Are You Unsuccessfully Copying Other Marketers’ Successes?

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You’re probably inflicting a slow painful death on your business with well-intentioned marketing initiatives—and not even knowing you’re doing so.

The root cause of the problem is something called “replication-remorse,” and it’s similar to buyer’s remorse. Those shoppers are regretful of their purchases in the cold light of day.

As marketers, we suffer our own painful regret when we try and emulate the success of others by copying (“replicating”) what they did.

Most of us try to “replicate,” and most of us fail. Are you one of the addicted to replicating?

Early Symptoms: the No-Brainer Blueprint

I am an entrepreneur, and I have an email marketing tech startup. I’ve had success with past ventures (I’m “experienced”). I consider myself pretty analytical, and it’s my belief that success is somewhat formula-based.

Having recently launched what I consider a really useful product for entrepreneurs and small businesses, I realized if I could get it reviewed by some well-known websites I could pick up some good free PR.

Although I haven’t had big success with free PR in the past, I decided it couldn’t be that difficult. If I studied what others had done to get their reviews, I would be able to replicate their success with a bit of work. (I’ll call this the no-brainer blueprint.)

To begin creating my no brainer blueprint, I turned to Google search and found a great blog post by Jason L. Baptiste, who had achieved some awesome levels of PR-ness. Jason was an entrepreneur with an early-stage product, and he got reviewed by a top website.

I researched a few other sources and added their success tips to my bulletproof blueprint. Wow, this replication plan would not be easy, but it looked straightforward enough!

Though I saw no immediate results, I was not disheartened. “Stick to the blueprint” was my mantra; “more replication, more replication” was my war cry.

Little did I know that the early stages of replication remorse were taking root.

What was happening here?

I was being fooled by randomness. Maybe by reverse engineering the success of Jason, I could come up with a solid blueprint, but I was missing the random nature of it all.

Though Jason’s account of success is correct, my mistake was to ignore the countless other companies that failed using exactly the same formula.

Statistically, if 1,000 skilled entrepreneurs follow the Jason blueprint, only a fraction (say 10) will get the desired results. That is not because the 990 are poor in their execution, it’s just that the 10 are outliers and probability says that only this small percentage will succeed.

Unhealthy Habits: the Addiction Takes Hold

Day by day and week by week, I saw no results—but my resolve to replicate became stronger.

The lack of success seemed to fuel my expectations. I found myself continually returning to the fact that Jason had succeeded, and so should I. Interestingly, it even began to occur to me that maybe there was some randomness to Jason’s success… but that thought just fueled my addiction.

My belief was that if only 10 out of 1,000 entrepreneurs succeeded with this blueprint, I was in that 1%. So, I plowed on and became even more vested in my strategy for success.

Over time, I became more and more down on my blueprint. My remorse was now strong, but I was addicted to replicating, and so I continued to pour scarce resources into futile efforts.

What was happening here?

My mistake was not focusing on those that failed… I was being pulled by the sensational.

“Lottery winners overestimated their chances of winning because they visualize such a potent payoff—in fact, they are so blind to the odds that they treat odds of one in a thousand and one in a million almost the same way,” said statistician and essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

My choice to follow a blueprint that replicated a very random event created a very toxic expectation in my mind (one that had a 1% chance of success).

I also failed to recognize something very important: The 10 entrepreneurs who succeeded with their PR plan were far more inclined to share details of their success than the 990 who failed. That’s why I found Jason, and I didn’t find accounts from Tom, Dick, and Harry who had failed in their attempts even though they did everything Jason did.

Replication addiction could have been avoided by studying the losers, not the winners.

The End Is Nigh: Replication Remorse Goes Viral

The final nail in the coffin—and the one that can potentially have a catastrophic effect on your business—is when replication remorse spreads and starts sucking an inordinate percentage of your resources.

Depending on the severity, death can be instantaneous.

You would have expected me (now suffering from full-blown replication remorse about my PR activities) to call it a day with all those blueprints and talk of replication. It clearly wasn’t working for me.

No such luck.

Instead, I found myself burrowing into every other aspect of my business with replication zeal. If it didn’t work with PR then surely it would with my content marketing strategy and my user acquisition plans! (The list went on.) I jumped on my replication bike and pedaled like a madman.

The outcome was just more replication-remorse as I realized none of that worked. It was like buying a stock that went up 50% in the last 90 days and expecting it to go up another 50% in the next 90 days.

Too late! The ship has sailed… Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

What was happening here?

Believe it or not, I’m pretty good at this startup stuff, and I’ve had some success, which makes my behavior all the more interesting.

In a previous startup, I co-founded our success was underpinned by two important marketing strategies. One enabled us to corner the market for our product with the largest e-commerce partner on the Web without having to spend a penny in marketing; the other gave us a way replicate that success with countless other smaller partners.

The result: We could spin a story about our industry that resonated so well we became a sought-after acquisition target.

Neither of those approaches were the result of replicating the success of others. Instead they sprung out of mass experimentation of our own doing. In the end, we became the “replicate,” not the replicator. Replication-remorse was never a consideration.

The same can be seen in another business I co-founded. In this one, Dave, the young and very talented marketing guy, came up with a unique way to generate leads for our cloud-based phone system. Again, it was the result of trial and error, and abundant failure.

Had he just tried to replicate the traditional phone business model, we would have failed. The break out came from experimenting, and it resulted in something new. This company was also acquired, and it is now Vonage Small Business.

In both these examples, by the time others tried to recreate our story through a replication blueprint, it was too late; they would have failed. The replication-remorse was theirs.

So, how can you stop your replicating?

The Three Steps to Recovery

1. Experiment more

I’m not forbidding myself to look at history when looking for future success, but I realize that activities based on experimentation, not historical stories, are more likely to succeed.

2. Don’t become a story junkie

I was seduced by Jason’s story (and others), even though the odds were against my success because anecdotes exert a stronger draw than statistics.

3. Focus on failure

Because failures outnumber successes by an order of magnitude, I make an effort to root out why things do not work instead of how they succeeded. I think more empirically. Being empirical does not mean running a laboratory; it’s just a mind-set.

* * *

My conclusion is this: I often find myself creating an expectation (and plans) for success by taking what has succeeded elsewhere and replicating it as an unachievable blueprint for myself. It’s hard not to and almost innate.

If I look at what has succeeded for me, it has not come from mimicking the plans of others or replicating my own past successes. It has sprung out of mass experimentation and the creation of something new.

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