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Our B3Ps From Our Interview with Duke Marketing Professor, Dr. Keisha Cutright

2 min. read

The traditional, conventional wisdom in business marketing is to ignore competitors. “Don’t give them oxygen.” But that’s wrong, according to Duke University marketing professor Dr. Keisha Cutright. Dr. Cutright’s research, first covered by NPR’s Planet Money, shows that companies who compliment competitors actually improve customer perception of their brands. In other words, the complimenter gets the credit from customers. 

Her research focused on B2C companies. We wanted to know if her findings applied to B2B companies, which comprise the majority of our client roster (spoiler: her answer was an unequivocal “yes.”).

You can listen to the full episode below. 

HubSpot Video


I’ve also summarized the B3Ps (Big 3 Points) of our interview with Dr. Cutright here:  

1. It pays to be nice

Dr. Cutright’s team put out a set of fake Facebook ads for a carwash company. In the first ad, the carwash sang its own praises. In the second, it gave a positive shout out to a rival. The findings showed that customers who saw the second ad had a higher clickthrough rate, indicating it captured more customer attention. 

Attack ads seem like a more natural choice in the eyes of companies, but they don’t always pan out. In many markets, attack ads just don’t fit the culture. Some customers find them off-putting, often because they don’t address issues that actually concern consumers.  

2. Utilizing positive shout-outs as an advertising strategy can distinguish your brand

In renewable energy marketing, complementing the competition can lead to brand distinction – in part because so few are utilizing this approach. 

Praising another business communicates confidence. The bigger your company, the more important it is to “nice-ify” yourself. A dominant player in the market that attacks another emanates insecurity, which does not bode well for sales. 

3. How you approach should be deliberate

When scoping out your competition, choose an aspect of their work that you admire but that isn’t a mainstay of your company’s value proposition. You can give genuine praise of a product that’s in your same industry but not similar enough to risk losing customers. 

All product purchases come down to a foundational emotional appeal. And, yes, that includes B2B. Dr. Cutright’s research studied how humans respond to buying messages. And it’s humans who do the buying of either a new computer case on Amazon or a long lead-time, high-due diligence B2B products and services. 

By complimenting a competitor, you are communicating your confidence at an emotional level in a way that remains nonthreatening.

Celebrating product and service innovation is especially important in the clean economy network. We’re here to make a profit and work towards solving the greatest crisis that humanity’s ever faced. Complimenting a peer company’s hard work can accomplish both.