If you’ve ever worked in marketing management, you’ve probably experienced that moment when someone walks into your office or sends you an email with one of your competitor’s ads. The delivery is different depending on who they are and their directness level, but the message is always the same, “They are doing this, so we should be too.” What they don’t realize is, there are a whole host of reasons you shouldn’t copycat your competitors.
And balloons sell cars…
I’ve heard the phrasing above several times in my career as an internal joke amongst marketers. To my knowledge, there’s never been a legitimate study that has shown a ROI correlation between putting balloons on cars, or having a pink gorilla out front, and the actual selling of cars. In reality, the advertising and selling of cars is a complex process (for more on this, see Addressing the Question: Measuring Advertising ROI).
The point here is, car dealers put balloons on their cars because other car dealers put balloons on their cars. This “us too” reaction is not founded on the actual selling of cars. Just because someone is doing a particular marketing technique doesn’t mean it actually works.
2 companies using the same message/strategy = not effective
Still using the balloons on cars example, even if, at some point, it did draw potential buyers in, it was probably because having balloons on cars was rare. People notice things out of the ordinary, not the ordinary. Now that everyone else has balloons on their cars, it’s become ordinary.
Similarly with advertising claims, if two major brands took the exact same marketing position, they’d simply cancel each other out.
What works for one does not work for another
You have a unique selling proposition (if you don’t, that’s your issue) in some way shape or form. That means you have a unique way you need to communicate and a unique set of people you need to communicate with. What that means is, what works for your competitor (if what they are doing is really working), probably won’t work for you.
When I was working as a marketing director for community colleges, people would bring me ads all the time from four-year schools to look at. Although looking through them did spawn some great ideas, I had to also remember that they were targeting a different group than I was. I was targeting local students that wanted to stay local, they were targeting students from across the country who wanted to go away to school. I was targeting an older set of students (our average age was 29), they were targeting 14-18 year olds. And so forth.
What you should be doing instead
It’s hard when the above happens, especially if it’s pressure from your leaders, to not fall victim to “us too” type advertising campaigns, but you have to be willing to or you’ll end up wasting a lot of time and money.
The best defense to this is a good offense; have a strong marketing plan developed that outlines your unique selling proposition, your unique target market, the best ways to communicate with that target market, and how you’re going to differentiate yourselves from your competitors. Communicate this plan early and often.
At the same time, be open to gleaning ideas by watching competitors, but only utilize them if they your unique selling proposition and marketing vs. harming it.
And, if all else fails, forward this article as a response back to the person who suggested you should copy your competitors 🙂