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Dec 20, 2019    Burn Book

How to Deal With Product Copycats Like a Boss


With every new and exciting product, there will be some unoriginal but savvy designer who will work tirelessly to reverse-engineer it to sell at a lower price. The only ways to really combat this are by making a product with a specialized material or substance, making something so technologically advanced that it can’t be replicated, or, by building a brand that just can’t be rivaled.

But how do you make this decision? How do you respond when someone obviously and deliberately copies your product, and you either don’t have a patent or the design falls outside your patent, what do you do? Do you bash them publicly and whine about it like a little kid? Or do you analyze what your competitor has done, and go back to the drawing-room to build a more resilient brand? While we would suggest going with the latter, the founder of shoe company Allbirds showed us how to handle copycats like a boss.

Flying Above the Copycats

Recently, Amazon developed a shoe that is strikingly similar to the Allbirds wool runner. And, at a heavily reduced price ($30 vs. $95). So what does Joey Zwillinger, CEO of Allbirds, do? He tells Amazon to steal his idea. In a letter addressed to Jeff Bezos, Zwillinger discusses the similarities shared between the shoes, in a completely amicable way.

Further on, he encourages Amazon to adopt Allbirds’ sustainability model with their environmentally friendly material. And if that wasn’t enough, Zwillinger even offers to put them in touch with the material’s distributor that they use. Not only did this make Allbirds look like the good guy, but they also got a chance to brag about their sustainability practices in a non-chauvinistic way. A win-win.

If you know anything about Allbirds, you know that they’ve enjoyed a quite successful run in the last few years – part of the reason Zwillinger was able to pretty much give away his product design. But what is it exactly that gave Allbirds the confidence to pull such a bold move?

A Brand That Can’t Be Replicated

We’ll be the first to tell you that Allbirds doesn’t have a perfect product. A shoe that is typically worn without socks – they get smelly. And, even though they claim to be machine-washable, we’ve seen people complain about pilling and fabric deconstruction. They are damn comfortable, but they’re not reinventing the wheel over there.

What Zwillinger and his collective at Allbirds do have, and can never give away, is an irreplaceable brand that resonates strongly with their broad audience. The way they got there? With a kickass branding agency that knows how to build something meaningful.

From their design elements to the message they radiate throughout their content, they put out a personality that people are incredibly comfortable with. So comfortable, that they are willing to pay $100 for a pair of shoes. What brands like Allbirds have also used to their advantage is the use of mascots like their sheep Peter – Just one of the many ways you can win over your customers.

Brands Aren’t Made of Concrete

At the end of the day, nothing is really set in stone. At Rock Candy Media, we’ve helped hundreds of startups and companies brand themselves into the kind of company that can’t be replicated. It’s a detailed process that takes into account everything we discuss in our blog series – The Burn Book.

So if you’re looking to turn things around and reinvent your brand into something people want to spend their money on, drop us a note.

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