In Business, Imitation is Far From Flattery

Market research is important. You should always know what your competition is doing, because it gives you insight into your market. But copying successful formats and strategies is not generally the way to succed for yourself. Imitation may occasionally be the sincerest form of flattery, but not in business.

Jessie Fitzgerald asked me on Twitter today if I owned I don't, but I joked that maybe I should go register it to stop some leech from registering it to run a similar blog and play on my branding work over the years. But it wasn't that much of a joke. It would beyond piss me off to see someone do that, and it wouldn't be the first time. I've had people do anything from mimicking my business site branding to stealing my entire blog on another case and putting it up on a very similar domain name.

Not only can some imitation amount to trademark infringement if it could cause confusion at all in the market, but it's just downright pathetic. Would you want your competition registering a derivative domain name from your own for their business site? Would you want them creating a similar logo? How about creating a site with a very similar format and color scheme? What if they copied your entire service list and rate structure (I've seen this happen most often among very small consulting firms that literally just copy / paste Web copy from a competitor, rates and all)? How would you feel if the language of their ads was ridiculously similar? You probably wouldn't like it very much, so don't do it to other writers.

Look, there's room for common courtesy when you're competing. But even if you want to take the "all's fair in business" stance, frankly you just make yourself look ridiculous to potential clients. If your competition has been around a while and they're doing something right enough that you want to copy them, chances are good that clients finding you have already come across them. It's not the kind of first impression you want to make with potential buyers.

You can learn from the competition's successes and failures without downright copying what they're doing. You should evaluate your own strengths, what seems to work in the market already, and then come up with your own rates, marketing strategies, and brand identity -- something that suits you, not something that suits someone else.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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6 thoughts on “In Business, Imitation is Far From Flattery”

  1. Jenn, I totally see what you’re saying. I started up a small Web site and named it All Freelance Business a couple months ago…then promptly abandoned it the instant I realized that I’d jacked your brand! Totally unintentional and it got me thinking about this. If you do get, your make money blogging series would be great that way. But all’s well. That is bullshit for someone to take your branding like that.

    • I checked it when you first mentioned it and it was available. Shortly after though, someone registered it. Assuming from your comment that it wasn’t you, maybe someone else snatched it after seeing your tweet. I hadn’t noticed the All Freelance Business one, but if I had you definitely would have heard from me, and I would have been more than a little cranky. 😛 I doubt whoever registered the blogging one would have the gall to do anything confusing enough or hijacking my content. And if they do, well, I’ve dealt with assholes like that before and forced their sites down, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. So I’m not too worried. 🙂

  2. I think this is definitely an interesting topic. I was considering starting up a niche site and the domain that came to mind was similar to a client’s domain (all the really good domains in this niche are already taken). I haven’t signed any non-compete agreements, but I decided against the domain because it’s just bad business. I didn’t consider trademark infringement because the domain includes common words that appear in millions of other domains.

    Trademark infringement is so confusing to me. Is anyone who registers a domain infringing on your trademark? What if their website brand, design, and focus are completely different?

  3. Trademark infringement depends a lot on the level of confusion it causes. If they were to use let’s say, that alone wouldn’t technically be trademark infringement. That could change if they model their site after this one in some way, making visitors think they’re seeing AFW instead of a different site. It all comes down to the confusion.

    That said, if one of the writers blogging for AFW registered and used that domain, they’d no longer be welcome to blog here. That’s a case of unprofessionalism at its finest. I ghostwrite personal finance pieces daily for an Australian company. I’d never register a domain similar to theirs, setup a blog, and write similar content to what they have. If you’re not already doing something, you shouldn’t start doing it to mimick a client, ever. If I were asked to write for another writing blog, I certainly wouldn’t stop writing on my own, but then the client knows what you’re involved with up front. So bringing the client issue into it definitely would complicate it more.

    In the past, people who have stolen my designs, content, logos, and setup almost identical site names have not been affiliated with me in any way. They’ve just been spammers and scammers — thieves looking for a quick buck.

  4. In any business (and especially those that involve creativity), being able to stand out from and above the crowd is key. Guess I wonder then why someone would go down the road of imitation. A quick buck maybe, as you mentioned? Easy and thought-free work? Possibly. But in then end they won’t be standing on their own merit. Competition? Maybe in the short term.

  5. I’d say it’s a combination of laziness, lack of confidence, and incompetence. Anyone willing to put the work in, who is confident in their abilities, and who is actually qualified to do the work they want to do doesn’t need to imitate.


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