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What Should You Do About Copycat Competitors?

When someone's just replicated your product, what you should do first is get on the phone and show 'em whom they're messing with.

Competition is usually considered a positive thing for an industry. It forces you to continue to improve and gives your customers more options. But, what happens when the competition starts mimicking exactly what you’re doing?

Related: How to Maintain Your First-to-Market Position in a Copycat World

Do you have a plan for handling copycats? Your success will largely be dictated by how you respond in the midst of fierce competition.

The threat of copycats
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, as the old  saying goes. But, while that may be true in certain areas of life, it’s hardly reassuring when it happens in the business world. All that imitation says in that context is that someone else is out there trying to latch onto an idea or niche that you’ve spent months or years building.

Copycats, moreover, are people who sit on the sidelines and wait for others to find success. As soon as they smell success, they jump in and try to make a quick buck. While copycats are rarely successful in the long run, they can eat up some of your profits. And that's what you need to be cognizant about, moving forward.

5 ways you can orotect your brand
You may find it difficult to believe that there are people out there who would copy someone else’s business and call themselves entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, though, when money is involved, people are going to latch onto whatever is monetizable. While you can’t do anything about that, you can protect your brand in the following ways:

1. Legally protect your idea.
The more legal protection you can get for your business and/or products, the better off you’ll be. Patents -- including provisional patents on ideas -- are necessary. You also need to use non-disclosure agreements when you discuss details of your product with people (including employees).

A trademark can provide another layer of protection, as well. Should a legal issue arise in the future, your registered trademark can serve as concrete proof of an idea. It also provides a time stamp for when your idea first emerged.

2. Do something totally unique
Legal protection is fine, but there are ways around a patent. Some people will expose loopholes, while others will blatantly violate it and challenge you to enter into an expensive lawsuit. So, what's even better than a patent is a totally unique idea that can’t be replicated.

Lithuanian entrepreneur Ausra Bankauskaite provides us with the perfect example. She designs jewelry that’s been featured in Vogue and other reputable design publications, but the thing about her jewelry is that it’s totally unique. She designs things like the one-of-a-kind bracelet seen in this article. The bracelet is made from recycled car parts and contains vials of gasoline, antifreeze, brake fluid, machine oil and transmission fluid. There’s no easy way to replicate that.

3. Confront and challenge copycats.
When you see a copycat emerge, confront that  person or company immediately and directly. Don’t run to your lawyer, who might take three weeks to respond. Call the copycat company and speak with the people in charge. Let them know that, a) you don’t appreciate their copying your product; and, b) you will pursue whatever legal means necessary to shut them down. This won’t always make them walk away, but they’ll know whom they’re messing with.

4. Offer superior service.
Products are easily replaceable. Your little plastic widget could be manufactured with the same quality and precision in another warehouse as it is in yours. But there’s one thing that isn’t as easily replicated: quality customer service. Offer superior service to your customers and they’ll continue to trust you.

5. Build brand loyalty.
How nice would it be if you didn’t have to worry about copycats? In other words, what if copycats still existed, but they posed no real threat? This is possible, but you have to invest in a little something called brand loyalty.

When you work hard to develop brand loyalty over many years, customers aren’t going to jump ship when they see a cheaper alternative from a copycat. They’re going to take all of the factors into account, and most will stick with your brand.

Focus on your own business.
It’s not the competition that kills most businesses -- it’s the inability of some leaders to put on blinders and block out all of the outside noise. While you should confront and challenge copycats, don’t let them get inside your head. At some point, you have to forget about what’s going on around you and start focusing on your own business and products.

Article originally written by Anna Johansson