Did you know that 97.8% of the value of innovations goes to imitators? (“Imitation is More Valuable Than Innovation,” Harvard Business Review, April 2010.) White Castle led to McDonald’s; Diners Club lead to Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Walmart’s founder admitted to borrowing most of its practices from others and improving on them.
In the financial services industry there are many product companies that never are the innovators but have profited from taking an initial innovative idea and making it more appealing (for instance the riders on variable annuities). That means that the hard work in designing a concept, breaking ground, and taking it to market first are on the shoulders of the initial creator. Their many attempts to create something that is just right finally pay off…until someone else swoops in and makes it that much better. The truth is, making the innovation better or taking it to market in a more effective way is often what brings greater success.
In marketing, people copy others all the time. It’s like watching someone else putt on a golf course green right before it’s your turn to try a similar putt. You learn from what happened to the first person’s putt and hopefully are able to make it better. Was there an unseen dip in the green? Where does it break towards the hole? According to those much smarter than I, it is imitation that trumps innovation. It seems to be smart business to start keeping an eye out for the innovators in and “learn from their putt” instead of spending the time and resources to be the first to try something.
But isn’t copying against the law? Copying isn’t illegal unless there is a trademark, copyright or patent protecting it. So, do you have a marketing strategy or idea you want to implement in your marketing plan this year? It might have a better chance of succeeding if someone else has tested it first, and you learn from their results and make it better.
Would you rather be first or last? According to the infamous Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights, “if you’re not first you’re last”. In business, however, it may be better to be second.