Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness. - Oscar Wilde
Flattery, is often used in a dishonest way, as a means to achieve what someone wants for themselves. An employee, hoping for a promotion, may compliment the bosses new suit. A waitress, may use flattery to increase the chances of being tipped. Even laughter, when used correctly can flatter and therefore influence a person's opinion of you. They say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. What about in business? Does this still ring true? I am going to paint a picture for you to illustrate why, when it comes to business, imitation is a recipe for failure.
When Inspiration Turns To Imitation
A few years ago, when I first began sharing my successes selling Fine Art Nature Photography online, I started to see others trying to emulate the language, style and overall representation of my website and my work. What started innocently enough, quickly became a problem, as I began finding fellow artists who were blatantly copying entire pages of my content, word for word in many cases, for their own personal websites.
My product descriptions, design elements, navigation menus and even my bio seemed to be like blood in the water to a school of hungry piranha. I did my best not to let it get to me, simply reaching out to the worst offenders and asking them not to plagiarize my hard work. As the frequency and boldness of the copying increased it became harder for me to simply laugh it off. There is even an artist living in Moscow who copied all the visual elements of my website and then placed a phone call to a gallery that sells my work, asking them for my marketing secrets. This same artist calls himself "the supreme master" on his website. Apparently he should have stuck to the plagiarism.
The simple truth is that I have spent countless days of my life writing, rewriting and fine tuning my voice, my brand and the presentation of my work to my collectors around the world. It is a full time job in and of itself. On some days, it does bother me. On others, at a minimum, it affords me a greater insight into how creative writers must feel, as well as innovators, who work their fingers to the bone, only to have that work reverse engineered and sold by a company overseas while they sit back and watch.
It Must Be Nice
I know what some of you are thinking. It must be nice to have such problems. Others will simply think I'm complaining. The truth is that since my very first successes almost a decade ago, I have done everything in my power to help other photographers succeed as well. I have shared endless advice, with nothing asked for in return. I have negotiated contracts and licensing terms for fellow photographers more times than I can count. I have even sold other photographers prints for them, on more than one occasion, when one of my collectors was looking for something that I didn't have in my online galleries. While I frequently feel like discontinuing this practice entirely, I am going to make one last effort to see if I can reach those who need to hear it. To share why imitation will do both of us more harm than good and why the power of self expression is irreplaceable.
It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation. - Herman Melville
Ten Reasons Why You Shouldn't Copy Your Competition Online
1. It's Illegal. While it may seem harmless to copy content from another persons website, without the authors permission, it is illegal. You can be sued. All digital content has the very same copyright protections that non-digital content does, on or offline.
2. Google May Penalize You. Google is in the business of providing unique, high quality links to its customers. This goal is more challenging when that content is repeated across multiple websites. Because of this, duplicate content, especially when copied from a higher ranking website than yours, may hurt the strength of your SEO campaign and reduce your overall rankings.
3. You Are Your Greatest Salesman. Only you can share what makes you and in turn your work special and why someone else should choose to invest in it. It is better to define your product and your brand identity yourself than it is to attempt to squeeze yourself into someone else's shoes that don't fit.
4. You'll Never Be A Leader. If your goal is to be at the top of your game and truly find success one day, copying others work is not the way to accomplish that goal. You will always play second fiddle to the success that others have created.
5. You Are Limiting Yourself. It is difficult to focus on your own strengths and the services you provide to your customers when you are spending your time watching everyone else. Not only does it keep you from identifying your own personal capabilities, you will never be as effective as someone who has traveled their own road.
6. It Dilutes Everyone's Work. Copying places you in the same box as the company or product you are copying. As others come along and repeat the process, you will soon find yourself in a group of doppelgängers. This not only dilutes your message, but the messages of everyone around you. If your circle is small, your customers will notice and loose faith in you and in your brand.
7. You Won't Know What Works. In online marketing, there is continuos trial and error. Without solid data, you can't make decisions and without knowing why you are doing what you're doing, you won't be doing it for long.
8. You Might Be Copying The Wrong Person. Just because a competitor has what looks like a good idea, doesn't mean it actually works. You may even find yourself copying someone less successful than yourself!
9. Your Target Audience May Be Different. Of course you don't know what your target audience is because you've been spending your time targeting someone else's.
10. Because It's Lazy. And disrespectful, deceitful and lacks an ounce of creativity. In the world of photography, creativity is the foundation of everything we do. When your first step is to follow someone else, you'll never find the uniqueness that is you.
The Wall of Shame
If my attempt at enlightening you, with these ten reasons why you should travel your own road doesn't work, I have a backup plan. I purchased the domain photographerswallofshame.com as a place I could share the work of those who so kindly flattered me with their imitation. Based on the success of my SEO efforts, I don't think you want my site ranking on the first page of google for your business. ;)