A new study has found that two in three businesses regularly rely on their competitors to lead the way when it comes to digital marketing, with many admitting to using ‘copycat’ techniques.

Researchers at Learn Inbound asked nearly a thousand small business owners about their digital marketing strategies, with representatives from nearly all sectors included in the study. A total of 67% admitted that they do copy techniques or types of marketing content from their rivals. When asked about how much original content they produced, the results showed that:

  • 34% tend to use more copycat material than original
  • 29% use about the same amount of each
  • 37% create more original campaigns and content than they copy from their competitors

As for how small businesses are finding the content to copy or to use as inspiration, just over half said that they ‘actively follow’ their competitors on social media with the express purpose of replicating their marketing campaigns.

Originality vs. inspiration

This research flags up an interesting issue for digital marketers – should they be leading the market with innovative, ground-breaking original campaigns, or is it wise to copy the techniques that others are using that are proven to work? Furthermore, where is the line between replicating a campaign and simply using it as inspiration?

In the study, just less than 25% of respondents said that their own attempts at replicating a rival’s campaign had been as successful as the original. The majority, 76% of those included in the survey, said that their efforts had not been as successful. Not one small business owner said that they had achieved more success with a copycat campaign than their competitors had with the original.

This would suggest that unique campaigns will nearly always perform better than recycled ones, so it could be well worth putting in the effort to create something original of your own. This could bolster your brand image as a trailblazer, rather than one that simply copies what its rivals are doing.

The founder of Learn Inbound, Mark Scully, offered his own expert opinion on the subject as well as the findings of his research:

“There is a huge advantage to being the first mover in a market and providing original content; trends and interests grow old very quickly and audiences quickly tire of the same messages or tactics. Having said that, most of us are inspired by others, so it makes sense to keep an eye on competitors and learn from their successes – and their mistakes. Providing it is inspiration rather than replication, there’s no harm in this at all.”

Reimagining your digital strategy

The creation of original content doesn’t happen overnight. You’ll need to reimagine your digital strategy, to plan out long-term campaigns full of unique, creative ideas and content. Ambos Digital can help with this, as we’re specialists in strong, brand-focused digital strategy. Get in touch to talk about your ideas and for some expert advice.