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Productivity / Problem solving

10 tips to stop the copycat competitors from driving you crazy

Ever had a competitor copy you? Infuriating right? Don’t let copycat competitors drive you mad. Use it to drive your business to achieve better things instead.

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Whether you’re a market leader, the challenger company or the little guy, the temptation to constantly monitor what your competitors do can drive you to distraction. The secret when you come across copycat competitors is not to panic, especially if they’re following your every move. Stay focused and trust your own business and marketing strategy. After all, if other businesses are competing with you, you’re clearly doing something right.

We’ve seen the rival supermarkets trying to out-do the other on a weekly basis, and most recently there’s the taxi industry vs UberX. While some businesses try to eliminate their competitors altogether, life would be pretty dull without a little healthy rivalry. Competitors keep us on our toes and help us improve, innovate and become smarter. Competition is the reason we have so many amazing technologies in our lives. They force us to put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer and ask “which one would I choose”, “wouldn’t it be great if …?” Without competition businesses can become complacent and lazy.

Yet for every rule, there is the exception.

There are some businesses that manage to bring a special kind of laziness to being a competitor – the “Me Too” brand. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but a direct competitor entering the market and copying your every move can be pretty infuriating, not to mention very confusing for the customer.

My own experience has opened my eyes to how much competitors simply copy one another.  Most people wouldn’t spend time closely comparing two different brands to recognise all the similarities, or work out who was first. Consumers don’t really care. The Me Too brand knows this and so gets away with subtle and even blatant copying.

Like everyone else we’ve seen the emergence of competitors in our industry since we first launched in 2010. Some have identical sales models, marketing messages and pricing, some have even breached our trademarks. It’s frustrating and disappointing. But it’s also flattering too! Clearly we’re doing something right.

"It’s frustrating and disappointing. But it’s also flattering too! Clearly we’re doing something right. "

What can you do if you do find yourself in the situation of having copycat competitors? Here are 10 Dos and Don’ts to remember:

Do:

  1. Keep calm, and think “the more the merrier”. Having more companies in the same space may seem crowded at first, but over time multiple players have a combined marketing effort that grows the market and demand in the category. Just think of all the personal trainers there are today compared with 10 years ago, and how many more consumers use them.
  2. Know the law and what protection it offers you. If trademarks are being infringed always seek legal advice.
  3. Keep track of competitor activity on social media, traditional media and advertising. You can see where the gaps are and which markets are available for you to go after.
  4. Learn from them. Find out where they position themselves, what they offer the customer and determine what sets you apart. Exploit your differences so the consumer has a clearer choice.
  5. Focus on your own strategy. Trust the decisions you’ve made based on your market research, go to market model and experience.
  6. Innovate, don’t imitate. If a competitor copies a marketing strategy, service offering or model, just do it better, or find a better approach to stay one step ahead.

Don’t:

  1. Competition is all part of business. It’s healthy and has lots of benefits, including motivating you and affirming your business goals.
  2. Say anything malicious or negative about them to get ahead. Some companies have posed as angry customers and posted fake reviews. Most review sites are wise to this, and so is the ACCC.
  3. Engage in a race to the bottom on price. Whoever sells it for the lowest price wins, right? Wrong. Competing on price is a tempting option to win over a price sensitive customer. But it can quickly erode your profits, devalue your service/product and set the expectation about price that isn’t easily reversed.
  4. Feel threatened. After all, you’ve clearly developed a great business with some great ideas before they did, so you can confidently build on this to stand out from the ‘Me Too’ crowd.

Copycat competitors are a reality of business, even for soloists. Without them you may have less to worry about, but there will also be nothing to motivate innovation and business development. Keep calm, stay focused on your own strategy, and if a rival copies your business model or marketing efforts, smile and be flattered.

Have your marketing efforts ever been copied by a competitor? What did you do when you were faced with copycat competitors?

Matthew White

is director of Ergoflex Australia, an online retailer of premium quality memory foam mattresses. As well as helping Australians get a better night's sleep, Matthew is a marketer, sleep blogger, father of four and home renovator.

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