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4 Signs That You Need To Design Your Own Category

You’ve heard about category design; you can name a few world-known brands who have done it; you might have even read (or at least have heard of) the book ‘Playing Bigger” where this term was coined, but while you understand what it is and what the benefits of building your own category are you can’t help but wonder if this is the right strategy for your startup.

We get that question a lot, and quite frankly, our answer is almost always ‘yes’. Sure there are drawbacks, and it certainly doesn’t suit any business at any stage, but for many tech startups, especially in the B2B space (though not only), category design is one of the most important ingredients to fuel/enhance their chances of success.

Take a look at the below scenarios; if one or more of them sounds too familiar, then category design might just be what the marketing doctor prescribes for your business.

  1. You find it extremely hard to briefly explain the very essence of what it is that you are doing; in a way people get it. You try to keep it short and sweet, but it usually ends up as one of three scenarios:

    Scenario A
    People think they got it but they’re linking it with some other solutions they know or heard of and say: “oh I get it, so you’re like X but better / smarter / quicker…” and that frustrates you because you know that’s not the case (see point #2)

    Scenario B
    People didn’t get it yet, but they are intrigued, and so they start asking questions which leads you to more elaborated explanations at which point some people lose interest, some get confused, some fall back into scenario A (cause they think they got it) and some (very few) get it. An exhausting scenario for both sides with extremely low “conversion rates”.

    Scenario C
    People don’t get it. They might nod or smile or none of the above, but both you and they understand that that pitch wasn’t a success. It might be that they feel the idea is  too far fetch, or they don’t see the value in; it might be that they can’t relate to the problem you’re describing or that they simply feel there are enough solutions in that space… there are so many reasons as to why they didn’t get it (or get it wrong like in scenarios A and B), but the underlying reason of their misunderstanding sits with your mis-explaining. Good explanations start broad and become leaner, and a well-defined category is your broadest way to start talking about your product/solution/idea.
  2. You are constantly being compared with companies and brands whom you don’t consider to be your competitors. While you might be sharing some similar or even identical features / benefits, the overall problem you’re solving (or aiming to solve) is completely different / much bigger / more accurate / more wholistic / else. They are doing X; you’re not doing X+. You’re doing Z or any other letter, but not X.

    So, you’re in a constant effort to explain (to investors / partners / potential buyers / the world) that you’re not just doing something better than that other thing they already know; you’re doing something completely different which they haven’t even heard of before. In other words, you’re not renovating; you’re truly innovating.
  3. You find no or very few competitors in your playfield and can’t find any major brand that dominate this space, OR there’s a big and established leader in a category you think you’re part of, but you still feel like your solution is differently better. Both situations are both a calling for building a category and an opportunity to dominate it.
    In the first scenario, you have to create the category as it’s non-existent and by building it you’ll naturally lead it.
    In the second scenario you must create your own category as compering yourself with its leader by saying you’re so much better will only enforce their category and establish their leadership instead of helping yours (it’s just our human nature; we gravitate towards the category leader).

    Put it this way, if the infamous phrase of “we’re like the Uber of X” (X being your field / industry) is frequently used in your pitches, it might be a sign that you need to become the one to compare with (to build a category and rule it).
  4. Your solution is addressing a problem that people are not aware of or don’t think can be solved. It may sound like you’re creating a problem, but as innovators, it’s our job to come up with solution to not only the most burning and obvious problems but also the underlying ones that are often hidden or unattended. Henry Ford said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”, understanding that people (and the businesses in which they operate) cannot specifically articulate the real problem they want to be solved (as they’re too hung up on improving the existing solutions) and be able to understand the underlying problem of what they are describing is the driving force behind successful innovations. Defining the problem often helps explaining the solution, but if the problem you’re addressing is not easy or intuitive to understand, well you know our answer to that by now. 😊

Bottom Line

If defining your essence, explaining your solution or problem, and honing your distinctiveness feels like mission impossible, you might want to opt in on category design as your winning strategy.

Still not sure?

Drop us a line or give us a call, 1-hour consultation on us!

Lee Linden
Lee Linden
A brand & marketing strategist with over a decade of experience in marketing, advertisement, brand management and business development!

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