Small business owners must strike a careful balance in deciding how to criticize their competitors. Some owners avoid the practice altogether. Others will be critical but without a negative tone, knowing it can turn customers off and give competitors too much credit.
Regardless of how much they criticize or the way they do it, small business owners must let customers know what separates their brand from their competitors. Owners who focus on differentiating their businesses from the competition create stronger brand awareness and avoid directly criticizing their peers.
Below are three strategies owners can employ to differentiate their brands and criticize with tact:
1. Clearly communicate your differences.
NFIB member Glenn Phillips, president of Forté Inc., a technology firm in Birmingham, Ala., says strong communication is critical in his industry because customers can struggle to distinguish one vendor from another.
“I use analogies to explain things and cite how we do things one way and how others often do things another way,” Phillips says. “I don't name names, but by explaining with analogies, it is more easily understood and avoids a direct reference to a competitor’s specific services.”
Phillips will discuss the things his competitors do well, but his customers can form their own opinions.
“We suggest that potential clients call our clients that have used us and our competitor,” he says. “We suggest they ask questions to compare the firms. Then the response about what the competitor may not do as well is not coming from us, but from our clients.”
2. Consider your competitor before criticizing.
Independent retailer Heather Roman, co-owner of Chulamama Maternity & Baby in Danvers, Mass., is not afraid to criticize big-box competitors.
“Chances are your customer feels the same way about them as you do,” Roman says. “There are also great opportunities to educate your customer about the differences between products found at small boutiques and those at larger stores.”
Criticizing a peer retailer is another matter entirely. “It is nearly impossible to do so without making yourself look bad and inadvertently giving too much credit to the competitor,” Roman says.
3. Simply don’t criticize.
Julie Pech is the owner of The Chocolate Therapist Inc., in Littleton, Colo., where she makes handcrafted chocolates and gourmet coffee. She avoids criticizing competitors at all costs. In fact, she even has partnered with another coffee house in her shopping district to host events that focus on each company’s strengths.
“The best thing about competition is learning what not to do by observing their strategies, not criticizing them for doing something differently,” Pech says.
Related Resource: 5 Keys to Market Research Success: Know Your Competitors