I’ll never forget what my boss told me; I was fresh out of college, occupying my first sales & marketing position.

Boss:  If you want to know what works in terms of marketing, just look at the big guys.

Me:  Excuse me?

Boss:  Copy what they’re doing.  They are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire the best PR reps, marketing professionals and conduct large market surveys.  I say we use their findings to get their results while saving money!

I immediately thought of Cleo McDowell, owner of McDowells restaurant in the 1980’s comedy hit Coming To America as he explained the differences between McDowells and McDonalds to Hakeem:

Me and the McDonald’s people got this little misunderstanding. See, they’re McDonald’s… I’m McDowell’s. They got the Golden Arches, mine is the Golden Arcs. They got the Big Mac, I got the Big Mick. We both got two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but their buns have sesame seeds. My buns have no seeds.

If we were to look at this from a real-world perspective, Cleo McDowell, while overdoing it in copying McDonalds, likely saw benefits from his approach.  He probably did not know that the color combination of red and yellow is believed by marketing psychologists to catch attention, evoke happiness and stimulate hunger.  Did you think it a coincidence that McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s and In-N-Out Burger all utilize this combination?

When looking for marketing ideas, you have to pay attention to your competition.  I agree with my previous boss that there is value in utilizing their tools.  However, I cannot highlight enough the importance of differentiating yourself from your competition.  What makes you unique?  Do you serve a different niche market?  Can you build on what they are doing in their larger market while targeting an undeserved niche that they are overlooking?

Take tips from the competitition but make your marketing your own.