With my last company, ShiftWise, we had some strong competition. Having created our products all around the same time, we were all going head to head with several other companies to create a new VMS market in the healthcare staffing space and win new customers. For awhile there, our company and our competition we’re all pretty equal in terms of our revenue and market traction. However, after a few years, we were trouncing our competitors and established ourselves as the clear market leader.
There were a number of significant factors that lead to this. However, there’s one I can point to that was a significant factor. Looking back, I can see where we pulled away from our competition. It was right around the time they started copying us.
I remember when I first noticed it. It was little things like copying the text on our website. But soon, it was almost everything. We rebranded — they rebranded. We updated our website — they updated their website. We launched a new product — they launched a similar one. It got so bad that they even started naming their products the same thing we named ours. It was pretty embarrassing.
They say that imitation is the most sincerest form of flattery. But in business, you’re not supposed to flatter your competitors — you’re supposed to compete against them. You can compete, or you can copy. But you can’t do both. Once you start copying you’re now in a position of following, not leading. If you’re following then you’re beholden to your competitions roadmap — not your own.
Don’t get me wrong, some similarities between you and your competition are bound to happen when you’re competing in the same space. However, these will happen coincidentally and infrequently. When they happen all the time, that’s not coincidence — that’s being copied.
Aside from just being incredibly lame, somewhat unethical and potentially a violation of copyright, there’s a very specific reason you don’t want to copy your competitors. It’s easy to look at something and then go and build that same thing in a similar fashion. But if you’re copying then you’re missing a key piece of information — the ‘why.’
The ‘why’ is the reason something was built. It’s why a button was placed there and why the text is what it is. From the entire concept to the most minor detail, the ‘why’ matters. If you don’t understand the ‘why’ then you’ll only pull off the ‘how’, and you’ll only do it so well.
Here’s a great example. Below is an example of a website we designed for one of our clients, Fusion Medical. Next to it, you’ll see screen shots for a website one of their competitors designed (I’ve blurred the logo and name of the company so as to not fully embarrass them — though they should be embarrassed). As you can see, it’s an obvious rip off.
Sure, they changed some of the components but it’s not enough. Within only a few minutes you can easily tell they’ve tried to copy the site. But as I mentioned, they didn’t understand the ‘why’ enough to pull it off. So, although the sites look similar, it’s actually a major fail in terms of development. Here are some examples:
Job Board page doesn’t work…
– The sign up for job alerts is just a label.
– Can’t apply for jobs.
The site isn’t properly built for responsive devices/browsers.
These are only a few of the fails. I could do this all day. It’s great that this company likes the design of the site we did. Really, we’re flattered. But by attempting to copy it, the only thing they’ve succeeded at is having a bad version of a good thing and a complete inability to differentiate themselves. This is not how you compete.
So, in summary, if you’re looking to crush your competition — create, don’t copy. Create your own identity. Create something unique. Differentiate yourself and lead the market. Otherwise, you’ll only be following and trying to keep up.