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don't copy content marketing strategiesMarketers and PR pros gain substantial advantages by snooping on competitors and gathering competitive intelligence through social media monitoring and measurement and other tactics. Insight into of competitors’ strengths and weaknesses can highlight where your company can carve out a niche and thrive. Studying competitors’ websites, blogs and social media activities can provide insights into their content marketing strategy.

Copying or otherwise closely following a competitor’s PR or content marketing strategy may seem tempting. Some marketers and PR content creators may reason that since a leading competitor published a blog post on a certain topic they should also publish a post on the same topic, perhaps with almost the same title. Some companies may copy or closely replicate competitors’ promotions, website design and marketing copy. They reason that the company’s content marketing must be effective because the company is profitable.

How to Hurt Your Content Marketing

Yet some experts warn that copying competitors’ content marketing strategy can be harmful. They provide these reasons:

They make bad decisions. Even if the competitor’s business is successful, their PR and marketing staff may be making poor content decisions. They may be throwing up posts randomly without a coherent plan. They may follow the opinion of an executive who lacks a background in marketing or PR.  They may be copying other competitors, causing a cycle of content replication.

You don’t know what works for them. Determining what’s effective for a competitor can be difficult or nearly impossible. It’s not possible to identify the effective elements of their content marketing simply by viewing their blog posts and social media feeds. Some posts or website pages may lead to conversions and boost their ROI; others might not.

You lack their resources. Their content marketing strategy may appear straightforward on first glance, but your organization may lack the manpower, proper software tools and money to reproduce it.  A large company can finance an in-house content marketing team in addition to outside agencies or consultants. Few small businesses can underwrite such expenses.

“I once had a client who wanted to copy a competitor’s website design, only to find out that it would cost in the vicinity of 13 times their original budget to pull it off. I don’t need to tell you what happened to the “copying” idea,” writes Vikas Agrawal, investor and co-founder of the Infographic design agency, for Social Media Today

Your audience may differ from theirs. Even if you’re ostensibly in the same niche, your audience may prefer different types of content. They may prefer short blog posts or audio or visual content.

“Based on the fact that you both have unique selling propositions (USPs), your buyer personas are likely to be different,” writes marketing copywriter and content strategist Iniobong Eyo for Jeff Bullas. “Chances are, their audience will not react to or read your landing page copy, blog posts, or product descriptions in the same way that your audience will.”

The fact is that most big companies don’t do content marketing very well. They are accustomed to using the brute force of advertising and sales reps to generate leads and sales. Content marketing is not brute force. Therefore, the big guys often leave an opening for smaller competitors to succeed with an aggressive content marketing program based on the principles of guerrilla marketing.

Alternatives to Imitating

Instead following a competitor’s example, experts recommend these steps:

Hire top-notch personnel. Hire the best staff possible and treat them well to keep them on board, Evo recommends. Sometimes competitors gain an edge not because of their tools and software but because they have a better team. Treating your team well prevents competitors from stealing top employees.

Complete a competitive analysis. A competitive analysis is not done so you can mimic a competitor’s tactics directly. It’s done to help you understand:

What they’re doing

How they’re doing it

Why they’re doing it

Where they’re doing it

When they’re doing it.

Develop a content marketing plan. A comprehensive content marketing plan defines your goals, describes your target audience, outlines plans for content production and promotion, and lists metrics to track performance.

Talk with customers. Find out exactly what troubles your customers and what type of information and solutions they seek. Customers’ needs guide a successful content marketing program.

Identify the articles that rank best for the topics you want to cover. Use Google search and Google News to see which articles rank highest in organic search results for the subject. Since Google tends to rank in-depth articles higher, develop a better article – more comprehensive and more helpful that includes quotes from and references to leading influencers on the subject. It’s important that your article include some original insights.

Write well – like a journalist. The principles of good journalism apply to content marketing. Tell good stories; include emotion. Even if your writer is terrific, use an editor who can add some flair and originality.

Apply SEO.  Apply the principles of search engine optimization to every content marketing article – especially use of key words in URLs, headlines and interspersed throughout the subheads and body copy.

Measurement. Measure and analyze content through social media measurement and other tools to determine if your content marketing is driving conversions or sales or meeting other goals. “Track and report the progress and performance of your content to identify weaknesses, so you can adjust all future content creation,” advises Katie Boyles at Axia Public Relations. “Compare the overall results to your documented content strategy goals.”

Bottom Line: While competitive intelligence provides insights into competitors’ strategies, copying their PR and content marketing will probably be futile, experts warn. Developing your own strategy to meet the needs of your own business will be more effective.