Copy (or borrow) the right stuff

IMG_20140115_111952I work with a client who dominates the search space and that has attracted the attention of their competitors. I’m flattered that they frequently copy the design, site architecture and content of that site, but part of me just shakes my head in dismay.  Copying content I wrote will only get them penalized in search results. Yes, there are things they can learn from our site and copy, but imitation won’t work.

I work with another client who has been much smarter. She has asked the right questions from the start. She decided to go up against the larger players in an established industry by being different. She looked at her competition, not with an eye to what they do well, but with an eye to what they do poorly.

The questions to ask

What is the brand of your major competitor? I don’t mean what colors do they use, or what their logo looks like. I mean how do they present themselves? If you hosted a party and introduced the brand to your friends, what would you say about them? How do they behave? What’s the image they project? Will they be the life of the party or one who makes introductions? Will they be the first one at the buffet or standing back and critiquing the dishes?

The most important question is not what are the big players doing. You probably can’t do better what they’ve been practicing for years. You need to step back and ask different questions.

The who question

The big question is who is their audience? You don’t want to go after that same audience. The second big question is what audience are they missing? That’s your target. That’s who your brand needs to interact with and serve. For example, my small start-up client identified areas where she could shine. She could provide better customer service, offer more assistance, talk to the smallest of customers and the ones that take more time before they make a purchase. She wanted her brand to be that of a mentor.

You can look at the website that gets copied and tell who they target. They are very up front about it. It’s also not that hard to come up with a list of possible customers who aren’t targeted. They might currently be buying from the site, but they could be lured away. But you won’t catch many of them with the same bait we’re using. They simply won’t notice you.

The why question

This is a big question for every leader and every entrepreneur. Why are you in business? What do you want from all the work you’re going to have to put into your business? Why will your business matter? Why is it necessary? If you can’t answer this question, you have no brand. For example, my client isn’t only in business to make money, she honestly wants to assist those the bigger companies tend to ignore. She enjoys being able to interact with a customer rather than just process an order.

Your vision for your company is part of the Why. And you need to share that vision with your website designer, your marketer, your accountant–everyone. And that includes your customers. The clearer you are, the more transparent and detailed about where you want to be, the easier it is for your supporters to get you there.

The where question

This question can take time and energy to answer. Where does your target audience hang out currently? Where are their discussions happening? Where are they experiencing pain points? Where can you find a way into the discussions? Where can you be of service?

Sometimes the where question is about your geography. If you’re a local business, make that obvious. People like to support their neighbors. Being local might mean you can be more responsive and nimble. You might understand specialized local needs. Or you might want your brand to reflect your local idioms and manners.

Your geography might be less physically based. You might be part of the same community you want to serve and that community could be spread across the country. You can make the community an answer to the question of who you serve, why you serve, and where you serve.

The what question

Begin asking what your target audience wants, needs and finds desirable. Ask what makes them tick. What do they find funny? What do they respect? What do they share on social media?

Only after answering the above questions, should you look into what you want to offer, what you want to say, and really focus on what makes you special. Now you can write your product descriptions, outline your content strategy, and work with a designer. You’ll discover that you don’t want to plagiarize or copy. What’s working for others just won’t fit your brand or niche market.

The how and when questions

Now look at the website you wanted to copy. Ask how they are answering the questions above. How are they targeting and engaging their audience? How have they changed to better reach their audience? How are they using SEO, SEM, and other marketing tactics? How can you adapt those tactics for your own goals? When will you find the time to keep updated about these tactics? When should you just ignore those competitors and focus on your customers instead?

Some of these questions might be better put to a business analyst than to me. But now that you know what you need, you’ll be better able to budget and plan. You’ll have better answers to give your consultants and employees because you’ll have a vision all your own. It will also be more fun. You’ll get to work as yourself rather than as a copy of someone else.


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