In an essay called The Category Creator's Manifesto, Ryan Law from content agency Animalz gave his thoughts on how category creation works. Let's have a look at the most important elements.
First of all, what do we mean by "category creation"? When we talk about creation, we really mean positioning. So while HubSpot is a "marketing automation tool" (a category they did not create), they branded themselves as the inventors of inbound marketing (a category or term they did create).
Basically what they did was to identify the existing trend or emergence of pull marketing channels (SEO, blogs, social media etc.) and giving it a new name. In this case Inbound Marketing. The same with Gainsight who invented the term "Customer Success". In both cases these companies managed to simply surface, polish and promote a concept or trend that was already in existence.
Or in the words of Ryan Law:
"...category creation is an ongoing exercise in tenacity, perception and positioning. Our task is to identify a burgeoning trend and position ourselves at the front of the movement. This trend could be a latent frustration with the status quo (“I’m so sick of cold emails”) or a changing social pattern (“I don’t think I’ll ever want to work in an office again”)."
So when you think about your own industry, is there an underlying shift happening that your company could become a thought leader in?
Principles of Category Creation
If you have identified a fundamental shift that you could own (and coin), Ryan goes into a few principles that he has seen working well for companies out there who have done it.
- Internal Consistency - First test your idea in your team and company. If you don't act like a company who is united behind a new category, few from the outside will want to join and follow your movement, because it seems muddy and insincere.
- Coin a Term - A clear, memorable term that helps summarizing an underlying shift is crucial to category creation. "Growing frustration with outbound marketing", "growing adoption of content marketing" and "stronger, longer customer relationships" simply become "inbound marketing", entailing all of the other terms into one simple concept.
- Point Out the Inevitability - Hubspot and the company copper have painted a picture of historical inevitability around their invented categories. Just read "history of marketing" and "rise of the relationship era". They weave together the history of your industry leading up to an inevitable future. And you are the "hero" who steps up and brings this future to the people.
- Villainize the competition - Every good story needs a villain. And if you are the hero, the companies aka your competitors who are still stuck in the "old world" are the "malevolent others" who are stuck in the past and to keep the status quo.
- Diligently Double Down on the Message - Reinforce and support the big trend that you have identified and coined. You can use articles, original data and research, books, product changes and whatever helps you to proof the "new way" you are putting forth is where things are headed.
And Ryan ends his essay with the following words:
"The idea that category creators are uniquely farsighted is itself a product of their art. There’s nothing mystical about their success: category creators are innately in-tune with their industry, capable of spotting a cresting trend before it breaks. Above all, they realize that category creation is an act of sincere belief, coupled with support from marketing—and not the other way around. Lasting categories don’t come from marketing exercises, but great marketing is necessary to cement a category."
During the time I worked at Apple the first iPad was released and I saw category creation on a large scale unfolding before my eyes in real time. Now if I look back, they followed the above playbook to the letter and went above and beyond to proof that they were writing history and that you could be a part of it.
You are not Apple, but you too can own a movement and create a category in your niche or industry.