Should B2B Content Marketers Imitate, Emulate, or Originate?

July 3, 2024

Social media is full of posts imploring you to copy someone else’s approach.

They range from examples of successful marketing campaigns to methods for creating and managing content to swipe files of material to repurpose.

On the face of it, this seems like a treasure trove for the time-strapped marketer, especially one working at a smaller business with limited resources.

But does it make sense?

Will imitating your competitors’ marketing let you succeed in the same market?

Will emulating other successful marketing campaigns work for your company?

In this post, we discuss the pros and cons of each approach, as well as the harder option: producing your own, original material.

Spoiler alert: Originality isn’t always the winner…


Imitation: The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” (Oscar Wilde)

Look around your market sector and you’ll see one or two standout performers attracting most of the attention and capturing a dominant share of the business.

Most established sectors end up like this, with a small number of players each laying claim to 20-30% of the market, followed by a tail of smaller participants.

Armed with large budgets and flush with success, the big players are usually running lots of marketing campaigns.

Sometimes they’re also at the cutting edge of innovation and technology—but not always.

Look harder, and you’ll often find small, innovative players disrupting the status quo, eating into the established companies’ market share.

Those companies don’t have the same budgets or muscle to throw at marketing, so they’re forced to play smarter rather than harder.

Which would you choose to imitate—the popular narrative coming from the big boys, or the upstart approach coming from the challenger?

There are pros and cons to each.

Hitching your wagon to the freight train of popular narrative can help you achieve acceptance—buyers understand you are like the big boys—but makes it hard to achieve differentiation—why buy fromyou if I can buy from a better-known brand?

Conversely, running a counter-narrative campaign, where you tell a different story from the big boys, can help you achieve differentiation, but makes it harder to achieve acceptance because the buyer isn’t surehow to process your message.

Imitating a recognized brand creates instant familiarity but pushes you into a head-to-head battle with a much larger foe.

Imitating a renegade brand creates buyer uncertainty but opens the door to a less-crowded part of the market landscape.


Emulation: Do As I Do

Emulation is about reproducing the way things are done, rather than straight-up copying the outputs.

This requires more effort and skill than imitation, because you must understand how and why things work before you can put them into practice.

Why did your competitor take a particular approach when designing their ads?

How does your competitor decide which aspects of the buyer’s challenge to emphasize?

What drove your competitor to favor one social media channel over another?

Speaking of social media, it’s wise to take most hucksters’ magic formulae with a grain of salt.

If their method were as amazingly successful as they claim, why wouldn’t everyone be using it? Naturally, if everyone did, it probably wouldn’t work anymore because any advantage would be lost.

Consider what’s on offer and ask yourself whether it’s a genuine attempt to share a method that has been developed and broadly tested, or just a lot of hot air, big claims, and flashy graphics without solid foundations.

The big pro when emulating others’ methods is that you might be able to avoid time-consuming and costly failed experiments.

The big con is that you might discover their method doesn’t translate to your situation, so it will be a failure anyway.

To emulate a marketing approach that you find compelling, first seek to understand why it has been chosen, then how it was conceived, and finally, how it was implemented.

This is a lightweight version of the process you would follow to develop original marketing material, more on which in a moment.

If you aren’t clear why it was chosen ahead of other possible approaches, how can you be sure it’s the right fit for your organization?

If you aren’t sure how it was conceived—the logic behind the design—how can you be sure it’s appropriate for your target audience?

And if you aren’t sure how it was implemented, you’ll be unable to create something similar.

Does that sound like a lot of work?

If you’re targeting the same audience with a similar product that addresses a similar need, you might reasonably assume that the same approach will work for your business.

But if any of those factors are different—even subtly so—the logic fails.

In other words, emulate with caution and only when you’re sure that the rationale behind the approach is applicable to your situation.


Creating original content is likely to be most effective but requires hard work and investment

Origination: A Fresh Perspective

Which leaves us with the highest mountain to climb—generating your own, original strategy and content.

As proponents for B2B content marketing strategies, we’re inevitably drawn to this pathway.

If you want your marketing to be successful, design it from the ground up.

However, we understand that early-stage businesses face acute resource challenges and can’t always afford to invest much in marketing research and concept development.

As with most thorny business challenges, there’s no easy answer.

Doing the homework, laying the foundations, and building your strategy from the ground up is hard and time consuming. But it’s the only way to guarantee the strategy fits your business situation.

Limited resources will mean it takes longer to implement the strategy and see it bear fruit.

Too few resources and it won’t get off the ground at all. There is a minimum “pay to play” if you want to get noticed by humans and algorithms.

So, look before you leap.

Only embark on a strategic marketing initiative if you have enough budget and human bandwidth to commit fully to the process and to seeing it through.



As children, we learn by imitating and emulating.

Then, as we get older, we’re taught that copying is cheating. You’re supposed to come up with your own answers.

When it comes to marketing, copying other companies’ work seems simultaneously obvious and nefarious.

Why not create your own version of something that’s worked well for another company?

Is skipping all the hard work really such a crime?

As we’ve discussed, imitation has its pros and cons—generally a trade-off between acceptance and differentiation.

Emulation requires understanding why the approach was selected and how it was designed and implemented. Without that knowledge, it’s difficult to say whether an approach will work as well in your business situation.

And creating original content, while the optimum solution in an unconstrained world, requires investing considerable time and money.

Consider moving from one strategy to the next as your business grows and becomes able to direct greater resources to the cause.

Imitation is the easiest way to get started but its effectiveness may be limited.

Emulation is somewhat more demanding but should lead to more impactful work.

And finally, once you can afford the investment, laying the groundwork and creating original content is where real B2B content marketing success can be found.


Image credit: Adobe Stock

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