Have you ever had that moment where you look at another program’s website, schedule poster, or other promotional materials and say to yourself: “Man! That’s so cool. I want exactly the same thing – except in my school’s colors.”
Of course you have. We’ve all been there. That moment of marketing envy happens all the time. And that’s ok, because last time I checked there wasn’t a commandment that said “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s marketing.”
And besides, you know what they say: imitation is the highest form of flattery. I don’t know who “they” are, but that’s what my mother always told me when I whined about my big brother mimicking me. (Side note: I’m 99.99% sure he wasn’t doing it to flatter me, and hearing mom’s explanation always made me want to kick “they” in the shins. My brother usually got it in the shins instead.)
Most of the time, if you try to copy what somebody else is doing, they’ll take it as a sign they’re doing something right.
But here’s the rub: sometimes other people’s stuff just doesn’t fit you.
It’s like that time in middle school where you went out and bought something the most popular kid had, only to find that it looked kind of ridiculous on you.
Or that time when you really admired somebody else’s style (maybe their leadership style, their lifestyle, their hairstyle, their style of speaking… you get the idea), but when you tried to do things exactly the way they did, something wasn’t quite right.
Here’s another way to think of it. Wind back the clock to when you were in school. You had to write a paper about something. You found some really good information, copied it exactly, and turned it in. That’s called plagiarism. You got an F. You wrote another paper, but this time you kind of reworded things instead of copying them directly. You got a C, because it was pretty solid work but not very original. Then you wrote a paper where you used great information as a springboard for your own ideas instead. You crushed it and brought home the A. Yay, you! (Even if your actual experience didn’t quite happen that way, you get the point.)
When you copy somebody else, you’re not being your most genuine self. Even if others don’t see through it (which – trust me – they will sooner or later), whatever you’re doing won’t be nearly as effective as if you had done things your own way.
The same goes for marketing.
Sure, you can copy what somebody else is doing and just make it look like your own. And it might work out pretty well for you, at least for a little while. But it will never work as well as taking the time to create something that’s based on a deep understanding of who you are, what you offer, who you’re trying to engage, and the compelling reasons for your target audience to do what you’re asking them to do.
So the next time you see somebody else doing something cool, admire it. Get inspired by it. Then ask yourself why it works so well for that other brand. Think about the unique attributes, challenges, and opportunities of your own program and how you can use that understanding to come up with something that’s even better – for you.
Because once you start thinking that way, you’re moving from a marketing plan based on “I think” to a strategic approach based on “I know.” That’s when results happen.
Besides, wouldn’t you rather be the one who’s getting copied instead of the copycat?