Brand Imitation Do’s and Don’ts

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Maybe you think if you utilize brand imitation you’ll be sitting pretty. Certainly, it’s easy to copy your competitors, and it’s cheaper to copy competitors than to start from scratch. However, some things are better copied than others, and these things might surprise you.

Why should consumers purchase your branded products and services if they’re the same as every other product or service on the market? The key to boosting sales is differentiating your brand from others so there is a distinguishable reason why consumers should purchase yours. That’s not to say that you should ignore your competitors. There are times when conforming to your competitors can work in your favor, particularly when that conformity enables your brand to better meet consumer expectations for brands in your industry.

Brand Imitation Don’ts

The question you need to ask yourself is this: do you want your business to blend in or stand out from your competitors? If you chose the latter (and I hope you did), then you need to understand the five instances when you should never copy your competitors or you’ll risk damaging your brand and business.

1. Don’t plagiarize, violate trademarks, or break any laws.

There are many laws related to copyrights, trademarks, and patents that affect your business, and you need to understand them and adhere to them at all times. It’s that simple.  Don’t copy your competitors logo design either!

2. Don’t use the same name.

Your business and brand name should sound very different from your competitors, so there is no confusion about who is who in consumers’ minds. Avoid using the same words or words that sound similar. Not only could doing so be confusing, but it could violate trademark laws now or in the future if your competitor owns the trademark for that name.

3. Don’t mimic designs.

If your marketing materials, ads, website logo design and so on look exactly like your competitors’ in terms of layout and design, then your brand won’t stand out. However, don’t go to the other extreme and use a design that doesn’t fit your industry.

4. Don’t match colors.

Your primary brand colors shouldn’t match your competitors’ primary brand colors. If your competitor’s logo is blue and red, use green and orange. At the very least you should change one of your primary brand colors, so your brand color palette isn’t an exact duplicate of your competitor’s color palette.

5. Don’t copy messages.

The biggest mistake you can make is creating messages that could be used by any other brand in your industry. Replace your brand name with your competitor’s in your marketing messages and see if those messages still work. If so, then you need to go back to the drawing board and create unique messages that differentiate your brand from competitors and allow your unique brand voice to shine through.

Brand Imitation Do’s

On the other hand, brand imitation isn’t always a bad thing, but remember, your competitors might not be doing the best things to build their businesses. Don’t imitate blindly. Instead, determine your goals, research your customers, and imitate your competitors only when it is in the best interest of your business to do so.  Following, are some situations when brand imitation can work for your business.

1. Do match promotions strategically.

If your competitor is offering 50% off to drive short-term foot traffic, it might be time for you to offer a “We’ll match any price” discount. Just make sure such a promotion helps you reach your strategic brand goals.

2. Do conform to customers’ expectations.

If there are standard messages, experiences, and expectations for businesses, products, and services in your industry, then you shouldn’t go too far in another direction. For example, if customers in your industry expect your type of business to offer free shipping, you need to offer it.  If you are selling children’s clothes, you should have a children logo design that is appealing to both parents and kids.

3. Do copy competitors when it brings a feeling of security and peace-of-mind to consumers.

Even though a particular brand message or visual element might seem overdone in your industry to you, it might be expected and offer a sense of comfort to consumers. For example, if you own a baby store, customers expect to see a lot of pastel pink and blue. They feel comfortable with those colors, but blacks and burnt oranges might turn them off. Therefore, even though all of your competitors might already be using the standard colors associated with your industry, it’s okay for you to use them, too if customers would be uncomfortable without them.

It takes strategic planning to create a brand identity that stands out from the crowd but not so much that it’s unwelcome. Your goal is to strike the perfect balance between differentiation and conformity.

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