Mentioning competitors in your white paper

Your white paper may serve any number of purposes, from explaining a new technology, to presenting the advantages of a particular strategy, to educating your stakeholders about an issue that should be important to them. Often, however, the purpose of the white paper is to contrast the products or services you offer with those of your competitors. When developing that type of white paper, the question may arise about whether you should mention those competitors or the products and services they offer by name.

Depends on many factors

Whether to mention competitors in your white paper depends on a variety of factors. One of the biggest is your company’s attitude toward doing so and your industry’s traditional approach. In some industries, head-to-head comparisons of competitors and their offerings are common. For example, a microprocessor manufacturer may contrast the performance of their chips with those of their competitors. An oil refiner might use data about equipment wear to demonstrate the superiority of their formulations. If your company is accustomed to naming names when discussing the competition, you shouldn’t hesitate to do so within your white paper.

Reasons not to mention competitors

Some companies or marketplaces are more reticent about discussing competition openly. In some cases, the companies in your industry may have a tacit agreement about taking a more restrained approach to promotion. At other companies, management may be worried about the potential for legal action or other repercussions, and choose not to describe competitors openly.

Can you be sued for naming a competitor?

(First off, I’m not an attorney, so I’m not qualified to provide legal advice. This blog post is intended as a general discussion. You should consult with your own legal counsel before making a decision.) Some companies choose not to mention competitors in white papers and other promotional materials out of fear that those companies may sue them. However, just because a company files a lawsuit doesn’t mean that suit has merit or is likely to stand up in court. Some companies use the threat of legal action as an intimidation technique. Often, they’ll begin by issuing what’s known as a “cease and desist” letter to the other company, typically suggesting that if the company doesn’t stop using their name, they’ll proceed with a lawsuit, and that’s as far as it gets. If your company is concerned that using a competitor’s name may put you in danger of being threatened in this way, discuss it with your attorney.

Mentioning more than one competitor

One approach that can head off problems is to name several competitors in your white paper. Instead of contrasting your product or service with just one competitor, you may contrast it with four or five. For example, the oil refiner mentioned earlier could include a table containing test results for their product and products from five or six competitors. Not only does such an approach lend more credence to their claims; it reduces the potential for any one of the competitors to suggest they’re being singled out.

Things go both ways

One thing to keep in mind if you name competitors is the old saying that “two can play at that game.” If you name your competitor in your white paper or other materials, don’t be surprised if they begin naming you and your products in their own promotional pieces. In fact, attempts by one side to promote superiority over a competitor’s product often intensify into back-and-forth competitions. Whether your company chooses to participate in such competitions depends largely on the confidence and evidence you have in the superiority of what you’re offering to the marketplace.

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