Should Comparative Ratings be Your Main Focus?
Since consumers place significant trust in popular comparative ratings, it may seem that a brand messaging strategy that extols the superiority of the product or service’s benefits (or attributes) leveraging the comparison is an obvious choice. This article reviews two examples of how this might be a flawed assumption. While a comparative assessment is clearly useful, it shouldn’t be the literal basis of the overall brand messaging strategy.
Most of us are familiar with the Consumer Reports approach to comparing products or services along various dimensions, analyzing them on features, and providing a comparison chart that totes up the performance and creates a best-of list. J.D. Power similarly provides comparisons using a ratings methodology that leverages verified car owners as their data source. In the education category, there are a variety of comparative rating sources, including USNews and others.
The comparative rating with a reporting table and measures approach is common in both business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) markets. For instance, in B2B, the Gartner Magic Quadrant allows the user to generate customized comparative technology assessments by adjusting weightings to evaluation criteria. While they may require subscriptions to unlock, seemingly objective comparative information is readily available for free or for a modest cost.
These sources are designed to answer search questions such as “best in category,” or “top in category.” The customer is likely at an early point in the Customer Journey and seeking options to consider and to “do their research.”
For those that doubt competitive comparisons are commonly used, a visit to Zoom’s homepage will inform that Zoom is “a recognized Magic Quadrant Leader” for “Meeting Solutions.” As if anyone doubts the market dominance of that household name after the last year.
Brand Messaging Strategy: Example #1
The first example comes from a B2B marketing executive whose firm’s brand messaging strategy up through March 2020 centered around competitive comparison focused on features.
The brand messaging strategy executional elements included:
- Email campaigns to a large prospect and customer list
- Sales presentation content (sales messaging)
- Trade show booth displays
- Blog content
- Company website
The company’s founders liked the approach. Unfortunately, this rational selling approach was generating almost no qualified leads, and attendance was low at the webinars and seminars.
When COVID changed the selling and marketing dynamic in March 2020, the new marketing executive was able to use this disruption to revisit the brand messaging strategy. His approach was to shift to an educational thought leadership brand messaging strategy. He recruited an industry expert to develop blog content that was on target. He offered a webinar that invited customers to learn rather than to be sold to. The first webinar attracted several hundred prospects—compare that to previous webinars that attracted fewer than 20 attendees. Several highly-qualified prospects were in the audience, and the account executive team is now employing an updated sales messaging strategy.
Brand Messaging Strategy: Example #2
The second example comes from the B2C space. Today, AI-generated email campaigns are designed to trigger the desired clicks and engagement. We were asked to propose a brand messaging strategy for a leading infant care brand. We suggested working with the target customers (in this case, moms of infants) to optimize the messaging based on their feedback, using a qualitative test-and-learn approach.
However, the client opted for a computerized optimization to create the brand messaging. This approach essentially combined strong elements together in a “kitchen sink” positioning. If a feature scored highly, it was included, and if a specific word also scored highly, it was also included. Unfortunately, the kitchen sink positioning could not be translated effectively and was not successful.
A related example comes from Adam Grant’s recent book Think Again. In it, he explores a brand messaging campaign to reach alumni donors who were “stingy.” Two different brand messages were tested, and each separately motivated 6.5% of alumni to donate. Under the kitchen sink approach, what could be better than to combine these two messages? As the research revealed, combining them into a kitchen sink message dropped the donation rate below 3%. The thesis is that a smaller number of messages is more powerful than piling on many additional messages.
Returning to the infant care example, the research found that moms preferred a brand messaging strategy that captures their initial interest by recognizing and celebrating them in their role. After recognizing mom’s importance, the brand can then go on to elaborate why it is a humble helper to mom and the benefits it can deliver. Although there may be moms who make their choice solely on the basis of comparative ratings, there are other segments of moms who use other criteria.
While the right answer will vary from brand to brand, we encourage brands to do the work to understand the target customer and develop a brand messaging strategy that resonates, is relevant and is differentiated.