Iterative Innovation: Improving Upon Competitors’ Ideas to Build Value for Your Customers

8970947 - illuminated light bulb in a row of dim ones concept for creativity, innovation and solutionWhen facing competitors, there’s an old saying that goes, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” In other words, if you aren’t able to overcome your rivals, you’re better off cooperating with them or joining their side in the hopes that you’ll gain some sort of advantage. In the business world, a better saying might be, “If you can’t beat ‘em, copy ‘em.”

No, we’re not advocating for breaking any copyright, patent or trade secret laws. But we are advocating for studying your top competitors to see if there are any strategies or best practices that you can mimic or improve upon and incorporate into your own business.

In fact, aside from the moral, ethical or even legal implications of overt copying, there are other good reasons to not be too fast to replicate what the competition is doing.

In an article for Entrepreneur, Matt Smith emphasizes that copying alone isn’t enough to take on competitors. “[T]his has to be done carefully,” he says. “Copying your competitors without understanding their motives won’t result in your creating a valuable product. You can’t just look at what others are doing; you need to understand why they’re doing it, what makes that move successful and how it could be done better.”

To illustrate his point, Smith looks at how Instagram and Facebook were able to successfully mimic many of the most effective features of Snapchat and incorporate them into their own platforms to capture market share. “When Facebook and Instagram copied Snapchat, they didn’t clone that platform. Instead, they observed which features were getting the most engagement — namely, Stories — and then slowly rolled out their own version, which leveraged their own customer base and data.” Microsoft’s Bill Gates is also widely reputed to have copied a lot of the ideas and functionality behind Steve Job’s Apple computer.

As these, and other, examples illustrate effectively copying competitor actions isn’t simply about stealing ideas. It’s a process of strategically understanding—and improving upon—what other organizations have been successful with. This provides benefits not only to the copying companies but to consumers as well. The process of copying and improvement results in iterative innovation that expands the value of the industry.

What could you learn from your competitors? What could they learn from you?


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About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We are adept at evaluating and analyzing communication efforts and working with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content, through both on- and offline media to achieve desired results. Our background in business journalism, marketing, PR/media relations and online communications makes us well-positioned to serve the needs of 21st-century marketers.

We serve clients who are looking for help creating content for a wide array of channels—from social media posts to full-length manuscripts, and everything in between. We focus primarily on service-related B2B topics and work with a number of independent consultants interested in building their thought leadership through online channels. For ongoing content management, our first step is to fully understand your goals, objectives and competitive landscape.

Then we’ll conduct a thorough analysis and assessment of your digital presence, compared to competitors, and recommend a communication strategy to achieve your goals. But, we also regularly take on individual projects – white papers, blog posts, contributed articles, etc. If you’re interested in learning more, let us know!

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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