Businesses need to stop copying each other!

Just because an approach worked for one company, do not be fooled into thinking it will automatically work for yours

A woman is reflected in a mirror while leaving a voting booth at a polling station during the presidential election in Moscow, Russia March 18, 2018. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

I love the start-up spirit -new ideas excite me, and I’m proud to see more and more people from the GCC venture into their own thing and help diverse our economy.

But one thing that I don’t like is how many businesses are just clones of each other.

In some cases if you strip the logo of their Instagram page or website, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between businesses. Have a look at the following promises/slogans: “Specialty coffee makers”; “Contemporary abaya wear”; “Unique shopping experience”. How many times have you read something similar?

Many also opt for stock photos on their websites and Instagram accounts, and also try to mass market their business to everyone regardless of whether their targets are the right ones. They’re all fighting for the same customers so no wonder some of them fail within the first couple of years.

This isn’t limited to businesses only, but social influencers are quite homogenous as well. Ladies sport the same accessories, opt for same pouty poses, and the firms apply the same photo filters.

Providing the same offering, in the same voice, and using the same format, kills your customer appeal and will help retain them. Sure, it’s the easiest thing to do, but just because it worked for one business doesn’t mean success can be copied for yours as well.

Yes, by copying you will eliminate a lot of the hurdles that start-ups face, and you may make a lot of money doing so, but if you’re not passionate about your business and do not truly want to create a unique product, then no amount of copying will help you and people will soon realise that be be turned off by your offering.

To clarify, I’m not against competition in any way. In fact, competition allows for healthy market activity and cheaper prices for consumers, as well as options to choose from instead of being monopolised by one provider. But what I am against is the lack of original thinking, creativity and passing off an existing business model as your own.

In a world of copycats, and with the risk of your business soon being copied by someone else, here’s what you can do to remain fresh:

Keep experimenting: When my sister and I launched Sekka, a platform for Khaleeji millennials, it was a completely new idea and we had no point of reference, which allowed us to experiment a lot. And this is something that's applicable across all businesses.

Instead of seeing what business X or business Y is doing, experiment with your products. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars. For instance, we saw that having our readers take over our Instagram stories over the weekend increased our user engagement drastically.


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The key lies with the customers: You want to know what your customers want? The answer isn't with your competitors but with your customers. Ask them and ask again. Involve them in your product design process. Ask for their feedback. Social media is an amazing way to do that. Use polls and ask them to contact you directly about what they'd like to see more of, how you can improve your business, or recommend you a spokesperson who'd do well in your company. I can't stress how important this is, and how much it can help your business group in a short period of time.

Involve your employees: Customers are key, but so are your employees. Involve them in your decision-making process. Delegate, and let them come up with new product concepts. Make them feel like they're part of your company. Have the right people at the right seats. A common mistake is leaving the same people at the same role for a long period of time. Shuffle their roles every now and then and enrich their work experience.

The thing is that the business world is full of change especially with technology and the evolution of digital marketing. What worked for X last year won’t necessarily work for you this year. And also, just because you are targeting the same customers, that won’t mean they’ll be automatically drawn to your business.

In order to stand out it’s important to remain fresh, be constantly curious, involve your employees, and your customers, and not be afraid to dive into the unknown.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer who manages her branding and marketing consultancy in Abu Dhabi