Do you know who your ideal customer is?
In business, truly understanding who your customers are and what they need makes it SO much easier to express why your products or services are the best fit for them.
This concept is especially true in digital advertising. If you don’t have your targeting laser-focused, you’re going to bleed money by advertising to people who just don’t care. It won’t matter how witty your ad copy is, how gorgeous your video is, how awesome your images are, or how perfect your landing page is.
They may click, but they won’t convert.
On the flip-side, what if there is a group of people who are already primed to buy from you?
The good news: That group exists. They’re your competitor's customers!
In this post I’ll show you six ways to use competitive advertising to target your competitor’s customers across multiple channels.
Before we proceed: Grab our free rebrandable guide on conquering social advertising in the local space: Mastering Google and Facebook Advertising for Local Businesses.
Table of Contents
Intro to Competitive Advertising
Competition is natural in business.
When I was growing up, there were two local gas stations across the street from each other that would constantly undercut each other and put up signs dissing each other (mostly funny stuff, but they did cross the line at times).
They kept that up for a long time, and seemed to do pretty well. They had the lowest prices around, and they worked had to outdo each other, so the customer won no matter who they chose.
Digital advertising is just another arena for this type of competition. You’re fighting to succeed and grow your business, and you’re well within your rights to target your competitor's customers with ads. Just as those gas stations had the right to call out their competition.
Plus, it makes good financial sense.
Using Your Competition’s Budget
By targeting your competitor's customers, you're actually making use of your competitors' marketing budget to get leads. They've spent money on branding campaigns and social ads, and now that consumers are searching for them, you're stealing their potential business out from under them!
In fact, the fastest way to increase your marketing budget is to use your competitor's.
Here’s an example of how this works.
Let’s say the consumer is making their way down the funnel for Business A, on the left. They became interested after hearing a radio ad, then looked up that business online. They came across multiple negative reviews that hadn’t been responded to.
This means they don’t trust Business A, but they’re still interested in the product they heard about on the radio.
What does that consumer do? Well, since they’re already well into their research stage, it’s very likely that they’ll go directly to the next stage but with a competitor!
That means that Business A’s marketing and advertising dollars pushed that consumer directly into the hands of their competition (Business B). Plus they're further down their funnel, which increases the chance of a sale! A sale for their competitor!
Targeting Your Competition
The next best thing about your competitors' customers is that you probably already know a lot about them. They’re basically doppelgangers of your current customers, except they’ve clearly chosen the dark side.
However, they probably don’t know they’re on the dark side, so it’s your job to show them the light.
The good news is that converting them may not be as difficult as you think. Since they share a key characteristic (an interest in a company that's similar to your business) they’re likely to be responsive to the right messaging.
Recent research from Accenture backs this up, demonstrating that brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be:
- 77% of people retract their brand loyalty faster than they did three years ago
- 61% of people have switched brands within the last year
- 78% of Millennials say that brands have to work harder to secure their loyalty
This means that even your competitors' longtime customers’ allegiances could be swayed if you present a better alternative.
Here are some ways you can make your case to your competitor’s customers across 6 of the top ad channels:
6 Strategies for Competitive Advertising On Different Channels
Most of the advertising tips in blogs I’ve come across focus on AdWords or Facebook. These are clearly important channels to explore for your business. However, there are several other major players in the ad game that are often overlooked.
We’ll cover the top six here!
1. Bidding on the Competition’s Brand With Google Adwords
Bidding on your competitor's name is a great way to get cheap, high-quality AdWords clicks.
Brand keywords are typically some of the best performing keywords you can target. They’re super relevant, and those searching are often very familiar with the company they’re searching for.
Plus, people searching these branded keywords are probably also in the final purchase decision-making stage, and near to closing. They're well past the discovery-of-services phase, so they're probably much higher-value leads.
It’s just a matter of creating a strategy that works.
We’ve had the best luck creating 'showdown' campaigns. These call out competitors in the ad headline then direct them to a showdown page where we compare our product against theirs.
Jamie Taylor, our Demand Generation Strategist, advises that you step up and go head to head with your competitors,
“When you create an ad, compare your business against your competitors’ smack dab in the headline. Bidding on a competitor’s name is not a new thing, but 99% of the ads I see have a silly, generic message that has nothing to do with their competitor other than that they’re in the same industry.”
Here’s an example of a competitor ad we use:
Competitor campaigns like these will get you the results you’re looking for. Low cost per click, high potential for closes.
Additionally, one of our partners has driven some high-quality traffic for their client running a white-label competitor conquest campaign through our digital ads team:
"At Image Squared Marketing, targeting the competition has always been a big part of our digital ad strategy," said Vendasta Partner Casey Tibbs and Owner of Image Squared Marketing. "When working within AdWords, in particular, we like to create ad groups that include competitor targeting, branded targeting (using the business' name), and more product/service-specific targeting.
In one particular case, a small, new IT services company was able to leverage high search volume for a large, well-known competitor. This helped them to get their name out there and begin establishing an online ads strategy. We didn't get the best conversion rate for this campaign, but we started with absolutely nothing and were able to test keywords and ad copy in order to put together a larger, more informed campaign, which is running now!"
