Industry Insights

Promoting Competitors: Really Bad Idea or Innovative Strategy?

The 4-1-1 Rule is Effective, Old School Push Marketing is Not

Everything I do as a content marketer revolves around a desire to provide valuable information to customers. My strategy – which has been effective - is following the “4-1-1 rule” for lead nurturing which was popularized by the founder of the Content Marketing Institute Joe Pulizzi. The 4-1-1 rule is: “For every one self-serving tweet (and here you can also insert Facebook or LinkedIn), you should re-tweet one relevant tweet and most importantly share four pieces of relevant content written by others.” Inherent to this rule is the idea of sharing relevant content, no matter who it’s created by, to educate, entertain and engage your target audience. Statistically, this has been proven to be far more effective than traditional push marketing, that’s why content marketing is projected to be a $300 Billion industry by 2019.

The problem is, as marketers, we have inherited a great deal of preconceived notions around what should and should not be done. For example, posting content from or about competitors has been considered a “no-no” since time immemorial.  Promoting competitors is counterintuitive to people with years of exposure to and practice in traditional marketing. The traditional marketers are not wrong, it is counterintuitive. Content marketing best practices disrupt what we know as established marketing practices; content marketing uses completely new ways of thinking to cut through the crowded digital space to be competitive.

Sharing Competitor Content Builds Your Brand 

I once had the discussion with someone who was very unconvinced on the usage of Twitter as a lead generation tool; he asked me “Why would someone read your Tweets over so-and-so’s?” Several hundred successful social engagements later, I didn’t need to tell the answer because I was able to show it. Strategic curation of other peoples’ content is a powerful way to ramp up followers, impressions, engagement and relevant leads. While a journalist can write a great story, it doesn’t mean he or she can figure out a good Tweet or LinkedIn post. I have had many occasions where a Tweet I crafted got way more engagements than the original content creator’s social post. By sharing interesting, relevant and timely content, I am able to engage, show thought leadership (“You read this journal? So do we!”) and even complement the writers or journals by showing “Hey great story… especially this point!”. On occasion, journals or blogs have even ReTweeted my Tweets of their posts: they are appreciative of the fact that a competitor read and shared them… and are not afraid to say so. 

Creating Compelling Content Requires Disrupting the Status Quo

Content marketing requires authenticity – in fact, great content marketing is the antithesis of “fake news”; this does not come from some lofty ideal, but stems from necessity. To compete in a crowded digital space, be authoritative, and cut through the noise, you have to be compelling. This means having accurate, relevant, timely, interesting, helpful and original posts. Sometimes those you interview may not all have the same opinions, and yes sometimes the people you’ll interview or write about might be your competitors. Use the best person for the article, and this will benefit your content. Most likely, that competitor you interview will expose your content to their audience, too.

Acknowledging, Not Hiding From, Your Competitors Improves Your Product 

Living in constant fear of competitors taking your business away? This would be energy better spent improving your product, and what better way to improve your product than to be out there in the digital world, communicating with others in the space on social media. Traditional marketing looked kind of like this: the sales teams or product marketers create ad copy, the campaign marketers put it out there (and cross their fingers it stuck); it was a one-way conversation. In the digital world we live in 2017, that one-way conversation is becoming less and less effective (and may someday be completely obsolete). Good content marketing strategy is about being out in the digital world, learning about the market and competitors, engaging with relevant communities on a daily basis and bringing that information back to the product team. Don’t bury your head in the sand and try to pretend your competitors don’t exist, learn from them; and your product will benefit.

There is No Conclusive Data that Says “Don’t Do It”

When I talk about my philosophy around marketing, I always emphasize that although the whole concept of “customer first” may seem very soft and fuzzy, in actuality it’s quite the opposite. I am extremely competitive when it comes to marketing, a good content marketer should be.  I see every single online site as a competitor, because it is - a competitor for your customer’s time! Whether it is a news journal or a related LinkedIn group, if the customer is spending time there, he or she is not spending time utilizing your company’s content or engaging in your company’s social media channels. 

Content marketing is still in its infancy in many B2B sectors. There is simply no data that tells us that posting content that links to a competitor’s blog on social media channels will drive purchases of that competitor’s product – while all data does point to an increase in impressions, engagement, and purchases when you use the “4-1-1 rule”. 

Disruption is Necessary, But Data is Even Better

As much as I fully believe that promoting others’ content is effective - and harmless -  because I don’t have data showing that it doesn’t drive purchases on their sites, I do tread lightly when using content from obvious and known competitors. With new types of strategies and practices, there are going to be growing pains. We are in a test and learn period, the more content marketers continue to disrupt, the more we’ll learn.

Leah Kinthaert

Leah Kinthaert

Leah is a Demand Generation Expert with 10 years of B2C and B2B marketing experience and is currently a Digital Transformation Lead at Informa. Previously, she was Director of Marketing at Mobilengine where she managed content strategy, curation, and editorial to deliver creative, intelligent, and relevant content for their website and all social channels. Prior to Mobilengine, she was the Acquisition Marketing Manager at InsuraMatch.

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