Don’t be afraid of the copycats

by Sonja van den Bosch

Don’t be afraid of the copycats

Competition or competitors is often a touchy subject when I am talking to business owners. I actually believe that competition is positive and healthy, it keeps you on your toes and makes you constantly evaluate how you stand in the market. I also believe that there is space for more businesses in a market, as long as you have a clear differentiation and positioning.

Naturally when you are either a market leader or are doing something groundbreaking, there is always the chance that you’ll be copied by your competitors.

In my corporate career I had two very different experiences dealing with copycat competitors… a good example and a bad example.

The good example – use competition as a drive
When I worked for Life Fitness in Europe, we were competing head to head with Technogym. Just imagine this…Life Fitness was the market leader worldwide, except in Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg (the countries I was responsible for) as well as Italy, Technogym’s home country.

Our goal was to become the market leader in the Benelux market and we knew we needed to find a strong competitive edge to set ourselves apart. We did this by developing the Life Fitness Total Solutions concept focusing on helping fitness club owners running their businesses better and becoming more successful. This strategy worked a treat and as expected Technogym started to copy us.

andthewinneris2Frank, my then boss, always said to me: ‘Sonja, whenever they copy something you and your team do, see it as a compliment and just remember that it will never be the same as the original. They think they’ve got it, but the real IP is always invisible as it is part of our people and our culture.’

This mentality really drove us and helped us probably do even better than we would have done without this copycat on our tail. No need to say that we became market leader, but also increased turnover by 117% and grew market share from 17 to 34%.

The bad example – get distracted by competition
Years later I again experienced a copycat competitor. I was working for a leading travel brand and we were literally copied by an upcoming business and one of the most aggressive competitors. My boss would literally go off in the office and call this competitor a whole lot of bad names. You can imagine what kind an effect that had on our team. Instead of using this copycat competitor as a drive, we got quite distracted by it and it created a whole lot of negative energy.

I learned a lot from these two very different experiences, so I’ve put together my 5 tips on how to deal with competitors in a healthy way.

positive energy1. See competition as healthy and positive
Have a positive attitude and see competition as something healthy. Just remember that if you have no competitors then there is nobody else but yourself that has to educate the market about your unique product or service. This in itself costs time and money. Also, without competition it would be far too easy and there would be nobody to keep you on your toes.

2. Be aware, but don’t get obsessed
Be aware of what your competitors are doing. It’s always good to stay on top of what is happening in your market space anyway, but don’t get obsessed with every move your competitors make. It is a waste of your time and energy and can definitely have a negative impact on your staff.

Copycats13. Find your position and claim your unique differentiator
Make sure that you find your position & stake your unique space in the market and once have clarity about this, completely focus on this with all your marketing and communications. A great example is Virgin Australia coming into the Australian market. They didn’t try to be the same as Qantas, known for safety and the Australian Icon, but Virgin Australia claimed the space of fun, quirky and cost-effectiveness. Is there any product more a commodity than bringing people from A to B with a plane? But Virgin Australia was able to get their market share.

4. If you get copied see it as a compliment and not as a threat
If people copy what you do or what you say, don’t be threatened by it, but see it as a compliment. They must feel that your idea has legs and is worth copying. Also think about the time they spent on copying you, instead of working on their own unique differentiation. Again, it’s probably a waste of time.

5. Keep re-inventing yourself
The only constant is change and the best thing to do to combat the copycats is to keep re-inventing and improving your business, your services and your products. Standing still is going backwards, and although you might have a very successful business with very loyal customers who love your products or services and your business, you still need to stay critical and always think on what you can do better.

The next time you get frustrated or irritated by something one of your competitors does (especially if they are copying you), please think about the greater benefit of having them around.

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