When companies are big and growing, everybody copies everybody. Products from different brands become similar.
Copy and growth
They all fight for the same consumer. If they want to be big, they cannot have the luxury to target only a small segment of the population.
In all markets, there is an increasing concentration. There are fewer and bigger brands.
If a company makes a new move and it works, all the others copy it. There is no time for research. They cannot make significant modifications to the model. They copy what works and make small changes to the weakest points.
They all try to lure the same people. Only the segments that represent the majority are interesting. They ignore the rest. If they do not move fast, they will lose market share, and they will have a competitive disadvantage.
Companies fight, consumer wins
Copying stimulates competition. That facilitates new products that solve more difficult problems. Lower prices let more people have access to expensive technologies.
The leader must find new ideas. The competitors will try to commoditize their product. The company that leads the market must always be vigilant. It is a constant fight for the market share.
The leader needs a lot of time, effort, and money to make a discovery. The copy-cats can go to the solution in a single step. Without all that costs, they can offer a similar product at a lower price.
The consumer wins because he gets new inventions from the leader and lower prices from the rest.
For instance, when the iPhone comes up with a new feature, you know that Android will copy it. It will be their version, only a bit different. The consumer has some benefit from that. He will have a better product with the best of all brands.
First copy, then innovate
To copy is a good way to learn. They get information about the product, the market, and the consumer. They get easy money too. Some stay there. Others go one step ahead and innovate later.
When the first iPhone came out, Samsung made a phone that was a clone. Even the icons had the same colors, shapes, and design. That let them have a fast reaction. The iPhone was too revolutionary to make an adapted version. With that strategy, they did not lose market share. That gave them time for the next move. Each new version had a bit more personality. They could even bring something new.
In the 80s, the Japanese and their cameras were common in Europe and the USA. They copied and made cheaper versions of a lot of products. Motorbikes, cars, cameras, consumer electronic devices are only some examples. Some years later, they were able to make better products than the originals. Legendary brands of the western world disappeared. In the case of motorbikes and cameras, the whole sector crumbled.
Even Google had to learn and apply what they saw in Apple. The first Androids had a lot in common to the iPhone. Later, they introduced innovations that were significant. Now it seems they all follow each other.
Big firms need to manufacture in China. When volumes are relevant, China offers lower costs. Companies need comparable prices if they want to grow.
Everybody makes the product in the same place, so they all become similar.
The company still has the design and the technology to give personality to what they do. But they have to send it thousands of miles away amb "teach" a lot of people how to apply and develop it. First, the Chinese learn how to manufacture the product. Later, they improve the design and the technology too. It is just a matter of time before they make their version. Meanwhile, during that process, there are a lot of leaks. Other western companies can quickly know all the details.
If you want to grow, you need to go to China. If you go there, they will copy the physical characteristics immediately. Marketing, design, and technology come only a bit later.
Innovation only in one direction
As I said, competition makes all the companies progress. The problem is that they advance in the same direction.
When growing is a priority, and there is a tight competition, creative routes are too risky. It is easy to make something that someone else tested. Copy and catch up.
The need to grow distorts the system. The system forces companies to seek growth. Then, they must copy to keep growing. In the end, we all have too many products that are similar and boring.
Society needs more small companies that focus on small segments. Prioritize the difference.
This is part of a series of posts dedicated to small firms and innovation. You can read each piece independently: