Comparison Tables: Smart or Dangerous?

Recently, the following question was posted anonymously on a site called FounderDating: “Should I name our competitor in our features comparison table, or does that just amount to free publicity?”

Mobile megaphoneRecently, the following question was posted anonymously on a site called FounderDating: “Should I name our competitor in our features comparison table, or does that just amount to free publicity?”

Started in 2009, FounderDating was started as a place where entrepreneurs could find co-founders. FounderDating invited industry experts (advisors) to join in 2014. Founders could then either seek them out directly, or pose a question, tag it with keywords for specific category expertise and then sit back and wait for response.

In total, more than three dozen individuals responded to the question posed above — the first 16 within five hours of the post. But the discussion that ensued was fascinating and because this is a topic that I’ll be covering in webinar I’m participating in on May 3, I thought it was a valuable topic to review here.

Before I get to the various ideas that were provided, here’s some background on the company that posed the question:

“We are a new entry into a very niche market… we also have a vastly superior product offering to that of our competitors. Our features blow them away, but we are slightly higher in price. My thought was to provide a features-comparison table to justify our pricing relative to theirs. My concern is whether to name them or just say “Us” vs “Them” or “Others”, etc.. Thoughts?”

To me, the idea of a comparison chart and the use of named competitors is a strategic marketing question, but the advice poured in from CTOs, CFOs, CEOs, attorneys, a pricing specialist, engineers, other founders — but only one or two marketers. And, as expected, the collective responses were all over the map.

After reading all of them, I’m not sure any one answer provided the most valuable perspective. Some were dismissive of even including a chart at all, while others suggested only naming well-known competitors and information about them that was available publicly (ie. proved the point).

However, I wanted to take a step back and talk about when and where to use a chart like this — and how, in my opinion, to get the most value out of creating one.

Smart Idea When Used in the Right Stage of the Buy Cycle

In my experience, a comparison chart is a great marketing tool that can be used with great success if it’s used when a buyer is in the middle of the buying process. For most business buyers, the discovery process does not start with comparing brands; instead their focus is on category solutions. They are either experiencing some sort of “pain” in their business, or are trying to research an idea. In this early phase of research, most are trying to get a handle on what their peers are doing, or are seeking some timely or unique information that can help provide insight.

But once they have completed that phase of their buying journey, they become more open to thinking about a brand solution — and here’s where a comparison chart can be helpful.

Include Features and Benefits to Strategically Differentiate

A comparison chart can help to level the playing field by providing a head-to-head contrast in features but, when done well, it can also include commentary about benefits of any particular feature. It’s not necessary to include price as part of the comparison as the buyer is not ready to even think about price without a deeper dive into your particular product/solution.

The best charts are not chest-pounding “look at me!” comparisons, but rather straightforward, authentic and easy-to-understand tools that build credibility for your brand. They do not overly emphasize your brand over another (which detracts from the credibility factor) so there are no logos. Just remember, buyers are neither dumb nor “tricked” by an obviously self-promotional piece, so don’t waste your energy creating one in that vein.

Consider Leveraging an Independent, 3rd Party

Another strategy is to hire an outside, third party industry pundit to create or review your comparison chart to ensure it feels balanced and transparent. Plus, having an outsider prepare or review it and provide a stamp of approval means it’s less likely that a competitor could challenge the findings.

One Note of Caution

As an attorney noted in the comments section of the FounderDating post, make sure there is no misrepresentation of a competitor’s products, and properly identify any trademarks to their rightful owners.

So here’s the question: Does your brand have the strategic smarts to design and implement a competitor chart that helps position your product/solution in the best possible light? Would you publish it if you could? Do you think it might help propel your brand to the front of the consideration set? I’d love to hear from fellow marketers.