Last month, The New York Times's Mark Scott wrote a piece about copycat startups. His thesis was that in emerging markets, a new idea is never really new. Instead, it's usually a copy of an idea that's already come to fruition. As an example, he cites Easy Taxi, company that's supposed to be Uber for Nigeria.

Reading the article got me thinking about innovation versus copycats in various marketplaces. Whether it's food, aviation, retail, or media, our options are nearly endless. To stand out, you have to be doing something pretty innovative and different--not just in terms of company mission and scope, but how you grow a following and maintain engagement.

In crowded markets, that's much harder than it appears. So it will help to take a cue from companies that are putting people first to engage audiences, create memorable experiences, and build a successful business in the process.

Quality Over Quantity

In the past, most businesses prioritized quantity. Ford's Model T was the first affordable and mass-produced automobile to hit the market. Production was about getting as many cars off the line as possible in the shortest amount of time. But the lack of innovation ultimately forced production to stop. Sure, there was some focus on quality, but as it related to sustainable growth, it was quantity that mattered.

In a crowded marketplace, placing an emphasis on quality and a superior customer experience generates more business over time. As the Ford Model T fell out of favor, other brands like Cadillac and Rolls-Royce were able to create market niches based on their quality. Extraordinary experiences and products make for happy customers--ones that keep coming back for more and who are likely to send new customers your way.

In order to prioritize quality over quantity, you have to think of your business differently. Many companies now look at more 'quality-driven' metrics. Social media sharing site Upworthy is one example, and it's rising fast in a marketplace crowded with players like Tumblr, StumbleUpon and BuzzFeed.

Last month, Issie Lapowsky wrote on about Upworthy's new way to measure success. Upworthy, the "steady stream of the most irresistibly shareable stuff you can click on without feeling bad about yourself afterwards," decided to prioritize quality over quantity. Instead of focusing on unique visitors or page views, it's measuring success based on user engagement, what it calls "attention minutes."

The company essentially wanst to know how good of a job it's doing at keeping your attention. In other words, how high is the quality of its content? While it may not top all other social media sites in page views, if the content being shared is high-quality, users will keep sharing and ultimately the bottom line will grow. Indeed, Upworthy was recently called the "fastest growing media company in history."

Human Companies Win

I've written before about why it's so important to be a human company. Showing personality, treating customers like family, and emphasizing human values will help your company stand out from the crowd and in turn generate more business.

The concept is pretty simple on the surface, and it's crucial in a crowded marketplace. As a businessperson, it's easy to get into "business mode" when you're at work and be more human outside of work. It's really important that those two things aren't mutually exclusive. Why? Because people connect with humanity. Developing a relationship with your customers is quite meaningful and can pay off through customer loyalty.

Domino's Pizza and Delta Airlines are two great examples of human companies that are standing out in two very crowded marketplaces. Several years ago, Domino's ran an ad campaign admitting its pizza just wasn't that good, showing real employees working hard to take customer complaints and reinvent the product. The campaign was real, brutally honest, and spoke to customers who saw the company as human--one that made a few mistakes and was stopping everything to fix them. Did it work? You bet. After the campaign ran, Domino's reported its fourth quarter profits were more than double the year before.

The airline industry is one we all love to hate, but Delta has humanized what used to be an old and traditional company. In the last year, it has experienced record growth not only for the company, but for the entire airline industry. From the humorous safety videos that play before every flight to the pilot who greets you eye-to-eye with a "thank you" when you get off the plane, a host of little touches have transformed Delta. Just last month, Delta was named one of Fortune's Top 50 Most Admired Companies and the most admired airline overall. Hardly a coincidence.

Passion Powers Profits

Whether you're a person pursuing a career or a business pursuing a vision, it's important to believe in what you're doing. When you believe in your pursuit, your passion shines through. In turn, when you focus on your passion, things can happen in business that are magical.

Take TOMS shoes as an example. TOMS says it's "in business to help improve lives. We identify a global need and create products to help address [it]." As such, the company gives away one pair of shoes to a needy child for every pair sold. It's also doubling the cost of goods sold, which makes no sense if financial profit is your only focus. The reason it makes sense for TOMS is that in following its passion, it's also creating emotional profit, which can be much more valuable in the long term.

In 2013, TOMS gave away its 10 millionth pair of shoes. That means it sold 10 million pairs, as well. For a company that started in 2006 and has no advertising budget, that's pretty remarkable. It's the passion behind the project that has helped TOMS stand out.

Punch Your Ticket to Success

How can you punch your ticket to a successful business journey through this crowded marketplace? Be innovative, be human, focus on quality, and let your passion shine. If you help your business do those things, you'll find yourself among the likes of Upworthy, Domino's, Delta, and TOMS--standing out for all the right reasons.