Over the years, we’ve had many clients ask us to design “something like” what their competition is using. Be it a logo design, website, tweet, message, or brochure, their thought is, why reinvent the wheel? Why not copy what the market leader’s doing?
If only branding were that simple.
When you copy your competitors, you’re giving the other guys free advertising – reminding customers of them, not you. Good branding emphasizes what makes your brand different, not similar. Imitation simply reinforces the original.
But imitation is one thing; inspiration is another. Many times you can (and should) use creativity to leverage an existing idea, adding your own twist to it. Say you’ve always admired a particular color in the logo design of your favorite restaurant. As long as you’re not in the restaurant business, go for it! Always look for ways to translate concepts from one industry to another.
A few tips to keep you a leader in your space:
Copywriting and social media messaging: It’s okay for your copy, post, or tweet to be similar in content to your competition’s, but it should always be phrased so that it conveys your brand identity. Good copy has a consistent, strategic tone (e.g., formal, sarcastic, friendly, etc.). Your brand needs its own unique voice.
Graphic Design: The best logo designs and other marketing materials are original and conform to a specific set of brand standards. It’s fine to imitate “foundational” qualities like “white space” (sometimes called “negative space”). But don’t use colors, graphic elements, and design layouts that are too similar to your competition’s. (And never use the same primary color that your competitor uses in their logo in your logo design.)
Brand Name: Whenever possible, avoid using the same first letter in your brand name as the first letter in the name of your biggest competitor. Having a brand name that starts with a unique letter will help differentiate you. For example, if “Wilson’s Auto” is your biggest competitor, don’t name your company “William’s Auto.” It just leads to confusion in the mind of the customer.
There are times, however, when you don’t want to be different. Here are a few:
Always conform to best practices and industry standards: For a variety of reasons – including safety in some cases – it’s important to conform to what the customer has come to expect. It’s risky to deviate from the norm when it means customers may end up being uncomfortable or disappointed.
If being different hurts your customers’ experience, think twice. When it comes to best practices and industry-standard nomenclature, it’s wise to stick to the tried and true. This is especially true with website navigation. Visitors are used to common navigational terms like “Contact” and “About.” Getting fancy with terms like these can cause customers to get frustrated and bounce.
If one color is strongly associated with a core value that you and your competitors share, use it. For example, green is a color virtually synonymous with health. If you’re in the health foods industry, your competitors probably use green in their logo designs and packaging. It’s okay to do the same, although you’d be best served to choose a unique shade of green or unusual secondary color in your design palette.
Your goal is to stand out without sticking out. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it’s rarely the fastest track to brand success.