I’ve been producing and sharing content for more than 20 years. The single biggest fear I encounter from executives, marketers and salespeople when I talk with them about embracing content as a central tenet of their marketing efforts is the fear that others (specifically competitors) will “steal their stuff.”
Whenever I hear these fears, I think of a story I was told many years ago by Dan Sullivan, CEO of The Strategic Coach. Dan has always been a proponent of packaging and sharing your ideas, and dealing with entrepreneurs, this fear was something he heard often.
So in full disclosure, I credit Dan for this story titled, “Mongolian Plumbing.”
In the latter half of World War 2, the Russians “recruited” Mongolians for the front lines (and by recruit I mean they forcibly removed from their homeland, put them on the frontlines and told them if they tried to retreat, they’d be shot). As a result, when the war ended and Germany fell, there were many Mongolians present.
At the time, Germany had one of the most advanced cultures in the world. An example of this was the “luxury” of indoor plumbing. As the typical looting took place following the war, the Mongols were understandably fascinated by the bathroom fixtures. With sinks, they’d twist a knob and water would start flowing. With toilets, they’d push a lever and it flushed. All very amazing for a society that didn’t even have reliable electricity.
So the Mongols ripped the fixtures out and tossed them into their trucks, knowing they would impress their villages when they returned home.
After they got home, their neighbors were very curious about what they had brought back. The Mongols confidently set up the fixtures in their huts, promising their friends they would soon be impressed.
After everything was set up and the neighbors were invited in, the conquering Mongols were ready to put on their show. They stepped to the sink, twisted the knob...and nothing happened. They pushed the lever and again, nothing happened. Needless to say the villagers were all disappointed.
So, what’s the moral of the story? Simply that you can steal the fixtures, but you can’t steal the plumbing.
The same is true when you publish new content and share your ideas. Yes, your competitors can steal the end product and try to pawn it off as something they created. However, they cannot steal the plumbing that led to your ability to create the content in the first place.
The truth is that I love it when competitors steal my stuff. It does two things for me. First, it confirms that we’re creating really powerful stuff. Second, and more importantly, if a competitor steals my stuff and starts trying to use it as theirs, then I’m forcing them to play my game; one that I know I’ll win far more often than I’ll lose.
Another benefit of sharing your content is that it actually makes it harder to steal ideas sustainably. For example, I’ve been posting on my blog for more than 10 years. Many of the things I said almost a decade ago have become “in vogue” today. Yet, no one can dispute the fact that I was seeing these issues before others were talking about it. If someone tries to steal it, and it strikes a chord with someone, it’s a good bet that the person interested will go online to learn more about the subject. And when that happens, it will quickly become apparent who the subject matter expert is.
So create your content and if competitors want to steal it, let them. You’ll be busy creating even better content and controlling the game.