Why praising competitors can make a health system seem more trustworthy

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Brands usually are apprehensive about complimenting competitors, as many marketers say doing so gives a rival free publicity. However, health systems might have an opportunity to improve patients' perceptions of them by giving competitors their due, according to a study in the Journal of Marketing.

The study, published Sept. 29, conducted experiments with nearly 4,000 participants. For one experiment, researchers showed participants a fake tweet from Kit Kat that said, "Competitor or not, congrats on your 54 years in business! Even we can admit — Twix are delicious."

Eleven days after seeing the fake tweet, participants reported their candy purchases to the research team. People who saw the tweet were 34 percent more likely to buy a Kit Kat compared with a control group that saw a Tweet from Kit Kat about its own product. Notably, Twix purchases did not increase among the participants who saw the fake tweet praising its candy bar.

"You don’t want to spend your media dollars talking about the competition, but there are times when it makes sense to say something nice, and at the same time, signal who you are as a brand," Keisha Cutright, PhD, one of the study's authors, said in a news release. "That message is that they're a warm, caring brand that you can trust, which implies they’re also going to be considerate and warm to their customers."

The study also found that the most skeptical participants were likely to have the biggest positive response to brands that complimented a competitor.

The researchers noted that complimenting a competitor is most effective when done strategically — at the right time and in an authentic tone. 

"If you are constantly talking about the competition, people may not see it as sincere," Dr. Cutright said. "This isn’t something brands need to do all the time, but it’s something they shouldn’t be afraid to do occasionally to help boost perceptions of their warmth and trustworthiness."

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