How do you keep competitors from copying your product messaging so that your value prop stays differentiated?
What's the saying, "imitation is the best form of flattery"? It's impossible to prevent competitors from copying your messaging (and product to some extent even).
Instead of worrying about those that are copying you, I'd instead encourage you to focus on building the best product to best solve your customers' problems and in doing so ensure you're correctly articulating the value your product can deliver in the most effective way possible way.
Companies with best products AND brands are the ones that will be successful in the long-term, because they are defensible. Copy-cats won't survive because they typically cannot innovate. Focus on your customer, not them.
Great question! But I'm going to blow up your premise right away: You can't prevent others from copying you. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? So instead of telling you how to dam up the ocean, let me suggest how you can turn this dynamic to your advantage.
I have the privilege of working on a market-leading product, Apttus Contract Management. I find that my competitors do copy what I do and write, sometimes very quickly and explicitly.
This forced me to think harder about the value proposition I offer. My software is used by corporate law departments, and very generally, I am telling law department leaders that they gain "speed, visibility and control" of their contracts with Apttus software. That's very true, but not specifically unique to my product. So focusing on this isn't differentiating.
Instead, I've shifted more to talking about aspects of my solution competitors can't copy, and tied this back to the "speed, visibility, control" arguments at the end. (This shift is ongoing!)
One example is that I'm writing about "smart contracts", encompassing AI and blockchain. These capabilities are things my product can offer but my competitors can't, so if they want to follow our message here they will start to get in trouble---our excellent reps will kill them in head-to-head competition.
I am also bringing in customer stories more and more. Competitors can't copy my customer success stories because they are my customers!
I'm also doing more with vertical solutions this year, whereas in the past our messaging has been more persona or broad-based.
I also think that moving focus to outcomes generally---even better if it's a customer story---will set your message apart. Suppose you provide 37% faster data processing with your product. If a competitor copies that, they'd look foolish.
If all else fails and they are explicitly cut-and-pasting your text, then hide a landmine. Put in some zero-width language or white-on-white text that would get your competitor's marketer in trouble! For example, you write "call [your company's phone number] to learn more". They may not catch it and would put it on their own site!
So in conclusion:
1) You can't prevent copying, so don't worry about it. Take it as a compliment. :-)
2) Message about product directions/capabilities your competitor is not able to match (I admit this is easier when you're a market leader/larger company).
3) Put your customer stories first & let your customers relay your message.
4) Specialize your message more; vertical (industry) focused messaging is a good option
5) If they are literally copying your text, get their lazy marketer in trouble by putting landmines in your text.
I’d focus mainly on all the things you can do to stand out:
- Make your visual layout, pricing and customer experience unique to further differentiate your offering from competitors. The messaging is the wrapper for all of this but these pieces can really help you speak to your unique value prop.
- Talk to your customers that have used your competitors and find out where you are truly differentiated and then hammer that home in the messaging.
- Give customers a reason to try you versus the competition. Free trials, better customer service, whatever it takes to stand out.
If all else fails, or when they take it too far, I know legal action can be taken if a competitor is blatantly scraping your site and creating a replica.
This is an important question that points to the relationship between brand and product marketing in context of competitive strategy.
Short answer, I wouldn't optimize around the competition -- as there's not much you can do in this case to prevent them from copying your messaging. The thing though is that product messaging is easier to copy than a brand position that's validated by the market.
A classic example of this is Intercom vs. Drift. Intercom was certainly the first mover in the chatbot space, and they took a position that was super focused on use cases for the product (support, marketing, sales, etc.).
Drift took a different path and built their house on an entirely new category called Conversational Marketing. They created content, hosted events, and built other programs focused on serving their target buyer. As the community started validating Drift's market leadership, that became something that Intercom could never steal back.
This is one of my favorite challenges when you're developing brand positioning and you can apply to a singular product area, as well. You can't prevent them from copying messaging -- but you can establish that you are the only credible player to deliver that positioning. Credibility comes from all the core product (or platform) value.
This is better as a white board exercise, but imagine your brand positioning statement and your 3 reasons-to-believe (RTBs) underneath it. A competitor can copy one or even two of those RTBs, but the combination of all three should uniquely support your value prop. A good exercise is to look at your product offering today and for the next 12-18 months, and put all your features as supporting points under the RTBs. When the product actually delivers what marketing says it's going to deliver - voila, you have credibility.
To build uniqueness though, you need ot continuously come back to first principles and help your Product leadership think through a few options:
1) Consider your product's moat. What is unique about how you're solving your customer's problems but more importantly, what capabilities play off that uniqueness to create a virtuous cycle that reinforces your moat? Data is often an example here.
2) What segment of customers are you focusing on addressing? If the answer from your leadership team is too broad, you run the risk of trying to be everything to everyone... all at once. Yes TAM matters. But TAM doesn't take into account timing of when you go after each segment. Consider narrowing who you're targeting with both your Product and GTM strategy.
3) Be honest with your Product leaders. The trick here is that you have to believe that your platform or product will deliver on that positioning. This is where that PMM superpower of understanding the nuances of the product are almost as critical as understanding the customer.
If you are taking advantage of the power of consistency and repetition, you need not worry if your competitor copies your product messaging. Since your target audience will associate your company with anyone making the claims you own through extensive use, copycat competitors contribute to your awareness. Plus by sticking with the product messaging, it won't be long before the copycat competitor changes its product messaging.