Create Demand for Your New Category

I often get pulled in to marketing discussions about whether to lead with brand or with category. We usually go round and round, and never resolve it. 

However, the book Origin of Brands puts this argument to rest and provides great advice around building a brand. The authors are Ries and Ries, the senior of which co-wrote the seminal marketing book Positioning.

Their premise is that brands (like species, thus the title homage to Darwin) are constantly splitting. For example, about 70 years ago computers were a single category. Now we refer to desktops versus tablets, and 7" tablets versus 9" tablets. Every sizable category may split if there is customer demand. 

As a result the authors recommend that marketers build their brands in the following way:

  1. Name and create your new sub-category. Identify a sub-category that meets a need better than the original, broad category. 7-up did this when creating the "un-cola" sub-category for people who want a soft drink but not a cola. And Google did this by creating the 7" tablet sub-category, for people who want the tablet format of an iPad, but in a size that fits in the hand.
  2. Promote your category. The authors recommend using PR rather than advertising for this. But I am confident they would recommend Social Media as well today, with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. The key is to get the audience to want to buy they new sub-category. The authors use the example that a TV viewer goes into the kitchen to get a light beer, not a Coors Lite; they select the category they want, then grab the brand that best fulfills it.
  3. Deliver on the promise as the best product or service in that category. Be the best company at delivering on all the customer expectations for your category. Make sure you are number 1 in reality as well as perception, and you never let that slip. 

By so doing, companies can win the "top rung" on the positioning ladder -- the core theme of Positioning. Owning the top rung of a substantial new sub-category is far more profitable than being an also-ran within a larger-but-established category. Some would argue that a new product should be 10X better or cheaper than the current options, or else there is no reason to launch it.

I believe this lays out an effective blueprint for marketing. Many of the examples in the book address consumer marketing, but I find the approach applies equally to business marketing. 

This approach also gives a real purpose to the use of social media. Many companies today lack focus for what they want to do with social media. Engage with customers? Promote their features? Share funny cat videos? The primary role of social media should be to create demand for the sub-category, rather than pump out the equivalent of product brochures on Facebook. That is why so many marketeers today embrace the idea of content marketing, which delivers value to the audience. 

What sub-categories have you created? Are you creating demand for your new sub-categories?