Competitive tactics: fair or dirty?

22 Sep

Half batman half joker

I recently called one of my clients on an old phone number. Surprisingly, a competitive business answered the phone, having taken over that number.

The competitor told me that my client was now out of business and he could handle my request instead.

If I hadn’t known better, I might have bought that line. I’m sure some of my client’s customers have fallen for it too.

My client did undergo a slight name change but there’s a difference between adding an extra word onto your name and going out of business.

From a business perspective, the play is proactive, clever and opportunistic. It might get this other business some short-term wins.

From a branding perspective, I strongly discourage this kind of tactic.  Unless of course “devious” is part of your brand personality.

What do you think? Fair or dirty?

(Image here)


6 Responses to “Competitive tactics: fair or dirty?”

  1. ɯɐן ǝɔuɐɹɹǝʇ (@kinematicdigit) September 22, 2013 at 8:42 am #

    An interesting point. Although out right claiming that Fastrac is out of business is one thing, the ethics of taking over the phone number is a whole other issue.

    These days, there are many competitors that take over mistyped or incorrectly typed URL names. A practice that in my experience has become more and more common practice among marketing professionals?

    Although there are some moves to protect brands from this, it doesn’t protect them from misspellings. Big companies now seem to buy blocks of URL’s with as many variations or possible misspellings of their names, and in some cases buy blocks of phone numbers as well.

    I personally dislike the practices of competitors that do this, but sadly, it seems that more often than not, it’s accepted as normal competitive practice. From our position as marketers and branders, we can only discourage the practice with our clients like you said. However most of them will only see new customers in their eyes, that aren’t going to the competition, while any negative response will be minor in comparison to the deception.

  2. Doug Brown September 22, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    You know Terry, every brand articulation I do with a client sees the word “integrity” come up as a core value. Integrity shouldn’t be some charm you turn on for the ladies. It’s part of who you are as a business. Which means every action needs to be measured back against it to ensure you are true to your values.

    Although every company wants “integrity” at the top of their values list, many chuck it when it stands in the way of a sale. The harder the business climate, the greater the temptation to do stuff like this.

  3. Margriet Aasman September 22, 2013 at 11:07 am #

    I have to agree with you Doug. If you choose integrity, or being ethical, as a value (and I can’t believe how many do in this time of growing exposure and openness) you have to be that to the core. One misstep could cause serious undermining of how people feel about you, and today it’s easy to catch people out. I think it is unethical what they did/said. They won’t get away with this for long… unless their product is too good to be true, and their clients are unethical, or don’t care… oh my. It is all too complicated isn’t it.

    • Doug Brown September 22, 2013 at 11:13 am #

      I swear I was just thinking of you Margriet! I knew you’d find this tactic disappointing, because integrity IS a genuine part of your brand DNA. Admittedly there are customers who won’t care. They just want fast and cheap and hassle-free. But like fast food, a steady diet of fast and cheap and easy will come back to bite you.

  4. Scott McDonald (@ScottinVictoria) September 22, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    This is simply unethical on two counts – and it should be illegal. Claiming a company is out of business when they clearly are not is beyond the pale. Claiming a competitor’s previous phone number is just slimy. The same goes for iterations of URL’s. Ethics and integrity are not mutable terms. You either have them or you don’t. Period.

    • Doug Brown September 22, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

      While I wholeheartedly agree with you Scott, I’m also aware that many companies operate under the philosophy that all’s fair in love and business.

      It’s disheartening what this Victoria company did, at the direct expense of a competitor, to further its own agenda. I hope it will shortly see the wisdom of changing tactics and either improving its service or finding a differentiator.

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