Copycats or Pioneers? What I've Learned From Having My Work Copied.

Look at us, copying each other.

Look at us, copying each other.

by: Natalie Davison

One day last Fall, we were sitting with a client, discussing a content idea for her business. The idea would consist of a series of blogs that would culminate to create a comprehensive guide for her buyer persona. We were convinced that this content would provide her audience with tremendous value and we were fairly certain that nobody else was doing anything like it. Unique and value-packed? That’s a recipe for content success!!

As we wrapped up the session and she began packing her things to leave, she stopped, looked back at us with fear in her eyes, and asked:

“What if my competitors see it and copy me?”

I looked her in the eye: “What if they do?”

She sighed and laughed. “I guess you’re going to tell me that it doesn’t matter.”

I nodded.

She packed up and left for the day, likely with a few things to think about.

I often think about that day and how the fear of being copied can hold people back from making great things and doing their best work.

Oh, I’ve Been There.

In my last job, I worked for a homebuilding company (Martell Custom Homes) in sales + marketing. We were young, ambitious and worked really hard to power our marketing and comms with elbow grease and hard work. This was incredibly rewarding. When we were recognized by major publications like the Globe and Mail, Canadian Contractor Magazine or even Social Media for Business, for Dummies, it felt personal. Those strategies and campaigns were conceived by either myself or my boss, or a collaboration between us both. We were getting attention from publications all over North America while we taught ourselves everything we knew. While we worked with a designer, almost every line of copy, web content and blogs came from my brain. At that point in my career, it had been the most creative work I had ever made.

Looking back, I can remember exactly how I felt when I noticed:

  • a competitor erect a sign across the street from one of our own signs, with every one of my words copied

  • the same competitor’s sales sheets copied exactly word-for-word from mine

  • another competitor who copied our entire website - the website I had written - word.for.word

Each discovery felt like another gut punch. After all, we’re talking blatant plagiarism - there’s no chance any of these incidents were innocent mistakes. But, while each of these incidences was upsetting in the moment, what I realize now is that they were the catalyst that pushed me toward better, more creative, work.

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“You can’t copy anybody and end with anything.

If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling.”

- Billie Holiday

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If they’re trying to be who you were yesterday, they have no chance of beating you tomorrow.

In those days at Martell Custom Homes, we used the fact that we had been copied as a reminder to keep innovating. Chances are good that your competitor is not agile enough to copy you as soon as you release a new blog. There’s usually a lag between your release of original content and the copycat’s release of the copied content. If you’re creating in the meantime, you should be so far into what’s next that you don’t even think about looking back.

If they can copy your every word, you’re not being unique enough.

The tough truth is, back when competitors were copying us word-for-word, our copy was generic enough to allow this. Had we intertwined more of our brand, used more of our own language and made direct reference to our own unique value proposition, the copy wouldn’t have worked when used by someone else. When creating content, it is vital that you show enough of your organization’s uniqueness that you simply can’t be copied directly.

If you are unique and they copy you, your audience can see it.

I receive notes from time to time from clients or community members who feel that we are being copied. I appreciate this so much! I appreciate that our message resonates so profoundly with them that they see us in places where we aren’t. I appreciate that they’re so connected to what we stand for. I appreciate that they value what we have made from our hearts and minds so much that they feel the need to call it out when that work is compromised by someone else.

The days of having our work copied are hopefully far from over. My greatest wish is that we continue making things that impact people so profoundly, that we inspire them and that we continue to create so boldly, that we’ve moved on before the copycats can truly catch us.


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