Avoid The Me-too Trap


In the competitive business world of today a successful model is quickly emulated. No sooner does a company develop a ground-breaking product that captures a significant share of an existing market, or better still, opens up a new market, than imitators start launching similar products to cash in on the originator’s achievement.

In fact, most marketing elements of successful products can be copied and quite often are. This goes for the product itself, its advertising, its publicity and its selling strategy. No marketplace advantage will be safe for very long; unless it’s defended in some way the original product can be supplanted by me-too, or copycat, products in a surprisingly short time.

For many businesses copycatting is their business model and they actually structure so as to have the capacity for making a rapid response to changes in the marketplace; if another company’s product appears to be a big success they simply bring out their own version and cash in. Copying a product has several obvious advantages over trying to come up with something entirely new; the market has already been developed, the pricing levels are known, and the main selling points have already been communicated. They’re safe!

But not many me-too products become genuine successes. They hang off the coattails of someone else’s efforts and usually survive on the basis of price and not because of any real competitive advantage. And that’s their vulnerable point.

Worldwide, businesses like Dell and Starbuck’s not only start up in hotly contested markets like PCs and the humble coffee shop but, once successful, face a proliferating number of copycat rivals. How do they manage to survive, and indeed, grow? Basically, they’ve taken a product and turned it into the core of an experience that delights customers, from San Francisco to Sydney and from London to Limerick. This keeps them standing out from all their competitors who have similar products but fail to give the customer an experience while buying them.

Something else – Dell and Starbuck’s have created successful business models that are extremely difficult or impossible to emulate. Their combination of elements is so unique that they have the high ground to themselves and no competitor can take business from them by simply cloning what Dell and Starbuck’s are doing. It’s also true that no competitor could hope to be as profitable. So, how can you avoid the me-too trap? Here are seven pathways to being uniquely successful: 

      1.   Don’t sell on price. All you get is customers who buy on price and that means they’re trying to keep
            your profits as low as possible. It’s even better for them if you sell at a loss and when you fold there’s
            always another supplier out there somewhere.

      2.   Set out to be different. Look for what’s not being done rather than trying to copy what’s already
            happening. Be a leader, not a follower, and make that an essential part of your strategy.

      3.   Know what your customers need. If you know what people truly need and want you can create a 
            package that delivers it, and delivers profits to you as well. Get away from a focus on products and
            think about customer satisfaction.

      4.   Make the product attractive. Whatever you are marketing give it visual appeal. This applies to a product
            or a business premises. People want excellent products in attractive packaging while they shop in
            pleasant surroundings.

      5.   Make individual offerings. People enjoy being able to personalise their possessions, even if that translates
            into being able to choose from twenty different types of coffee and three sizes of container. The ‘any
            colour you like but only if it’s black’ approach went out with Model T Fords.

      6.   Make it easy to buy from you. Have as many ways as possible that a customer can find you and make a
            purchase. If your product can be bought from a store, from a catalogue and from a website you’ve
            actually catered for three different types of shopper with differing preferences.

      7.   Be consistent. Start with high standards and maintain them. Deliver the same delight at every customer
            touchpoint and make changes evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but in business you don’t want to be flattered into the red by look-alike competitor products eating into your sales. Look for ways of providing that something extra to your products that will make them harder to imitate.

Until next week,
Mike Reddy