Why Brands Should Avoid 'Copycat Content'

Image via  Dollar Photo Club

This post was written by Mary Austin Williams, an associate editor at Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC). Follow her, @mawill8.

“Copycat content” isn’t an original phrase. In fact, I copied it from the website Copyblogger after realizing it perfectly explained the phenomenon. We have all seen it: Those “me too” marketing campaigns where the latest content trend (think: BuzzFeed Quizzes) explodes in popularity and you are left scratching your head wondering if the quiz, “What Game of Thrones Character Best Describes Your Mobile Attribution Strategy?" seems a little misaligned. 

I recently went online to find the perfect snarky Someecards to send to a friend as a birthday greeting when I noticed the webpage had been transformed from a collection of humorous posts to an aggregated pop culture news site, seemingly overnight. While imitation may be touted as the “best form of flattery,” why use this method in your marketing if your goal is to do anything but blend in with your competitors?

Here are some ideas to ensure you are putting your best brand forward through enabling your authentic voice to take center stage. 

Just Be YoU...

This is my top tip for a reason — even if you stop reading now, this is by far the most important takeaway. There is more marketing collateral out there than ever: Newsletters, e-books, infographics, white papers, you name it. As all great content marketers know, your audience does not want to feel sold or pitched to; that is why content that creates value establishes your brand as a trustworthy resource who knows the space and wants to give the inside scoop to anyone who will listen. Play the role of your true self to your advantage and put your creative thinking to the test by offering something that exemplifies how well you know your customers and their intentions.

In effect, being you may not mean catering to everyone, and that’s OK. You could play it safe by contributing to the noise, or you could try something new that may open up a whole other avenue and be admired for its unique point of view.

…By Playing Your Part…

When it comes down to it, you are creating engaging content to inspire your customers and ultimately generate leads. As Anna Watkins, managing director of Guardian Labs puts it in Marketing magazine

One of the greatest challenges of the 21st century is understanding the balance of your financial value against the value you bring to your customers and wider society. Only then can you really understand the role of your brand within the new digital space, where control has been lost and authenticity and trust matter.

This is perhaps the best summary to underscore why knowing how you are currently being perceived by your audience and playing to those strengths is so important. It is the only way you can truly deliver a fulfilling user experience.

…With #NoFilter

In simple terms, it all boils down to one thing: Trust. And perhaps there is no one who trust matters more to than millennials. We have been known to sniff out inauthenticity. For instance, Bank of America marketing executive Meredith Verdone’s Ad Age editorial was recently called out by Gawker for its “hip” explanation of successfully marketing to who Verdone deems the “selfie generation.”

Leave it to the capable hands of happy customers to do the trustworthy word-of-mouth marketing for you. AirBnb, for example, kicks its sharing economy manifesto up a notch by sharing beautiful pictures of customer-documented travel experiences on its Instagram page. Similarly, Anthropologie takes its style from the Web to the streets by curating a feed of customer Instagrams (with links to buy the modeled merchandise, of course). Social media has paved the way for a two-way relationship between brand and consumer and can create an air of authenticity when used as directed. (Just no sponsored posts, please.)

It is time to move away from copycat content and in a direction toward mindfulness marketing. Reviewing your strategy through a customer-centric lens is your best chance of getting your audience to tune in to what you are saying and come to respect it as a much-needed  dare I say, original — breath of fresh air.