How to imitate (legally) a successful product or idea

Stainless steel sculpture Begynnelse (Beginnin...
Stainless steel sculpture Begynnelse (Beginning) in Eslöv, Sweden, by Alexius Huber (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imitation is stigmatised, derided and virtually blasphemous in society and business. But why are more businesses doing it rather than pioneering or innovating completely new products and services?

Simple really. Imitators can come into the market with less research and development spend, avoid the pitfalls of the innovator, produce at a lower cost, reduce risk and quickly capture market share in the wake of the trailblazer who can’t cover all bases.

All this may sound easy for the imitator but it’s not. The imitator still has to carefully research a product or service and find out how to make it cheaper or strip out the best parts and produce a knocked-down version. They may have to be very clever at differentiating their offering.

How can small businesses, start-ups and even sideline solo business entrepreneurs use imitation to their advantage?

First up, take a look-see what others have been doing or are doing presently in the area where you want to use your skills, experience and market know-how. Expand your thinking. See a world of product and service imitation that you perhaps have not been aware of or even dared to see before.

Next, observe what segments in the market are more prone to imitation. Check whether you can identify a niche market. Take this example, a very simple one of pepper grinders. Look at the supermarket shelves and you will find a cheap one that does the job. If you go to a kitchenware store in a shopping centre, you’ll find one made from special Perspex but that costs more than the one in the supermarket. In a high-income shopping centre, a speciality kitchenware store will sell top-of-the-range pepper grinders. This model could be made from oak wood and features specials stainless steel parts.

In a lousy, spiralling economy which pepper grinder do you think will sell?

It depends. Perhaps none of these. The imitator will come up with one that still looks good and is functional but is soft on the consumer’s pocket. It may have an elegant design with trendy stainless steel top and bottom.

How can you go about doing it?

  • Check whether there is customer demand by talking to prospective customers about their needs and how your plan product or service can serve their needs.
  • Look at what’s already selling well and get a feel for future market potential.
  • Generate ideas for a product or service that you can make cost efficiently and will sell for less and give better value and performance. Give your product or service a new twist that is exciting and different.
  • Very carefully check potential infringements of copyright, licences or patents.

You may not come up with something right off but give it a try. Smart imitators or innovators, businesses that imitate and innovate – can reap big rewards.

If you are one of the very few people who are able to master coming up with new business ideas, market testing them and introducing them on their own, you may be satisfied with long periods of trial and error. Most people, however, have found that it pays to get expert guidance from an experienced business person who has worked in the area of product development and start-up businesses. If you want this confidential and cost-effective advice, take a look-see here.

 

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