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Why Inspiration Trumps Imitation

You can have too much of a good thing, especially if it wasn’t yours to start with. Here’s the perfect example – brands that shamelessly imitate the strategies of their major competitors. I was scouting the Westfield complex in Century City, LA last week and noticed a new Sony concept store a few feet from a classic Apple retail shrine. It was striking how similar both stores appeared, except for one crucial distinction – Sony was devoid of customers.

Years ago I remember watching a fascinating interview with Steve Jobs. He was comparing himself to Microsoft and Bill Gates, explaining that their mission at Apple was to take as much as they could from art, music, history, science and technology – in his words ‘the best things that humans have done’ – and cram it into their products. That’s why, he said while people use Microsoft products, they love the ones that Apple makes. The difference was passion.

Apple’s retail strategy is also no stranger to appropriation. Next time you are in front of one of their stores, stop for a minute and squint your eyes so that the laptops and screens disappear and all you can see are abstract shapes, materials and lighting. Anything look familiar? When they designed their stores, Apple took direct inspiration from the world of luxury boutiques with their expensive construction materials, theatrical street presence and sparse merchandising, They ruthlessly imitated, but importantly – it was not from the playbooks of their immediate competition.

There are some limited scenarios when direct imitation works as a disruptive strategy.

When you steal something, you don’t just take it – you make it your own.

Mike Walsh is the author of the bestselling book Futuretainment and CEO of the innovation lab Tomorrow. Find out more at www.mike-walsh.com

 

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