Challenging Your Competitors

I’ve just finished reading the excellent ‘Rework’ by 37 Signals; a book aimed at challenging the traditional working process of many companies in favour of creating a more productive, creative and efficient way of working.

While I found myself nodding along in agreement to many of the points raised in the book, there was one section that I found difficult to accept as being good advice. This was the topic of ‘picking a fight with a competitor’.

The book states that it’s a good idea to challenge your rivals, if they suck – then say so and to highlight the positive points your product has in favour of the competition.I think this advice is dangerous, especially since it doesn’t come with a caution stating that although this may have worked for 37 Signals, it may not be the best course of action for others.There are a few reasons why I disagree with this:

It's Arrogant

Putting down other products or boasting about your own implies a heightened sense of self importance – while you may think your product is great, everyone else may not agree. Even for those that do, using the wrong tone and portraying an arrogant attitude may make it difficult for people to relate to or connect with your brand.

It's Bad For The Community

While this kind of approach may be suitable for companies that are involved with cut-throat business tactics, other industries (such as Web Design) are built upon communities that encourage sharing and support. Challenging a member of this community may create an incredibly negative representation of you and your product.

To use a recent event as an example; when Tim Potters portfolio website was ripped off, it generated a lot of attention on Twitter. Within hours an online lynch mob had formed – resulting in a lot of negative attention towards the perpetrator and some nasty remarks aimed at him as well.

While ripping someone off is a lot different to challenging a competitor, the example highlights just how powerful the community can be – news spreads fast and people are more than willing to support other members of the community.

Your not just picking a fight with a competitor, your challenging the fans and supporters of the competitor as well as other members of the community who may not be so appreciative of an arrogant or offensive attitude.

It Creates Unnecessary Pressure For You

Boasting about features or advantages your product offers puts more pressure on you to reach and maintain these expectations. In the unfortunate event that something goes wrong, the repercussions of this may attract negative attention that could otherwise have been avoided.

When people boast, others love to see it backfire when things go wrong, and they are less inclined to offer support or understanding in response to a bad attitude.

Apple Vrs Microsoft

One of the examples the book uses is the ‘I’m a Mac, I’m a PC’ advertisements. While I found these adverts to be humorous, I also found them to be somewhat distasteful.

Apple have a highly credible range of premium products, they didn’t need to make fun of Microsoft to make their products seem better, their products speak for themselves based on quality and reputation.

I can’t dispute that these adverts worked for Apple, and this approach may have been suited to their industry, however for my own practice and for anyone else involved in the web industry, picking fights with other members of the community could only result in a negative response.