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Market Research: Is Imitation the Highest Form of Flattery?

Let’s say you’re launching a new business or your current model is struggling. You need ideas for attracting ideal customers and turning your investment into income. You make the wise decision to perform research and get the inside scoop on how other competing companies are succeeding. By reviewing their information, you see a variety of marketing strategies and tactics that are paying off. Do you take the high road and use your new-found insight to navigate your own path to success or do you follow the dark path of copying your competition hoping you can achieve the same results?

Spying on the competition isn’t bad. It’s actually wise. Market research helps you analyze the strengths of your competitors and identify the gaps in the marketplace. It’s how you incorporate that information into your marketing plan that makes the difference. While it’s tempting to think, “If that’s what’s working, let’s do that, too,” you’ll never beat your competition by simply trying to imitate them.

Here are five imitation traps you should try to avoid:

1. Using the Same Keywords

It’s common for direct competitors to have some duplicate keywords. For example, let’s say there are two competing veterinarians: ABC Vet and XYZ Vet. Since their service offerings and their target audiences are very similar, they will likely include many of the same keywords when optimizing their branding site, in their social media profiles and other marketing campaigns. However, at some point they need to differentiate themselves and do so with a sustainable value proposition that is not based on price alone (as anyone can always be cheaper, but they can’t always be better). Whatever the differentiating factors may be, they should be reflected in the keyword strategy.

2. Bidding on Branded Keywords

Some companies will go as far as to try and compete for branded keywords. Let’s stick with the same example in the preceding point. XYZ Vet wants to capture market share from ABC Vet who has been kicking their butt. So XYZ decides they’re going to engage in a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaign bidding on branded terms like “ABC Veterinarian”, “ABC Veterinarian Services”, and the like. Obviously, if someone is entering “ABC Veterinarian Services” into Google, they’re looking for ABC. XYZ knows this and hopes that having their ads appear on the Search Engine Results Page (SERPs) alongside the organic ranks for ABC will allow them to siphon off some of the clicks on the page. Is this a wise strategy or a dirty trick?

Here are the downsides to this strategy:

  • People trust and click on organic links far more than paid ads
  • If someone is typing in a specific brand name into a search engine, links with the correct branded name will receive far more clicks
  • You run the risk of being viewed as a company that engages in below the belt tactics

3. Copying Content

Some companies that struggle with writing original content will go so far as to copy content from high-ranking sites and just swap out the logo. There are several issues with this approach:

  • Marketing doesn’t work in independent chunks. Strong marketing presents a cohesive, integrated, concise message. If you copy content in chunks, you will be sending mixed messages to your market and conflicting messages don’t work.
  • Today’s customers are tech savvy. With easy access to information, they will likely research a couple of possible options before they make a buying decision. If they see identical content replicated between companies, it raises red flags. Upon further review of the companies, prospects will usually be able to identify author and the copycat. If you’re the one copying content, it won’t bode well for your credibility, which often results in a loss of profitability.
  • Google dings copied content. Your goal is to rank high on the SERPs for your keywords. Copying content won’t get you there.

4. Mimicking Product / Service Offerings and Pricing Structures

There has to be something that differentiates you from the competition. Copying the competitions’ product / service offerings and pricing structures isn’t going to help you make your mark. Yes, you may have many similarities just as you will with the keyword selection mentioned above. However, if a customer sees the same products / services and pricing, why are they going to choose you over the competition? It all comes back to your value proposition and how well you can hold up your brand promise.

5. Buying Domain Names Similar to Theirs

This is similar to bidding on branded keywords mentioned in the third item above. For example, let’s say that ABC has the domain abcvet.com and XYZ wants to try and convert some of their clicks. They go out and buy abcvet.net, abcvet.info, and the other extensions with all domains forwarding to their branding site at xyzvet.com. They figure that some people will type in the wrong URL, hoping that when people arrive on their site, they’ll see the similar services and decide to contact them instead of taking the time to retype abcvet.com. Again, while this may bring you some traffic, it also flags your company as having questionable ethics. Do you buy from companies you feel you can’t trust? Probably not.

Market research is critical to getting a good perspective of the competitive landscape. However, it is best to use this insight to understand where the gaps in the market exist so you can apply your talents to fill the holes. If you simply do what the competition is doing, you’re playing a game of follow the leader. And as the saying goes, “If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”

If you need help performing market research and devising a strategic marketing plan, contact us. We’re here to help.

ABOUT INCITE CREATIVE (www.incitecreativeinc.com)
Approaching its 13th year in business, Incite Creative is a marketing and graphic design firm that specializes in strategic positioning, brand development and creative implementation services for Mid-Atlantic, small-to-mid-sized companies and organizations that have regional, national and international reach. For more information, log onto http://www.incitecreativeinc.com or contact Dina Wasmer at 410-366-9479 ext. 101 or dina@incitecreativeinc.com.

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