Imitation: Flattering? Yes. Smart? No.


You’ve probably heard that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, in the world of small business marketing, imitation can sometimes take on the form of a cheap knock-off.

A while back, an owner of an auto collision center sat down with me to discuss his desire to advertise.  As we began to pore over potential ideas, I realized that many of the owner’s requests where based on something quite familiar.  As we talked, I realized that he was literally lifting ideas from his main local competitor.  In my client’s defense, I must admit that his competitor was running a pretty slick campaign; it was quite tempting to mimic a model that seemed to be firing on all cylinders.

Despite his competitor’s apparent success, I encouraged him to find his own voice – develop a branding strategy that told the unique story of his company. While I offered him this advice, I also instructed him to take a closer look at the things the other guy did well. I, of course, would never suggest ripping off an idea – especially from a direct competitor. However, I do see value in examining the mechanics of a great idea.

The mechanics of any given idea may vary from one piece of communication to another. However, there are things you can look for. Here are some tools that may be giving your competitor an edge:




-Attractive Prices/Incentives

-Celebrity Endorsement

-High-End Presentation (graphics, flash banners, HD video, animation)

-Informative/Educational Focus

-Catch Phrases/Taglines

-A Play for Emotion (fear, love, embarrassment and etc.)

-High Energy Communication

-An Appeal to Personal Values

Let’s say you take the time to examine the strength behind your competitor’s marketing and discover that they use the power of humor to win people over. More specifically, they use knock-knock jokes. Is it recommended that you sit down and pen a few knock-knock jokes of your own? No, you’d just become a phony carbon copy. However, humor may bode well with your target audience and there’s nothing wrong with attempting to grab their attention in this manner. Just be sure that you do it differently and most important, do it well.

As a small business marketer you may find yourself wanting “borrow” ideas. This is especially true if creativity does not come to you naturally or you find that the other guy is always a step ahead. Just remember to draw from the mechanics behind a good marketing piece. In short, become a student of marketing; don’t look to merely copy the answer from the other guy’s homework. Seek to understand how one arrives at the correct answer.  If you do, you’re more likely to be seen as an innovator rather than an imitator.

Walter Dailey is a marketing speaker and proven creative professional. He’s the lead consultant and executive producer for Dailey Sound Vector Media, a creative services organization that specializes in commercial, jingle and marketing campaign development for small businesses throughout the US.  Ask Walter your questions at