Category creation is not for the faint of heart
Tips for defining and expanding unoccupied whitespace
DEAR STAGE 2: We’ve been debating the best way to message our unique value and one of our investors is pushing us to create a new category for our company. Should we? What are the considerations before we go down this path? ~Category creator
DEAR CATEGORY CREATOR: Defining a category is HARD work. You don’t just announce a new category and suddenly get flooded with thousands of customers and a Gartner magic quadrant.
Category creation involves identifying a bit of unoccupied whitespace and wedging yourself in there. Then you work to define and expand that whitespace, and build and build and build. It requires a constant drumbeat for years.
You never want to try to force a category into a market that doesn’t need it. But if there’s room in the market for something new, designing a new category can be an exciting and powerful way to build a huge business.
She recently recorded a podcast with Refine Labs that shares a deep dive on category creation. Jenn graciously agreed to share her perspective on this journey with Dear Stage 2:
Jenn recommends reading Play Bigger and starting with the following category design principles from the book:
Identify the problem and give the category a name.
Develop a point of view that explains why you exist and what you will do for the world.
Design an ecosystem that mobilizes a community of supporters, partners, colleagues, and evangelists.
Fire up lightning strikes that call attention to what you want the world to see.
Keep expanding your category by building on your position to create a long-term competitive advantage.
Given you’re in the early days of this journey, Jenn shares a few key things to consider before undertaking a new category:
Whitespace: Is there really nothing else that does what you’re doing? Are you truly creating something new? Be sure you can define your new category and where it fits in relation to existing categories. The blue ocean strategy can be helpful here.
POV: Do you have a strong and differentiated point of view? Can you clearly articulate it? You need an opinion on something that people can disagree with — no one will listen if you say something everyone already agrees with. You need a story to express your POV. Be prepared to develop your POV in public.
Name: What will you call your new category? Your category needs a name. It should be simple, but distinct and clear.
Time: How much time do you have? Creating a category takes A LOT of time. You have to just keep chipping away at it for years, building a movement that eventually becomes ubiquitous. This is not for the weak or the lazy.
Customers: What can you learn from your customers and prospects? You may know the space well, but your customers are the ones in it now, and they can describe the pains in ways you can learn from. Customers also help by spreading the word, and it’s incredibly important to create strong customer advocates who will bring up your category to colleagues and analysts.
Experimentation and learning: How comfortable are you at working without a playbook? You need to be prepared to test everything, to iterate your messaging, your positioning, the terms you match in SEO, etc… You may think you know the answers to these things at first, but be prepared to evolve as you go.
Hope this helps as you consider the pros and cons of going down this path. Until next week!