Brand Marketing: How to Create a New Category

The Growth Report #26

Hi there,

Not much news this week.

So I start this report with a very timely quote by Campell Brown that I read in a recent article of his:

“"Demand is like energy — it hardly ever just disappears, it gets transferred. During the lockdown, people didn’t stop eating — they just changed their buying patterns. They made fewer trips to the supermarket but purchased in greater volume, shifted to online shopping platforms like Instacart, and stocked up on certain staple items, most notably — toilet paper. This summer, people are still taking vacations — they’re just not traveling as far and using different modes of transportation. Where is the demand in your industry transferred to?

And with that, let’s get into todays topics: We’ll talk about how you can position your brand as an innovator in the market, I’ll provide some weekend reads to deepen your marketing skills and we examine the illusion of busyness and productivity.

Enjoy the read,

Today's topics include

📈 Brand Marketing:
How to Create a New Category

⚒️ Tools of the Trade:
Educational Resources and Inspiration for Marketers

⛑️ Reflections from the Trenches:
The Illusion of Productivity

📈 Brand Marketing

How to Create a New Category

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

🛠️ Tools of the Trade:

Educational Resources and Inspiration for Marketers

Marketing Education

  • How to Kickstart and Scale a Marketplace Business - A super in-depth guide on building and growing a marketplace. It's mind-bogglingly detailed and leads you through the thinking and processes behind some of the most accomplished marketplaces out there (Eventbrite, AngelList, AirBnB, Etsy etc.).

  • Matthew Ball Essays - Matthew is a VC and has published multi-part analysis on Nintendo and Epic Games. These essays teach so much about business strategy, leadership and the current market environment, you could create university courses out of them.

  • Network Effects Bible - If your business is dependent on network effects / virality this is a must read.

Brands and Products that caught my eye

  • Circle - A community platform that just launched and looks super promising. Next to Mighty Network, this seems to be one of the few companies that actually gets the gist of what's going on in this space.

  • Google AI Drawing Game - I just wasted 30min on this. You draw something with your mouse and an AI is trying to guess what it is. Now go waste some time yourself!

⛑️ Reflections From the Trenches

The Illusion of Productivity

In a recent newsletter, we talked about simplicity. We discovered that overcomplicating things in ones life is a form of avoidance. It is a free pass to do a little bit more research, to tackle the easy, non-essential tasks first and to keep busy, holding up the illusion of progress.

It stuck with me.

So over the past weeks, I started to ask myself questions like:

  • What am I holding on to that I need to let go of?

  • Where am I overcomplicating things?

  • If each day only had 12 hours. What would I cut out?

  • If someone could only see my actions and not hear my words, what would they say are my priorities?

  • What am I avoiding just because the desired outcome would take longer than I'd like?

  • What would this project/task look like if it were easy?

If you seriously ponder these questions, avoidance patterns naturally start to bubble up to the surface. And I'm a master at this. I have to admit, I get a sense of excitement from being busy. It feels good. Because in the short term it does create the illusion of progress. It does feel like things are moving.

Being Busy Does Not Equal Being Productive

But then when we look back at weeks or months of busyness, what meaningful things that make a difference in our life, career and relationships have we actually accomplished? On top of that, being “crazy busy” both justifies and reinforces living on autopilot. Instead of stopping for a few minutes to ask ourselves why we’re doing something, we keep on mindlessly churning work that may or may not lead to a goal we actually care about. Simply because it's right there on our task list.

The issue is: Being busy does not equal being productive. Because something is only productive if it actually achieves the outcomes we are looking to get. Over the years I have been getting much better at saying "no" and committing to less, which I think is the very first step to breaking the "addiction to busyness". And still, my task list grows by the day and I keep excitedly crossing them off.

The Road Forward

So last week, I decided on a little experiment and just deleted the whole task list to see what happens. Since then I've spent every morning first thing looking at my project list and simply decide what the immediate next step is to move a particular venture forward.

Marc Andreessen (one of the most accomplished VCs of our time) uses a very similar system for years and has outlined his super simple approach in this article (hat tip to Melanie). In addition to the very simplified version of a todo-list, he further cuts away at busyness perpetrators like email, meetings etc., which I'll try as well as part of this life-simplification experiment.

I don't want to draw conclusions on the second week of an experiment. Let me say however, that so far I have not only made considerably more progress towards the things in my life that mean something to me, but also felt less and less burdened by things that "need" to get done. Which in turn led me to enjoy my off-time way more (and guilt-free at that).

I can only recommend to start asking yourself questions like the ones outlined above. They lead you to interesting answers and away from the busyness hamster-wheel onto a more meaningful path of accomplishment that feels real.

That's it for this week. Enjoy your weekend 🏡