Copying – Are There Many Original Ideas?

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Have you noticed the obsession with originality and the desire to be first to market? Yet most of the innovations that have shaped our world today are ideas or technology that were nothing new at the time.

For instance, Apple didn’t invent the touch-screen smart phone. IBM created the first smart phone (known as the Simon Personal Communicator). Fifteen years before Apple launched the iPhone and the touch-screen was invented as far back as 1965. Apple took existing technology and made it their own through exceptional design. A determination to provide a great user experience.

Neither was McDonald’s the first fast-food chain. It copied the idea from the White Castle restaurant in Wichita, Kansas. Facebook wasn’t the first social network and Henry Ford didn’t invent the car. So, innovation does not have to be about invention, it’s more likely to be about copying.

Why copy?

In his book Copy,Copy,Copy, Mark Earls suggests that copying (but not replicating) of ideas and experiences is something we naturally do. It is the most efficient method of innovation. Copying is easy and is a great hack for making fast progress and not looking at problems in isolation. You get to benefit from the mistakes and the success of others that you have never even met. This may explain why being first to market with a new innovation is rarely an advantage.

What is poor copying?

Simply replicating an idea or product and the practice of benchmarking reduces value. It creates increasingly homogenised offers and there is no allowance for context or thought about fixing what’s broken. Indeed, benchmarking damages profitability because of increased price-point competition and less differentiation.

‘Looser copying’ or from afar (e.g. from a different sector or culture) can add value. It creates variation through the changes or mistakes we make. This is essentially the concept of fixing what’s broken and keeping what works.

Why don’t we copy more?

In Western cultures we are often led to believe that each problem or challenge is unique and so requires a unique solution. This is almost always misguided because very few problems are new and it gives the impression that it will be extremely difficult to solve. This often results in the rejection of many good ideas simply because of their similarity to solutions used elsewhere.

This is partly because of the individualistic culture we have in the West which values originality and discourages copying. This is not the case in China and other parts of Asia where copying is perceived in a much more positive light. The danger is that this attitude towards copying puts Western companies at a disadvantage. Why reinvent the wheel or if it’s not broken, why fix it?

Mark Earls, Copy,Copy,Copy

“The truth is that most things are like other things – they certainly seem that way: the human mind’s ability to see similarities and connections between things is unbounded.”

Are most innovations the product of a single individual? Nope, it’s a myth that innovations are the creation of a single person. In most cases many people are involved in innovation and they copy from different sources to create something new and exciting. What this suggests is that when done in the right way copying can produce novel and highly effective solutions.

Copying is what we do naturally:

Mark points out that because of our brain’s limited processing power we are forced to rely heavily on default heuristics – what did we do last time or what is everyone else doing? We copy ideas and behaviours all the time but often are not even aware of it. Copying allows us to outsource many aspects of cognitive thinking and provides us with a knowledge bank that further reduces the cognitive effort we may need to solve a problem.

Marketers needs to understand copying:

When we see brand shares following the Pareto 80/20 rule diffusion science tells us that people are not acting independently. Copying makes the most popular brands even more popular than they would be if everyone acted independently.

This produces a long-tail distribution of popularity (see right-hand curve) which is a strong indication of social influence and copying. Otherwise you are likely to be looking at independent choice (as shown by the short-tail distribution).

The data shows that buyer choices in many markets and services is mainly driven by either directed copying (e.g. following experts or authority figures) or undirected copying (following the most popular variant). Just look at the power of social proof and we can see how important what other people are doing is in influencing sales.

Mark Earls – I’ll Have What She’s Having

“The paradox of conformity, of course, is that we are all conformists in some way, and yet we do not all do the same thing – far from it. In fact, we find the greatest diversity of behaviours in places where people are most densely packed together, such as New York, London, or Istanbul.”

In some markets we are now faced with so many choices that it is practically impossible to identify an ideal product or service to meet your needs. Just imagine trying to evaluate every TV or smart phone. In such instances we can either make an educated guess or follow the behaviour of others.

By bringing these insights together Mark Earls and his co-authors in I’ll Have What She’s Having created a map of four decision making styles for marketers to use. In his latest book Mark Earls has used this map to create a pattern book of over 50 marketing strategies to encourage marketers to innovate using approaches that have been successful in other sectors. This is a valuable resource as it allows you to focus on execution rather than creating strategies from scratch.

