The Copycat Wars

I’ve recently posted several articles about companies employing a “copycat” strategy, including references to BK vs. McDonald’s, and Starbucks vs. Peet’s Coffee. An article posted by CNN yesterday sparked this post about my thoughts on a trend of “copycat” wars. CNN titled the article “How Bing is out-innovating Google“, and discussed several new features of the Bing search engine. So, if Google continues to dominate the search engine space, why would it appear that they are copying their competition?

The CNN article notes that Bing utilizes categories to display search results, which contributes to its’ mission of being a “decision engine”. A year later, Google started categorizing results in a similar format instead of their traditional blue links down the page. Further, they’ve started to stray from their traditional white background and “Google” logo to more colorful options in both background and logo. They also copied Bing by announcing that they would incorporate Twitter feeds into their results, an announcement that came hours after Bing’s announcement of the same feature. Everyone touts Google as the end-all be-all of the search engine world, but Bing is creeping up slowly and surely.

While offering similar features is often an industry standard, employing the exact same tactics as a competitor can be detrimental. You don’t want to be the last one to jump on the bandwagon, as it tells your customers that you don’t have the latest and greatest at all times. Why use version 1.0 when I can upgrade to version 2.0 with better service?  It also looks a little desperate and lazy to just copy your competitors’ advertising, ideas, and timelines. This type of copycat strategy makes it difficult to distinguish your brand from everyone else in the industry, and you don’t want to be the one that no one remembers. Further, when a company makes a side-by-side comparison, it encourages their customers to make similar comparisons, which is dangerous when you’re the last one to implement a new feature or idea. It also encourages scrutiny of your weaknesses in direct comparison to your competitor, where most companies prefer to offer up their strengths for customers to judge. I’m interested to see if the copycat wars continue, and how many industries are permeated with this type of advertising. I think it’s a dangerous road, especially for the top two players in an industry to stop trying to differentiate themselves. For all the time, money, and effort that goes into a brand and a reputation, I think it’s unwise to let the fate of your company be determined by your competitor.

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