Last Sunday night, I sent myself a one-word note. It said ‘copying’, one of those reminders we write that no one else understands except the writer. It was a reminder to write this very blog post. Little did I realise how central to my thoughts that word would become, following the whole Melania Trump debacle.
While the saying goes ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’, when you’re actually on the receiving end of that type of flattery, it can be frustrating. In business, competitors regularly copy each other. At times, it can be blatant, and at other times the attempt is more covert (or sneaky).
My thoughts? I’ve always found the practice of copying pathetic. Being ‘inspired by’ is different – there’s value there, it challenges you and can add fuel to your fire. But when you’re just co-opting (or dare I use the word, stealing) other people’s intellectual property, I don’t think you’re doing anyone any favours. It’s always been a mystery to me why, rather than being a thought leader and innovator; people choose to become what my 3 year old would fondly refer to as a ‘copycat’.
The first real time James and I experienced a “competitor” copying us was in Au Pair Link. We had launched a new programme called ‘Au Pair Mate’. A few months later another business in our space launched the ‘Au Pair Buddy’ programme with the exact same product spec. I’ll admit, it appealed to my sense of humour at the time that the business didn’t have enough capability to innovate themselves and instead felt the need to copy us.
Over the years, I’ve seen this practice happening over and over, and from all angles. Everything from blatantly stealing product names and specs, to copying unique intellectual property such as terms and conditions. These are things you notice when you’re truly at the forefront of things; just as the ‘copycats’ see you at the front of the line, it’s really easy to turn around and spot who is trying to line up behind you (more often than not far away in the distance). The irony is that, ultimately, I believe this only benefits us as it increases our position because while our competitors are busy copying what we’ve already done, we’re looking ahead to the future and mapping the innovation of our product and brand. That’s the true position and value of being a leader, and you can’t copy that.
So, you want to win in business? Always be a thought leader, always be inspired, but never copy.
I’ll say that again. Never. Ever. Copy.
You’ll stay ahead of the game and keep your focus where it should be – the future. Leave the flattery to Hollywood, or in this case, Washington.