Implications for website optimisation:

  • Stop replicating ideas and designs from your competitors:

Far too many sites are obsessed with what their competitors’ are doing and copy exactly what they see them doing. This results in websites looking almost identical and reduces differentiation. Instead look outside your sector to see what is new and innovative. Copy loosely and then test to see if it adds value before rolling it out on your whole site.

  • Think about design trends:

Have you noticed how many websites blindly follow certain design trends? Whether it’s over-sized hero images, auto-play video backgrounds, auto-sliders, flat design, parallax scrolling or the hamburger button on mobile designs. Online experiments have shown all of these trends can damage conversion and sometimes frustrate and annoy visitors.

Instead of simply replicating new trends, why not consider what prompted the trend and the truths it embodies. You can then copy the elements or ideas that appear to be most beneficial and test them on your site to measure what impact they have on visitor behaviour. This way you can maintain your site’s unique character and still benefit from new developments or trends.

  • Be agile:

I recently participated in a 5 day Google design sprint to develop a new online brand’s proposition and website. We spent a lot of time looking outside the sector of interest to get inspiration. We copied the elements of the market that we thought worked, but wanted to fix what was broken. This was achieved by taking ideas from many different fields and rapid iteration of designs.

Within the 5 days we created and tested a prototype design and helped give the project the momentum it needed. The whole agile process is based upon copying as otherwise it would require too much time and effort to make progress.

  • Identify your market’s decision style:

Assess which quadrant of the decision style map your market is most likely to sit in. You can then focus on the marketing strategies that are most likely to align with this decision style. As part of this process it also useful to identify other markets that have the same decision style to your own. This will allow you investigate how they apply appropriate marketing strategies and you may find novel ideas that you can incorporate in your own strategies.

It is possible that your market could fall between two quadrants and if this is the case it is worth to considering strategies from more than one quadrant. For example a decision about the preferred method of delivery of a service (e.g. offline or online) might be in the North West quadrant (i.e. considered choice), but the brand choice may be in the North East quadrant (i.e. copy experts).

Conclusion:

Originality is overrated as most things are similar to something that already exists. This means copying allows us to benefit from other peoples’ mistakes and create novel solutions to difficult problems. However, just replicating what we see elsewhere can reduce value and lead to a lack of differentiation.

For marketers copying is often an important market dynamic that can heavily influence a customer’s decision style. Understanding the most common decision style in your market helps us identify appropriate marketing strategies to apply. Copying relevant marketing strategies from other sectors or cultures allows us to concentrate on the execution and learn from how others to create novel solutions.

For more details about how to copy effectively and how to use the decision styles map to execute relevant marketing strategies please get Copy,Copy,Copy by Mark Earls.

Copy, Copy, Copy

Marketing Lessons From The Brexit Campaigns

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In this post I will give you 7 marketing lessons from the Brexit campaigns.

The UK’s EU referendum result surprised many people outside the UK. But a review of the strategies used by the campaigns gives some clear reasons for the outcome. It provides some important lessons for marketers. The Remain campaign was expected to win partly because of the uncertainty that leaving the UK would create. The fact that they lost suggests that something major must have gone wrong with their campaign planning and implementation.

In another post I outlined some of the main psychological reasons for Brexit. Here I outline specific lessons for marketing.

1. Start by listening to people.

Listen to people
Source: Freeimages.com

When a new brand begins to eat into an existing brand’s customer base this should be a wake-up call for the marketing team. To survive in the long term all brands needs to be constantly listening to their customers to ensure they remain relevant and in touch with their target audience.

Marketers should explore what customers find appealing about the new brand and what is turning them off the leading brand. By listening to and observing customers we can pick up clues to why they are disillusioned with the established brand. By exploring what attracted existing customers to your brand you can identify what is most appealing about your value proposition. This can help you position your brand in the most effective way.

What went wrong?

The Remain campaign failed to understand that many people felt they had not benefited from globalisation. For this reason only saw the downside of the free movement of people within the EU. The Remain campaign’s tone towards controlling immigration was also cosmopolitan and elitist. This alienated voters worried about free movement of people within the EU as it appeared to dismiss their views as irrelevant. The Remain campaign also failed to offer hope that by staying within the EU the UK was more likely to be able change the principle of free movement of labour.

Strategy Lesson:

Engage in regular research and collaboration initiatives with customers and prospects to understand how they perceive the brand and your competitors. Brands have to evolve as customer behaviour and values change so as to remain relevant and responsive to customer needs. If your strategy is not engaging customers it may be time to change your approach based upon evidence from customer research and feedback.

