How To Effectively Swipe Great Ideas From Your Heroes


If you want to be successful at something, find someone who has been successful at it – and do what they did.

Right?marketing ideas

Well, not really… but sort of.

The problem with that statement is that it’s just way too general.

Sure, you should study the successful people in your field. But if you copy their moves step by step, I’m here to tell you that the odds of you reaching their level of success with those same moves is slim to none.

You’re Doing It Wrong!

Sounds like my wife snuck in here. Ha! Trust me… I’ll pay for that later.

But back to the point at hand.

The reason that old adage is flawed logic lies in the fact that we’re all unique, different people. We all have different personalities, skills, talents, and backgrounds. Therefore, the exact moves of your idols won’t necessarily work the same way for you.

And that is where most people get it wrong. Just mimicking people you look up to may improve your game a tiny bit, but it won’t make you as successful as they are.

The Right Way To Copy

There is a right way to take a page from someone else’s playbook, but you have to zoom out a bit to see it from the right perspective. The trick is that you want to copy their strategies, thought processes and attitudes – not their exact moves. By copying the exact moves, you’re missing the valuable stuff – the strategies behind the moves.

For instance, Apple packages iPhones in glossy white boxes. They also happen to sell a ton of them. Does this mean that in order to achieve the same level of sales, Motorola should switch to the same glossy white packaging? Of course not. Switching the box to look like the Apple box probably wouldn’t make much of a difference.

In reality, Apple likely chose glossy white boxes for several reasons. If I had to guess, I’d say they picked it because they understand their demographic, they understand their positioning in their market, and they knew that this type of packaging would resonate with their very specific customer base.

Take a moment to imagine what consumers would think if Motorola product suddenly appeared on retail shelves in Apple knock-off boxes. They’d instantly become known as that company who copies Apple. I’m sure that’s not the image they’re shooting for.

But if instead of copying Apple’s exact move of using glossy white boxes, what if Motorola employed the same strategy of implementing packaging that would appeal more to their own very specific demographic? They would be much more likely to have some success copying the strategy – not the exact move.

Therein lies the whole point. You absolutely can (and should) swipe some best practices from the people you admire. Just do it the smart way by paying attention to the overall strategy – not each individual move.

Back-Up From A Branding Big Shot

Some time ago, I listened to an interview of John Morgan on BlogcastFM. John is a respected branding expert and is the author of Brand Against The Machine. I’ve since re-listened to it several times because it is so full of great sales and branding advice.

In the interview, John provides a great explanation of this exact concept of copying strategies instead of copying steps. Listen to it. You’ll leave with a plethora of other brilliant sales and branding ideas.

How To Tell Strategies From Moves

If you look closely, you’ll  quickly develop an eye for telling the difference between strategies from moves. Think of strategies as the forest –and the specific moves as the trees. Looking at moves is a narrow view while looking at strategies is a very wide view.

  • Moves involve a lot of detail. Specific people, companies, colors, etc. should tip you off that you’re probably looking at a move – not an overall strategy.
  • Strategies are often the answer to the question, “Why?” Like in our Apple example. “Why does Apple use glossy white boxes?” The answer to that is a strategy – not a move.

The next time you’re studying someone you look up to, ask yourself why they do the things they do. The answer will likely be the strategy behind what they did. Then employ that winning strategy using your own personal moves.

What Do You Think?
In the comments, tell us about your experiences about using someone else’s moves or strategies.



About Gary Korisko

Gary is a battle-tested sales and marketing pro, copywriter, coach, and business strategist who teaches how to create worthwhile work on Reboot Authentic. Connect with Gary on Google+ and Twitter.

19 Replies

  1. Gary, brilliant example with Apple! It amazes me how big companies try to copy the exact moves, not the strategies. For example many PC brands try to copy iMac and eventually computers look almost the same. Makes me wonder why someone doesn’t come up with, say, a different colors. Oh well Apple has done it, too.

    Personally I have found useful to apply what Thomas Edison said: ”Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Now I’m not trying to invent anything new, I find that useful in daily life. Every time I face a difficulty I think of Thomas Edison and try at least one more time.

    1. Hi Ava! I like the Franklin quote. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Thank you, Gary. More branding experts need to stress strategy before tactics. You provide a great example of this with Apple. When competitors try to copy Apple, it ends up helping Apple more the competitor.

    I used a similar example when I wrote about how much Coca-cola’s secret formula is worth, suggesting that Coke recipe is invaluable to Coca-cola, but the recipe would not even be worth stealing for a competitor because most of the value of Coke is wrapped up in its brand experience, not its ingredients. It is funny how people resist that idea. I suppose it is much easier and works well enough to copy what works for others. But when it comes to branding, unique is not just the best way, it is the only way.

    Another memorable example, from the book, Different, is about how Jagermeister became ubiquitous by billing itself as the worst-tasting liquor available, and partnered with the worst-tasting energy drink ever, Red Bull, to make Jager-bulls a rite of passage in bars nationwide.

    1. Hey Aaron!

      I like that Coke example. And it drives the point home again: Winning principles (and strategies) are often able to be replicated – but stolen moves are too personal and individualized.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Gary, thanks for explaining the difference between copying a strategy and just mimicking someone else completely. This makes a lot of sense and helps me look more critically at people who are successful.

    1. Thank you, Bobbi. I’m glad you found the post useful.

  4. The way I conceptualize the idea you communicate in this post – success is frikken complicated.

    You already mention that we’re all different. But I’d take it a step further – success is about stacking the odds, making the gamble more about chance than luck. But because the fundamental nature of business is probability, and not deterministic, the reasons why we succeed are often opaque. Without studying strategy, you’re leaving things murky, hoping more than planning.

    1. Interesting angle on that, Amit. I think for sure there is a place for both planning and hoping along the way. (Not to mention execution)

  5. thepassiondiva

    Excellent, I was teaching this in my last class. The huge difference between strategies and tactics! exactly what you are saying here. Great job!

    1. Hopefully this is one of those “great minds think alike” moments. Otherwise, maybe we should both worry a bit. 🙂

      I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  6. This makes me think of the quote by the Jazz musician, Miles Davis: “First you imitate, then you innovate.”

    Copying or imitating is often the quickest way to learn how to do something new; children are a great example of this. But you make a great point by clarifying the difference between the theory or principles behind a system, and the actual application of those principles. And I agree that it is an important distinction.

    Thanks, Gary!

    1. It’s true. Imitation can get you started… but it can’t get you to mastery (like Miles). I’m glad you enjoyed it, Kimberly – and thanks for jumping into the conversation.

  7. There is an awful lot of mimicry in the internet space, that’s for sure. It seems to me that the conditions right now are ripe for someone to break something new and interesting wide open…

    1. Hey Mike. I agree that conditions are right… but then there have always been those who rise above. Names like Barr, Iny, Halpern, and a lot more have risen to the top over the last few years in some pretty heavily populated markets. And none of them got where they are by mirroring someone else. They all have their own ‘moves.’

  8. In Defense of Stealing – the name of one of the chapters of the best headline hacks books I’ve read, by Jon Morrow. Nice post!

    1. An excellent eBook! And one I refer to over and over again. While “stealing” may be kind of an ugly (but attention getting) word… Jon’s point is valid. His strategies work. Thanks very much for the comment Mike!

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