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This article was published on June 11, 2010

Startup Lessons Learned: The Pitfalls of Copycat Marketing

Startup Lessons Learned: The Pitfalls of Copycat Marketing
Danny Wong
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Danny Wong

Danny Wong is the co-founder of Blank Label (an award-winning luxury menswear company). He is also a marketer-at-large for Conversio (an all Danny Wong is the co-founder of Blank Label (an award-winning luxury menswear company). He is also a marketer-at-large for Conversio (an all-in-one ecommerce marketing dashboard), Tenfold (a modern phone intelligence platform) and Big Drop Inc. (a web design and development agency). Want to connect? Reach him through his website.

Editors Note: This is another guest post from Danny Wong, co-founder and Marketing Manager of Blank Label, a custom dress shirts startup that has built a lot of traffic through Search Engine Optimization and Media Relations. We’re delighted to have him share his thoughts and experience on marketing startups here.

Copying another business’ marketing strategy is silly. It doesn’t allow you to innovate with your marketing campaigns and if you are following a competitor’s strategy, you can be sure that they will always be ahead of you. You have to outsmart and outthink your competition.

It is foolish to think that you can do exactly what they are doing and overtake them in growth, revenue or sales because while you are executing Marketing Campaign A’ (which is a derivative or copy of their main marketing strategy, Campaign A), they will have moved onto Marketing Campaign B, so you will always be falling behind.

Copycat marketing is not likely to bring you long-term success, even if you have tons of money to inject into your marketing budget to overpower your competition. For many startups, having a ton of money is unlikely, so you can try marketing on a shoestring budget.

It might be reasonable for you to use a copycat strategy for a short while if you are comfortable being #2 and never #1 because the market you are targeting is ‘big enough for the both of you’ and if the market isn’t highly saturated. But do understand that there are smart entrepreneurs out there, that once realizing that the market you and your main competitor are operating in is not saturated and in some respect, ‘up for grabs,’ you might see yourself quickly falling behind to be #3, #4 or even #50 in the list of market leaders.

So how do you avoid copycat marketing?

  1. Understand what your competitors are doing. They are clearly doing some smart things, so identify what exactly they are doing.
  2. Figure out what is working best with their strategies and double down on what works. Now isn’t this copying? Yes because you have taken an element of what they’ve done and are just doing more of it, and no because you will be doing more than just what they have done. In fact, you are not doing the things that are failing or are not very successful for their business, which makes you the smarter business.
  3. Try out new things that your competitor hasn’t yet and figure out marketing strategies that work just as well or even better than what they are doing. Test, test, test and innovate!

Really, what you want to do is learn from the best, but don’t try being them. Your business is unique in its own way, and copying another business is poor strategy. Instead, you need to find what your competitors aren’t doing that will work really well for your business to have an overall unique marketing strategy.

Here’s an interesting interview with Oodle’s Craig Donato on how he is innovating with Oodle to differentiate from his competition. While he doesn’t talk specifically about innovating marketing strategy, there are great takeaways on how to be innovative with your brand and differentiate from your competition so that ‘competition’ is a non-issue when other companies aren’t doing exactly what you are doing and yet you are still solving a problem consumers need help with.

img src = Kyle Brady