*This is a guest post by Deron Hogans.

Consumer technology is making major leaps and bounds and has done so for the past ten to fifteen years. Smart phones, tablets, and hybrids are making an impact on a category once dominated by personal computers and laptops.

One brand stands out as an icon and leader amongst the rest with a seemingly endless flow of innovation in production, advertising and marketing, and that brand is Apple.

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and a brief visit to Houston’s Galleria may have proven this to be true. As a friend and I strolled through the mall, we came across a bustling tech store filled with people.

We walked in to find wooden counters with personal computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones and hybrids on display. Customers stopped by the products to test them out, play around with a few applications and ask the helpful staff questions. Walls were absent in this space whose open architecture allows customers to see from the mall into the store and from one side of the shop to another.

The design, the atmosphere and the ambiance put my friend and me both in the mind of the well-branded Apple retail shops. A closer look at the products and shop logo would reveal, we were actually inside one of Microsoft’s recently re-branded locations.

The store even revealed a variation of the popular Genius Bar, where “experts” shared their knowledge about Microsoft products and services.

Now, this post doesn’t go to say that Microsoft has invested in a total revamp of its retail locations with Apple stores as a blueprint, but one cannot deny the presence of the retail brand elements that Apple stores have possessed since their own redesign.

Brand imitation is an intangible attribute that we may not seriously consider in most cases but can provide evidence of a brand’s awareness and proliferation into a given culture.

Old Spice’s “Man Your Man Could Be” campaign has not only spawned plenty of spoofs and remakes, but it’s quirky nature has become a new standard in the industry as virality continues to become a highly valued brand attribute. Brands like Dos Equis have taken notice with its “Most Interesting Man in the World” executions, which have translated into double digit sales growth and brand leadership in its category.

Branding professionals should be mindful of the brand imitation factor when trying to isolate and identify brand qualities that can reach across cultural barriers. The integration of these qualities into a brand’s design and narrative can truly be the catalyst for transcending from a known brand to an iconic one.

Deron Hogans is a graduating student from Georgetown University’s school of Communication, Culture, and Technology currently working in New York for the global marketing consultancy, EffectiveBrands. His expertise includes brand management, positioning, and strategy development as well as corporate communications. He can be reached via e-mail at deron.dmv@gmail.com and various social networks.

Twitter: @DeronHogansJr