Fast-Tracking Category Creation Through Communications

By Becky Pocock, Account Director, Technology

Category creation is a goal for so many businesses. There are some great examples of success stories. Take Keurig. In 1992, the company identified that in the office coffee-making world “one pot doesn’t fit all.” It made the lucrative move to reinvent coffee-making with individual servings.

But even the best idea is not a guarantee to category success. Others need to see the value and buy in. This requires a large marketing investment that spans basically every possible effort in the Paid-Earned-Shared-Owned media model.

Strategic communications must address each stage of this category creation journey. That includes launching a breakthrough, educating your audience (and its influencers) about something they didn’t know they needed and cementing the idea and definition as the de facto standard when competition enters the fray.

Following are four communications elements that make or break category creation success:

Category narrative and messaging

Starting with a messaging exercise ensures you’re able to clearly and concisely convey what the product or service does — both through the category title and company/product narrative. Weigh category titles against current industry buzzwords, online search behavior, competitor taglines and more for relevancy. Then, in product messaging, make sure there are simple but powerful messages on how it’s different from the status quo and why it’s important to key external audiences.

Remember: never conduct this in a vacuum. Include key players from product marketing to the C-Suite for good representation. Then stress-test messaging with target buyers, experts and the analysts you’ll need firmly on your side.

Informing your actions with data

Through research, you can identify how to best reach and influence your target audience. You can uncover platforms they use, topics and conversations they care about, who is influencing them, etc. This should also include keyword strategy to ensure the content you invest in is discoverable across search engines and social media and outranks the competition.

Once marketing is underway, benchmarking will show how the market is embracing your category and reacting to your product and inform whether you need to modify your approach.

Category analyst and influencer relations

In the B2B world, the ultimate recognition of category creation traditionally usually takes the form of a Gartner Magic Quadrant or Forrester Wave report. At SHIFT, we reached that moment with Demandbase’s positioning in The Forrester New Wave: Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Platforms. In B2C, that moment may be inclusion on a product list or influencer endorsement.

However, we recognized that the timeframe for that kind of accolade is uncertain (often long and hard-won). We recommend simultaneously seeking complementary category leadership opportunities, for example gaining advocates among your customers and sharing their success through all the PESO mediums.

Educational category content strategy, earned, owned and paid

The initial challenge category creators face with external audiences is awareness building and education about what the category (and product) is and why prospective companies need it. As heads begin to nod and it becomes widely accepted that your product/technology is necessary, the narrative and education must evolve to communicate how users can successfully implement and get more from it.

Content should be mapped against and built for the nascent stages of a category into acceptance and maturation. It will not only need to be produced or earned (through media and analyst outreach), but also likely promoted through paid ads and sponsored posts to reach new audiences and build familiarity with the category terminology and brand/product.

For example, as SHIFT helped position Demandbase as the leading provider and key champion of ABM over six years, one of the pillars of the educational content strategy was an owned content program for the Demandbase-sponsored ABM Leadership Alliance, which comprised Demandbase and its partners. We built the editorial calendar, developed articles on the “how-to” of ABM on behalf of the member companies and placed them with MarTech media, which served as an educational industry resource.

These are just a few of the investments you’ll need to make if you’re considering category creation. Although extensive, using communications to reach and educate your buyers with valuable information will ultimately reward you with category leadership and make it harder for competitors to unseat you.

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