Do you remember when you’ve come up with something, and you know (think) it’s going to be the greatest thing ever? Because I do. And I also remember when someone decides to take that thing, and calls it their own. It’s heartbreaking, diminishing, and bad for your social health. But what happens when someone does take something of yours and makes it theirs? Do you start telling people that you came up with it first? Or can you take it, and make it better?
This type of thing happens all the time in businesses. Why? Because it’s hard to be original these days. And if you are original, and it works, everyone will try to do the same thing. Think about it: there’s a reason why most popular things that sell all seem the same. There’s a selling formula to all things marketed. Songs start sounding the same, tech products look and do the same things, and eventually, cars all start driving themselves. Any good idea that has been conceived, has been imitated, or blatantly copied, at one point or another.
If you look at tech companies in Silicon Valley, almost every product they offer has been a re-creation of their neighbor across the streets’ invention, which again is probably another copy of someone else’s fabrication. For consumers, this is actually a great thing. Why? Well, for the simple fact that you get more choices. You get to pick what you like the best! And if there is such a thing as brand loyalty anymore, you can pick the product that your favorite company “made”. I mean, I couldn’t imagine living in a world where there was was only one fast food restaurant. Even though there’s usually a favourite pick, I love having the choice of the hundreds of greasy burgers to choose from. Don’t you?
But if you’re going to mimic your competition in your specific market, you have to do it in a way that works. Derek Halpern, founder of Social Triggers, talks on his blog when copying is good for business, and when it’s a bit silly.
The first way, he mentions, that will help you is by using the drafting technique. This isn’t so much as copying your competitor’s product or services, but following in their footsteps of how to get exposure for yourself. You do this by seeking what media attention a competitor, or similar entity, has used. If one website did a review for a popular product you’ll be going up against, pitch your product to them to see if they’ll review it, too. Based on their popularity, this creates the media buzz for your product!
Another way Halpern describes that will help you is by making something better. This is quite simple: take something that exists, and make yours the best alternative. I’ll bring back the fast food industry as an example. Most people will agree that the first company they think of is McDonald’s. But, they weren’t the first to serve hamburgers. In the US, it was White Castle that opened the first burger shop. However, through the years, McDonald’s has set themselves as the most well known fast food restaurants in the world! They just took the concept of being a burger joint, and improved from their competitors.
So, how can copying be bad? Halpern points out two competing heat mapping services’ websites (they basically track where people are spending the most time on a website). The first is from Crazy Egg, and the other is from Clicktale. If you look at Halpern’s post, there’s two screenshots of their sites, and you’ll notice Clicktale’s design template, writing style, and content seem all too similar to Crazy Egg’s. An employee from Crazy Egg actually tweeted out Clicktale, applauding their originality. A cheeky touch, but I’d feel a tad choked, too, if your competitor does something like that. It seems now, though, that Clicktale has changed their web design.
So, when you’re about to create your masterpiece, are you going to be the originator that gets copied? Or will you be the one doing the copying? Regardless of what choice you make, just know that you will most likely be doing a bit of both if you’re wanting to be competitive business!