We all know it’s tempting to copy the competition. There’s safety in conformity, a certain “comfort factor”in being similar. After all, the other company knows what it’s doing, right? Not always.
Firstly, remember that branding is about differentiation – emphasising your company’s differences, not similarities.When you copy the competition, you’re reminding customers of them, not you.However, there’s a difference between exact imitation and creative inspiration.Use creativity to leverage an existing idea, but avoid replicating its every detail. So when is it okay to follow someone else’s lead and when isn’t it?
Of course, plagiarism is out, and it’s illegal to copy anything that’s patented or trademarked.
Listed below are some other less obvious things you may be tempted to copy but shouldn’t:
1. Don’t imitate the design/layout of sales materials
Copying a competitor’s materials is never agood idea because instead of differentiating your business, it makes you look more like your competitor. It’s fine to imitate basics of their material like “lots of white space” or forced-perspective product photos (just don’t use the same perspective!). But avoid choosing similar colours, graphics and layout.
2. Don’t imitate the content or style of your competitor’s copywriting
Do so, and you’ll sound just like the competition. Instead, create your own unique “voice” and messaging. Good copy has a consistent, strategic tone to it (as in conversational, direct and humorous) that reflects the personality of the company and product. When done correctly, copywriting is an integral part of branding.
3. Don’t imitate the primary colour your competitor uses
Select at least one unique colour to associate with your company – use it in your logo, on sales materials, product packing and signage. (You can use a Pantone Matching System or PMS book to help you choose the exact colour. Always specify the exact PMS number to your printer.)
4. Don’t imitate the name of your competitor
Make yours as different as possible. Also, try to avoid using the same first letter as your biggest competitor. You may like the fact that “AAA Towing” puts you first in the phone book, but it sounds too much like “ABC Towing” to help with your branding.
If you have to, imitate a competitor’s marketing strategy or sales incentives only with extreme caution. Make sure you understand the underlying assumptions first. For example, if a competitor’s sales materials feature an upscale design, maybe there’s a good reason behind it, maybe not. Is there a market for premium-priced goods? Or does the CEO simply prefer an expensive look? Sometimes companies, even bigger ones, have no sound strategy behind what they do. They’re just catering to personal tastes or imitating somebody else themselves.