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3 Reasons to Start Copying Your Competitors Today You don't have to steal strategies or plagiarize work to learn from your competitors-find out how.

By Craig Simpson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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I know what you're thinking. "Copy my competitors? Isn't that unethical? Isn't that illegal? I'm not doing that!" But wait—hear me out. I'm not telling you to cleverly steal their marketing plan and duplicate their strategies. I'm not asking you to plagiarize anything. What I'm asking you do is simple.

Look around your industry. Watch what's going on. Study your competition. Follow what works. Why wouldn't you? Your competitors are selling their wares to the same target market you are. And if what they're doing is working, you can bet it could work for you too! This is a strategy in itself that can greatly increase the effectiveness of your sales pieces. Here are three excellent reasons to copy your competitors.

Learn From Others' Mistakes

Everybody makes mistakes. Unfortunately, even the smallest mistakes in direct mail can be detrimental to your campaign's success—and costly. When it comes to direct mail, you want to minimize the errors you make as much as possible. Some of it is just trial and error. But sometimes mistakes are 100% avoidable.

For example, imagine you own one of two popular shoe stores in town. Your competitor has opened a second location and sent out a long, eight page letter to announce the opening. They included great information on the business, impressive facts about the quality of their shoes, and had a clear invitation to come check out the new location. When the day finally arrived… Nothing.

Well, that didn't work. There are actually two big problems with the piece described above. One, there is no real incentive for prospects to come down. If they aren't in the market for a new pair of shoes, they're given no other reason to act. Two, eight pages is too long to announce a store opening. The format your competitor used does not fit their offer.

Now you know better. Seeing that their opening was not a huge success, you know not to use a similar approach when you open your next location.

Learn More About Your Market

Almost the opposite of the situation described above, sometimes you can learn a lot from your competitors. After all, they're staying in business, so they must be doing something right. You can learn new information about your target market by watching your competitors' movements and seeing what the market responds to.

Take the previous example again. Except, instead of an eight page letter, your competitor sends out a slick looking postcard—the kind that's exciting just to look at. On top of that, they include a large "10% off!" stamp that your eyes are naturally drawn to. On opening day, half the town is down there buying new shoes with their generous 10% discount.

Now, when you open your next location, you might try a postcard with a discount, too. You know it works. You know your market will respond well to it. So why wouldn't you give it a shot? Obviously, your design and copy will be different—again, this is NOT about plagiarism—but the general format and concept is the same.

Proven Formulas Work

Sales copy is written a certain way because it works. Designs become similar because they work. You should be on mailing lists for products similar to your own. You want to study what your competition is doing. This is just good business sense. As you receive sales pieces, you may start to see common themes or certain strategies that are being used over and over again.

For example, you may have noticed that many sales pieces urge customers to call in for more information. Additionally, that phone number is repeated multiple times. It is often in large print, maybe in a contrasting color. If you see multiple sales pieces come through your mailbox using that same technique, you might want to try it yourself—obviously it's working for someone or they wouldn't keep doing it!

That might seem like an obvious strategy though, so let's look at a different one.

I always include this on trick in my sales pieces: Write the offer with a sense of urgency.

You've seen this before. "Act NOW!," "Call today!," "Order soon or we WILL run out!" This type of sales copy is seen everywhere from direct mail to television commercials and even radio ads. If you see it everywhere, over and over again, you can assume there is some merit to it. And there is! If your prospects respond to you as soon as they get the letter, you mitigate the risk of them forgetting, delaying, or spending their money some other way.

Attention-grabbing design and urgency are only two examples of common direct mail strategies. Keep you eyes peeled for what your competitors are commonly doing. If they use the same strategy mailing after mailing, you might try testing it yourself!

At first glance, the idea of copy your competitors may seem like a poor decision. But it's not. This strategy will help you identify market trends and figure out what works and what doesn't work. Just remember, there is no truly unique thought. Someone, somewhere, has probably done it before. It either worked for them or it didn't. Sometimes, there's simply no need to "reinvent in the wheel."
Craig Simpson

Author and Owner of Simpson Direct, Inc.

Craig Simpson has managed thousands of direct mail campaigns and grossed hundreds of millions in revenue for his clients over the past 15 years. Simpson is the owner of Simpson Direct Inc., a Grants Pass, Oregon-based direct marketing firm, and a respected speaker/presenter on the topic of direct mail. He is the co-author with Dan S. Kennedy of The Direct Mail Solution. He blogs at

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