The more informed campaign Casey mentioned has only just launched. However, it has already generated over $25,000 in revenue from just a $250 investment thus far!
Not every competitor Adwords campaign will result in off the charts ROI like this one, but we can clearly see the potential of this tactic to drive new business!
2. Targeting Competitor’s Customers Interests With Facebook Ads
Facebook is an excellent channel to try due to the ad platform’s outstanding targeting abilities.
One of the best ways to target your competitors' customers with Facebook ads is to create an ad specifically for your competitor's fan base by targeting their audience. This will work best if you do your research on the posts that your competitor's audience likes best, then deliver them something better with your ad.
While Facebook doesn’t specifically allow you to target fans of your competitors’ pages, they do make it easy to target large competitors and people with similar interests. All you need to do is enter the name of your competitor's fan page in the "interests" section.
For example, if you were creating ads for a local hardware store, you could target people in the area who ‘like’ or have interest in pages related to Ace Hardware, Lowe’s, and The Home Depot.
Targeting your competitor through an interest-based audience isn’t an exact formula. While you can’t directly target these business’ specific follower list, you’ll get a pretty close approximation.
As I mentioned, you won’t always be able to use this option to target many smaller businesses. However, you can still develop a hyper-targeted audience by researching customers' interests. Just head to your competitor's' Facebook Pages and research the people who like them. Click on their profiles, grab their most relevant Likes to your business, and add them to a spreadsheet to find their common interests.
With this information, you can create custom audiences that target people with interests that are most likely to align with both your competitor and your company.
3. Targeting LinkedIn Custom Audiences
Just like with Facebook and Twitter ads (we’ll cover this later), you can create custom audiences to target individuals on LinkedIn who are already interested, have skills in, or belong to groups relevant to your competitors' products/services.
Some targeting options include location, job title, seniority level, gender, and age. This means that a company could make sure to only show ads to a client’s employees with “marketing” in their title, for example.
AJ Wilcox, founder of B2Linked also notes,
“LinkedIn provides unparalleled control over targeting, which makes it possible to do things like targeting clients of your competitors.
Before you can do this, you need to know the companies who are doing business with your competitor. If you're lucky enough to be in a marketing technology field, you might be able to get this list through an online source like BuiltWith.com. If your competitor's technology isn't overtly placed in the website coding of their customers, this may be more difficult of a task.
Once you have the list of company names, you can upload it as a Matched Audiences list into LinkedIn Ads, and create a campaign targeting just the people who are responsible for the purchase decisions. ”
Neil Andrew, Marketing Manager of PPC Protect Limited also had success using LinkedIn competitive advertising to grow their brand:
“Initially when we started our LinkedIn ads we focused primarily on targeting individuals such as marketing managers and business owners. However, after a few weeks it was apparent that our strategy was not working and the number of leads proved it. After rethinking our strategy, we decided to focus purely on competitor ads. Since we were newcomers to the industry, we had little exposure and hardly anyone knew our brand.
After a few weeks of running the ads, the results were tremendous. We actually got a lot of interest from users that were already using our competitor's software and were looking for alternatives. Compared to other ad networks such as AdWords, we achieved 83% more leads in the same time frame and for a fraction of the cost.
Overall, I'd say it was an amazing success and I'd recommend this strategy to every business. Not only are competitor ads very powerful, but they're usually cheaper than bidding on the customer demographics that every other business targets.”
Pro tip: Remember to exclude employees from the companies you’re choosing as your competitors to keep their eyes off your ads and avoid wasted ad spend.
AJ Wilcox adds:
“I also like to use the same principle to exclude competitors from seeing my clients' ads. By placing competitor companies as negative audiences, you can ensure that these competitors are flying completely blind as to what your brand is advertising.”
4. Placing YouTube Ads Before Your Competitor’s Videos
How powerful would it be to play your video ads right before your competitors’ video?
You can do this exactly using the YouTube Ad Placements category.
As long as your competitors’ video allows monetization, you’re in prime position to jump in front of your competitor’s customers with a video ad.
Wes Bledsoe, VP of Marketing at Skyline Solar Energy, suggests:
“The reason placements are so beneficial and so effective on YouTube is when you do a search video it is very, very difficult to stay within certain keyword parameters. YouTube videos cover an array of topics, but when you use placement targeting, you’re positioning your ads to play before specific videos. Plus, you’re also benefiting from your competition pushing out their own videos. So, as these people are getting more views, you in addition are getting more views on your ads, and everyone benefits. (Well, your competition doesn’t, but you do.) So, we’ve seen crazy successful, by using this technique.”
So all you really need to do to leverage your competitor’s video content is create a relevant video ad that viewers won’t want to skip! Ideally, if your ad is really good and targeted really well, they might not even watch your competitor’s video!
5. Appearing On Your Competitor’s Profile With Yelp Ads
Mentioning Yelp will typically elicit strong reactions from business owners. Whether it’s hidden reviews (we have a 12-1 hidden vs. shown ration on our own Yelp profile!), aggressive sales tactics, or their local SEO dominance, it seems like everyone has an opinion on the business review giant.
