November 23, 2014

When Stealing Is Good: Drawing Inspiration From Competitors

inspiration from competitors

Ever heard the phrase “good artists copy; great artists steal?”

A similar mode of thinking can do wonders for your content marketing. Of course, you should never out and out plagiarize, which is bad for your business from an SEO (search engine optimization) standpoint, not to mention a tad unethical.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with expanding on and being inspired by your competitors’ great ideas. Just look at pop art, for example. Where would Andy Warhol be without Campbell’s’ marketing team?

But before I digress further, let’s get to it and take a look at how to use competitors’ marketing strategies and materials to come up with your own ideas.

Repurpose Awesome Content From Your Own Perspective

If you’re not already repurposing your own content, you’d best go get started. I’ll wait. Got it? Good.

Anyway, one of the first steps to drawing inspiration from your competitors should be to read their content. When you hit on something where you think, “Wow, I wish I’d written that,” don’t stop there. Instead, read it again and think about how you could write a similar article in your voice, from your perspective. Maybe you reached a slightly different conclusion, or maybe there’s a spot where your expertise can bring something totally new to the table.

Whatever the case may be, try rewriting your competitors’ article from a different angle and see where it takes you.

Hop on the Bandwagon

When there’s a trending topic taking off, get on that bandwagon. While most of us like to think we’re so unique that we can come up with something totally unique that will go viral all on its own, the reality is that it doesn’t quite work like that. No one can know in advance what’s going to garner tons of share, but if there’s already a topic that’s whirling around the internet full steam ahead, use it to your advantage.

It’s a good idea to stay on top of what your competitors are writing about. If there’s a topic that seems to be doing particularly well with fans and followers, make a space in your editorial calendar and add your voice to the conversation.

Take What You Can

And give nothing back, as the pirates liked to say. You don’t need a parrot and an eye patch for this one, but you do need to be able to figure out those little, obvious things that are working well for your competitors.

Has a rival company hit the jackpot with keywords, bumping them up to the top of the search rankings? Find out what keywords they use, and use them yourself. Does a competitor have a website design that’s simply more user friendly than yours? Learn from their example and integrate some of those structures into your own.

Inspiration, Not Plagiarism

Again, I just want to reiterate that the key here is to draw inspiration, not copy and paste. If you find yourself wholesale stealing paragraphs from your competitors’ blogs, it’s time to put down the keyboard and come back to it later.

The difference between copying and stealing is, after all, the difference between a good artist and a great one.

Inspirational Quote Photo via Shutterstock

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Amie Marse


Amie Marse Amie Marse is the founder of Content Equals Money, a small content generation firm based in Lexington, KY. She’s been a passionate freelance writer turned business owner for over 7 years. Her philosophy is that the essentials of content marketing do not change from the small business to the Fortune 500 level, and that creativity trumps budget every time.

11 Reactions

  1. Bob Dylan is widely accepted as a genius and even he admits that “creative repurposing” in the folk tradition is a big part of his work.

  2. One other benefit of rewriting somebody elses article or being inspired to write a new one based on it is that you can use it to reach out to that blogger and link to their post. They may link back to you and then badda bing, you’ve expanded your reach..Rob

  3. Well I must say this is controversial. :)

    One thing I would add is this: be prepared for a negative backlash sometimes when you “borrow” ideas. As a borrower, you may not even realize that you’ve ticked the “borrowee” off. But if they see you’ve borrowed too closely from their ideas, or too often, you may drop in their estimation.

    If you are truly competitors, then you may not care.

    But if you ever want something from that other entity, they may have a long memory.

    Also, you do need to come up with your own ideas more often than not. It’s hard to be a thought leader when you’re always borrowing and following what others are doing.

    Just an alternative POV to keep in mind…

    – Anita

  4. As an artist whose words are her mode of expression, I don’t think ‘stealing’ is ever good. Not to say it can’t be used as inspiration. Not to say it can’t or won’t trigger loads of ideas for other people. But to steal it, I think is disrespectful towards the person it’s been taken from and the person that does the taking. I’m familiar with that quote, but I don’t think I agree with it.

    Again, this is just me.

    Maybe, in the context of marketing, it doesn’t really matter though.

  5. “Stealing” is a strong word. In the context of marketing, if you see a competitor wrote an article called “4 Best Marketing Tools” and it’s attracted a lot of engagement – it tells you that your customers are interested in knowing what the ‘best marketing tools’ are. You’d be silly to not also write about what the best marketing tools are. I don’t think it’s stealing if a week later, you come out with “3 New Marketing Tools For Your Small Business.”

    Helpful article – I may be stealing it in the future!

  6. “Stealing” in this context is hard to deeply distinguish it from what makes your article rightfully yours and what makes it prejudiced. What you create should stand on its own and revolves around what you believe. It’s actually encouraging to get your inspiration from others, but you shouldn’t tie your content around it by a tight knot; otherwise, you will lose your creativity and originality.

  7. Repeating the last one is not enough. Some people think that writing similar content is not plagiarism but as long as you write an idea as if you own it – that’s still plagiarism. I don’t know if it’s something that we can prevent but it is certainly something that we must strive avoiding.

  8. No matter if it’s Microsoft, Google or Yahoo, almost every one of them is stealing ideas directly from their competitors now a days. It’s better to keep an eye on the key areas where your competitors have succeeded so you can too draw inspiration from there and implement. Think differently but keep the theme similar so that it somehow connects to your business, service or the industry you are working in.

  9. eh… you know, drawing inspiration is one thing, stealing is another. Just today I stumbled upon a very well know site’s blog who obviously very recently changed their look and color scheme to be identical to mine. They even reworked one of my articles. And this is a huge company who’ve ran ads on the Superbowl. They could have just hired me!

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