2. A clear and strong value proposition:

Image of Widerfunnel.com lift model
Source: Widerfunnel.com

A clear and compelling proposition is important for any brand. From day one the Leave message focused on “Take back control” which appeals to our desire for autonomy. According to the psychologist Daniel Pink autonomy is one of our three most important motivations in life. The others being mastery and purpose. Autonomy is something we naturally seek. It improves our lives because we feel happier when we are in control of our destiny.

Products are purchased for explicit goals, but brands need to appeal towards our implicit (psychological) goals to engage people at an emotional level. This is especially important where brands have very similar product features as it is the main way that they can differentiate themselves from each other. Understanding which of these core psychological goals motivates your customers is essential for effective brand positioning and campaign implementation.

Psychological Goals of Brands

6 main implicit psychologial goals
Source: Decode Marketing

What went wrong?

The “Britain stronger in Europe” message had potential to engage voters. There was a lack of consistency of how it was explained and much of the time it was communicated in a negative and bullying fashion (e.g. if you vote leave economic growth will be lower). It was far too reliant on the rational economic argument and the psychological goals of security and discipline. Insufficient effort was made to communicate the many successes of the EU (around autonomy), or the positive benefits of security and discipline.

Strategy Lesson:

Ensure your proposition incorporates a number of relevant psychological goals to widen the appeal of your brand position. Avoid over reliance on the security of the status quo as people want to feel that they are making a positive choice and not being pressurised to avoid change. Purely negative campaigns can make people uncomfortable and motivate people to change for the sake of it.

3. Relevance of message:

Image of City of London view
Source: Freeimages.com

The Leave campaign’s “Taking back control” message was also a more inclusive message. It appealed to a wider demographic audience. Everyone could relate to wanting some autonomy in our relationships with other countries. In practical terms this may be somewhat of an illusion, but it captured the imagination of voters as it triggered a deep psychological desire for more control in our lives.

What went wrong?

The Remain campaign focused mainly on warnings about economic and political consequences of Brexit. For example the Treasury said that house prices might fall and mortgage rates would rise. But this had no relevance to people on the minimum wage with no chance of ever affording a house. People often don’t appreciate the links between macro-economic factors and their day-to-day existence. So these messages didn’t resonate with voters.

The Brexit message also appealed to the desire to destabilise the status quo. This movement has resulted in the emergence of radical politicians like Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders in the US, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, and Marine Le Pen in France.

Strategy Lesson:

Analyse the behaviour and needs of customers by relevant demographic and behavioural metrics to identify important customer segments. Create user personas to visualise and consider how relevant and motivating your messages are to different customer segments. Such analysis can help improve the targeting and relevance of your messages. Also talk to people about things they can directly relate to and avoid language that is not in every day use.

4. Tell a story:

Brexit told many stories (though many were probably half-truths), but these encouraged people to talk to each other about the EU referendum debate. Stories are powerful tools of persuasion as psychologists have found that when people listen to a narrative tale their brain is stimulated as if they are experiencing the same emotions as communicated in the story. Our social nature encourages us to pass on these narratives through word of mouth or online via social media.

What went wrong?

The Remain story was too rational, with too much emphasis on negative consequences of Brexit and few stories to inspire. This meant the status quo was not presented as a positive choice.

Strategy Lesson:

Encourage consumers to interact with each other my telling an interesting and emotionally engaging story.

5. Copy, Copy, Copy:

When we find ourselves in a situation of uncertainty, such as having to make a decision about something we little knowledge about, people naturally copy other people in the vicinity. Behaviour is often more powerful than word of mouth because it is more visible and people will copy the actions of people they respect or want to be associated with to reduce conflict and help establish stronger bonds in their social networks. Both campaigns tried to capitalise on this by getting the backing of celebrities and well known politicians.

Brexit undoubtedly benefited from strong leadership (i.e.Boris Johnson) and a consistent message delivered by almost everyone involved in the campaign.

What went wrong?

Remain suffered from being less cohesive as although it was backed by both of the main party leaders they held very different beliefs and values. For instance Jeremy Corbyn refused to share a platform with David Cameron and his support appeared half-hearted. David Cameron was also strongly associated with austerity which had significantly reduced funding in deprived areas since 2010.

Strategy Lesson:

Lead by example. If for instance your brand is positioned to be environmentally friendly make sure your internal policies and behaviour is consistent with this stance. If using celebrity endorsements ensure the person has wide appeal across your target audience.

