, emphasize how your tool can support a process rather than dictating the process.

That's not to say you shouldn't address general market advantages at all. In fact, it's often possible to simultaneously fold general benefits into your specific ones.

For example, which of these ads is more compelling:

  1. Relieves painful migraine headaches.
  2. Relieves migraines faster than anyone else.
The second ad conveys both the general benefit ("relieves migraines") and the competitive advantage ("fastest").

This also points out that communicating the general market benefit is often unnecessary because the end user already gets it. If I have migraines, I already understand my pain and I understand the benefits of pain relievers. You don't have to tell me migraines are "painful," just get to the point!

As another example, this time from Smart Bear, we claim that one way Code Collaborator saves time with code review is that we show chat next to code, and the chat sticks with the code even when you upload fixes (where the line numbers shift around). On one hand, we're describing a general feature (chat in context with code) shared by all 3 of our major competitors, but at the same time we point out features that only we have (i.e. two competitors show chat in a separate window, not with the code, and no competitor is good enough to keep chat in the right place even after files are updated).

If you want to stick out from the crowd, explain why you're the best medicine, not why I need to take medicine.

P.S. Exception: If you're pioneering a new market space, this idea doesn't apply. In that case you need to explain and defend your very existence; in fact this was the case at Smart Bear for the first 5 years.