The feedback on Yelp ads is similar. These are the main problems with Yelp ads:
- The contract they require upon signing up
- the lack of transparency into what keywords people are using to find you on Yelp
- The difficulty attributing ROI to Yelp campaigns.
However, appearing on competitors' Yelp profiles does have value, especially if you’re a smaller company in a large market with a lot of high-profile competitors. This is where Yelp competitive advertising can help you build a brand awareness in your market.
Here's Mala Yoga, a studio in NYC. You can see four different ads appear on their page. Just removing those competitor ads would help Mala convert the traffic they earn through Yelp.
According to Nick Leffler,
“A free Yelp profile shows competitors ads on the profile. If you advertise on Yelp then you will show up on your competitors Yelp profile (and a lot of other profiles). If you pay to restrict competitor’s ads then your profile will be ad free from your competitors and others.”
However, the negatives will probably outweigh the positives for most businesses considering Yelp ads.
Toby Danylchuk, co-founder of 39 Celsius Web Marketing Consulting gave Yelp ads a try and had this to say:
“...at the end of the day, we calculated a much higher cost/call and lower ROI than Google PPC, and we decided to put Yelp ads on hold and put the budget into other more productive tactics, primarily Google Adwords.
In addition, Yelp provides no transparency into what keywords people are using to find you. This means you don’t know how much of your budget is going towards searches that are less than relevant.
If your primary objective for your business are leads, and you cannot validate that a particular tactic is driving low-cost leads, stop it and put your money where you know you can get a lower cost per lead.
If you’re looking to grow brand recognition in your market, Yelp ads may help. However, be sure to opt-out of any multi-month contracts they try to sell you (and they will try!).
6. Targeting Your Competitor’s Followers With Twitter Ads
Twitter is another channel where you can target your competitor's followers effectively. Almost 50% of active Twitter users follow brands/companies and 67% of people are more likely to buy from brands they follow on Twitter (Ragan) so there’s no shortage of people interacting with businesses on Twitter.
James Pollard, a marketing consultant who works with financial services professionals at TheAdvisorCoach.com has used Twitter ads specifically to build his email list:
“For Twitter ads what I do is I target the followers of my competitors on Twitter. This is an excellent strategy because if someone is following a competitor, it means he/she is already demonstrating the desire for results.
The strategy behind this is that if people are already following the advice and content of this individual, they’re already primed to accept whatever I’m offering.
My goals for the ads are usually to get clicks to my website, where people will be presented with an email opt-in. I want to get the followers away from Twitter, because I don’t own Twitter. Twitter is rented land. I own my email list. From there, I can email my list as often as I want with whatever offer I please.
The results are usually pretty good - about 50-70% of people who click on my landing pages end up opting in, but part of the reason is because I’ve split-tested my landing pages to the gills.”
There’s a great lesson here for any competitive advertising campaign or any ad campaign you create, really: Have a specific goal or objective, and a landing page to match. The more you plan your campaign around the interests and needs of your target audience, the more likely they are to convert.
Here’s how to get started:
- Step 1: Target people based on their bio, accounts they are following, and keywords. Twitter ads provide username based targeting called tailored audience targeting.
- Step 2: Use a tool like Twitonomy, Audiense, or Followerwonk to download your competitors' account followers.
- Step 3: Upload the username list into the tailored audience targeting section and create the ad.
Protecting Your Business Against Competitive Advertising
We’ve seen already that brand loyalty isn’t what it used to be. In fact, 61% of consumers take their business to a competitor when they end a business relationship (Genesys)
Much of this is probably due to the 1-2 punch of increased choices and increased access to information. Customers can easily see what’s out there and won’t stick around if they find a better product with better customer service.
This means you can court your competitor’s customers, but you’ll still need to make a convincing case for your company’s products and services or you may lose them to another competitor! If you can’t convince your competitor’s customers that you’re the best option, these strategies won’t work.
This'll just strengthen their allegiance to your competition.
As effective as wrapping yourself in foam and tape might seem, there’s no one bullet-proof solution that’ll fend off your competition.
Your competitors will try to copy you, run ads against you, and use anything negative against you. You can’t really stop them in most cases, but you can focus strategically on tactics that’ll protect you against their efforts:
- Have fantastic products and services that your customers rely heavily upon. The more customers see you as an integral partner in their business, the less likely it’ll be that they’ll care about what the competition is saying.
- Provide outstanding customer service so that when issues come up, customers feel heard, appreciated and they have their issues resolved in a timely fashion.
- Focus on boosting your reputation, online and in-real-life. Ask your customers for reviews, respond to all reviews, positive and negative. Monitor what’s being said about your business online.
Good luck with your conquest campaigns! If you have any more competitive advertising strategies, please share them in the comments section below.
If you’d like some help running digital ad conquest campaigns of your own, just request a demo. Our digital ads team has run hundreds and hundreds of competitor campaigns and can help you challenge your competition head-on!
Or if you'd prefer to learn about the major players in the digital advertising space, you can grab our guide: Mastering Google and Facebook Advertising for Local Businesses. This guide will help you master both Google Adwords and Facebook Ads for your clients.