You know when you come across an idea, and at first you’re like “that’s way too simple to work.”
And the more you think about it, you’re like “yeah, that’s definitely too simple to work.”
And then you actually try it and you’re all “omg, that totally works!”
That’s exactly how I feel about the fast follow.
I first learned about the fast follow strategy in business class back at good ol’ Lehigh University. Fast follow is a startup strategy where you follow a business model that’s already been proven by a competitor.
It’s essentially the opposite of reinventing the wheel — it’s taking what has been shown to work and applying it to your own strategy.
And if you’ve been struggling to come up with content ideas lately, it’s exactly what you’re missing.
When we first learned about the fast follow in biz class, I didn’t really buy it.
It felt like cheating. I mean, it’s glorified copying of the company who went before yours. And even little kids know copying is for weenies.
It didn’t seem effective, either. You might see some success with the fast follow strategy, but surely you’d never do as well as the person who came up with the idea in the first place. Right?
Wrong…as I learned that semester in class and continue to learn now, as an entrepreneur.
Putting the Fast Follow to the Test
A big portion of our grade in my business class was determined by a semester-long project.
We worked with really cool simulation software to create our own startup tech companies. We had to plan out everything from what products to sell, how to manufacture them, where we would source the parts, our production and shipping systems, marketing, pricing — EVERYTHING.
The software not only had us competing against our classmates for market share, but we also had to deal with simulated world events, market crashes, and other real-world scenarios.
Needless to say, this project made me sweat more than a little bit. I was shaking in my sandy-colored Uggs.
And I got even more nervous during our first group meeting. Because the consensus was to pull a fast follow.
The Unexpected Results of the Fast Follow Strategy
While our classmates were tearing their hair out stressing about keyboard suppliers and shipping from China and tiered pricing strategies, we invested a minimal amount into a red herring basic computer — just to throw everyone off the scent that we were fast following.
And then we chilled out and watched what happened.
After Week 1, we broke down the most successful group’s strategy into its pieces. Then we created a nearly identical product, with just a couple tweaks thrown in.
And just like that…our group pulled into the lead.
Each week, we continued to watch our competitors and model what worked for them. Group 6 moved production to Mexico and their costs plummeted? We moved to Mexico. Group 8 took out a $500K ad on TV and saw sales double? So did we.
We literally put forward zero original ideas of our own. ZE-ro.
We just watched and followed. Watched and followed.
We actually thought it was kind of hilarious, because we were totally dominating the simulation…using everyone else’s ideas.
During the final presentations, we spilled the beans on our fast follow strategy. Some of our classmates got annoyed that we did so well with barely any effort, but hey. Classic case of #hateuscuztheyaintus.
I remember our teacher smiling at us from the back of the room, congratulating us on finishing with the largest market share…and on remembering that little strategy he dropped into one of our earlier lessons.
The main takeaway is this: Modeling what has been proven successful isn’t cheating — it’s good business…as long as you give it your own spin.
The same strategy can be applied in your biz to find proven, effective content topics that your ideal customers are just itching to learn about.
HOW TO USE THE FAST FOLLOW STRATEGY TO CREATE (WAY) BETTER CONTENT
When it comes to blog and social media content, please, please don’t feel like you need to create a completely unique snowflake every dang time.
Original content is awesome, but giving yourself a boost by throwing some fast following into the mix helps a ton.
The fast follow strategy is THE best way to model your marketing on content that has already proven itself to perform well.
Here’s a fast follow strategy that I absolutely can’t get enough of. I originally discovered this idea through the brilliant minds at Canva, (read the original post here.) And like the fast follow, it’s both simple + genius.
In a nutshell:
Go to buzzsumo.com and type in a competitor or industry leader’s blog url. Buzzsumo will pull the most shared blog posts over a period of time and rank them according to popularity.
These are proven topics that your audience will be interested in…so use ‘em! I don’t mean copy the blog posts themselves — I don’t recommend that at all. But you should create your own blog posts around these same topics.
To quote every American Idol judge ever, “make it your own, dawg.” (That one was Randy.)
Pull in your own expertise.
Dig deeper and expand on the topics that deserve more explanation.
Add your own spin and voice to the conversation.
The fast follow strategy is the smart marketer’s solution to reinventing the wheel.
There’s a huge opportunity to model yourself after what’s already working, and very few others are doing it effectively.
It’s much less work. It’s more fun. It will lead to much better results.
And it will leave you plenty of extra time to enjoy some victory beer pong at your frat party of choice.
join the convo
How do you feel about the fast follow strategy?
Does it make good business sense, or do you feel like it’s glorified copying?
What other strategies do you use to keep an eye on what’s working for others online?