Saying nice things about another provider isn’t anything new. After all, doctor-to-doctor referrals—as well as those between other types of healthcare providers—are built upon the premise of trusting another’s expertise

However, this type of dynamic typically occurs between providers who recognize the need for specialty care they don’t provide, instead of taking place between those who are directly competing with each other. In the latter instance, it may seem counterintuitive to tout another provider—especially when marketing departments and healthcare as a whole are faced with evolving challenges on multiple fronts.

But recent marketing research indicates there may be benefits to complimenting competing providers, since it may elevate the way patients and prospects view them.

The study, “Befriending the Enemy: The Effects of Observing Brand-to-Brand Praise on Consumer Evaluations and Choices,” was published September 2021 in the Journal of Marketing. The study’s abstract describes the challenges brands face in trying to connect with increasingly skeptical consumers. In this context, “The authors suggest that focusing on one’s relationships with competitors is a valuable, albeit unexpected, way for brands to do so. More specifically, the present research demonstrates that praising one’s competitor—via ‘brand-to-brand praise’— often heightens preference for the praiser more so than other common forms of communication, such as self-promotion or benevolent information. This is because brand-to-brand praise increases perceptions of brand warmth, which leads to enhanced brand evaluations and choice.”

A release about the study notes that “Nearly a dozen experiments with almost 4,000 people show that a brand that compliments a competitor ends up boosting its own reputation and sales.”

In the release, study co-author Keisha Cutright, a marketing professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, commented on the results: “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. …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.”

According to the release, researchers were surprised by the fact that “…this tactic appears most effective on the most skeptical consumers.” 

Additionally, “The positive effects on reputation and sales were more significant for organizations that are not traditionally seen as ‘warm and fuzzy,’ such as for-profit companies, compared to companies that seem intrinsically caring, such as non-profits.”

“Seeing a brand take a risk like this seems to break the ice with consumers who are least trusting of companies’ intentions,” Cutright said in the release. She also noted the importance of offering this type of praise in a strategic and authentic way: “If you are constantly talking about the competition, people may not see it as sincere. …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.”

Contact us today to find out how we can help you level up your healthcare marketing strategy.