6. Confirmation bias:

Image of mri-head scan
Source: Freeimages.com

People have a tendency to search and consume new information that confirms their pre-existing beliefs and ideas about a subject. We often filter out or dismiss information that contradicts existing opinions. Many people had negative opinions about the EU due to years of critical articles in the British media and so it was difficult for the Remain campaign to counter this perception.

One way that brands can counter confirmation bias is to communicate that you agree with one aspect of what your audience believes, but then introduce information that conflicts with this information. This creates cognitive dissonance which is where people feel uncomfortable about holding opinions that contradict each other. If you can then introduce an answer or solution to remove the cognitive dissonance people are more likely to agree with your suggestion than if you tried to raise it without going through this process.

For example the Leave campaign claimed that the UK could negotiate access to the EU single market and get agreement to control immigration. The Remain campaign could have agreed access to the single market would be achievable from outside the EU. However, they should have pointed out that to date the EU has not allowed any country access to the single market without also agreeing to free movement of EU nationals. Further, such a deal would not be sustainable for the EU as it would encourage other countries to leave the EU.

However, the Remain campaign could have offered a solution that by retaining membership of the EU the UK would aim to reform the EU from within. If David Cameron had listened to disenfranchised voters he might have put more effort into negotiating a review of freedom of movement within the EU on the basis of economic sustainability and security concerns.

What went wrong?

David Cameron’s re-negotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU failed to deliver any restrictions on free movement of people within the EU. Rather than reject what was on the table and revert to plan B (i.e. campaign to leave the EU) which would have put the EU under pressure to compromise he accepted their offer. This may have been a fatal error as it reduced trust in Cameron to be able to negotiate with the EU and gave no room for the Remain campaign to argue that they could influence immigration better from within the EU.

Further, journalist and author Tim Hartford argues that confirmation bias was so strong among the Remain team and its supporters that they ignored obvious warnings (e.g, opinion polls) that the Leave campaign were moving into a winning position. This was compounded by betting markets that also favoured a Remain win. However, betting markets are driven by the amount of money wagered on a particular outcome which normally benefits from the wisdom of crowds. But as most of the establishment and the City were in favour of remaining in the EU did their financial clout overly influence the betting markets? This might explain why the betting markets got the result so wrong.

Strategy Lesson:

When people have an existing belief about your brand that is preventing you from persuading them to buy tell them something they already agree with. Then use cognitive dissonance to make them feel uncomfortable. Once you have established a feeling of cognitive dissonance introduce a solution or answer to their problem which eliminates the discomfort.

Be careful not to compromise too easily on issues that your customers perceive as important (e.g. reliability or quality) as this can destroy trust in your ability to deliver on your promises.

We are all prone to confirmation bias and so it is important to be open-minded about data that contradicts our own views about a brand or market. Ensure where possible decisions are based upon reliable data and not just your own gut instincts. Challenge data for potential bias or misinterpretation. This is especially important where different data sources produce conflicting results. Voice of Customer surveys for instance suffer from numerous flaws that can make them highly misleading if the data is taken at face value.

7. Post Brexit Regret:

Image of man with hands over face
Source: FreeImages.com

A survey of voters after the Brexit result found that up to 7% now regretted voting to leave the EU and would vote Remain if they were given another opportunity. Customer can feel regret when they don’t think they have made the best decision. In the case of Brexit some voters believe they were lied to because the Leave campaign reneged on a number of the promises they had made during the campaign.

What went wrong:

Both sides confused voters with misleading claims, and counter-claims. This may have reduced trust in politicians and could have put-off some undecided voters from going to the polling stations. If people find advice complex or difficult to understand this can often lead to procrastination or they will head for a competitor brand. The Leave campaign in particular made a number of very high profile promises that turned out to be inaccurate and undeliverable.

Strategy Lesson:

Ensure you are confident that you can deliver on any promises you make during a marketing campaign. Post-purchase dissatisfaction due to broken promises is likely to result in cancellations or returns and will destroy customer confidence and trust in your brand. As Dave Trott points out:

“The product creates the experience.

The experience creates the reputation.

The reputation creates the brand.”

Dave Trott, One Plus One Equals Three

Thank you for reading my post. I believe there are some important, but simple lessons to learn from the Brexit referendum result. The main lesson is to main sure you have a clear and compelling value proposition and that you understand the different needs of individual customer segments.

For more of our blogs visit conversion-uplift.co.uk/post/.