What is category design?
Category design is the process of creating a new category of products in the market.
The reward for being a category king is extraordinary.
According to Harvard Business Review, category kings capture 76% of the value within the category - as measured by market cap.
If you're not #1 in your customers' mind, try reframing and designing new category.
Benefits of being king:
- Market Leadership: As the king of a category, you set the standards and define the norms within the market, often resulting in a loyal customer base that sees your brand as the go-to authority.
- Pricing Power: Dominance in a category typically grants the flexibility to command premium pricing due to the perceived uniqueness and value of your offering, with less pressure from competitive pricing.
- Enhanced Visibility and Growth Potential: Being at the forefront of a category often attracts more media attention, strategic partnerships, and investment opportunities, fueling further growth and solidifying market position.
Creating a category doesn’t mean having the best product. It’s about being seen in a different light — standing alone rather than in a crowd.
Here's how Warmly is designing the category of Autonomous Sales Orchestration.
When to pursue category design
Pursue it when your market has many competitors.
I would argue that for any venture backed startups there's no reason not to pursue this strategy because you are inherently trying to disrupt the status quo. There are always incumbents.
Those incumbent solutions already occupy a space in your buyer's mind.
How do you enter and not only compete but capture market share quickly?
Warmly ran into this problem when we first brought our product to market.
There were already so many tools that help you capture more leads. People were also biased in what they liked.
Prospects had trouble figuring out where to put us in their techstack because our category didn't exist yet.
But the concept of orchestration wasn't something people actively looked for.
Some of our early evangelists would describe us to others as "If 6sense, Drift, and Clearbit had a baby... that's Warmly."
Prospects began to view us as a cost-saving because we consolidated three tools into one for cheaper. Not a bad start.
But sales deals would stall because buyers would compare us directly with established kings and queens of existing categories they were familiar with.
It was difficult to compete in someone else's story.
Instead, we wanted them to see that "you can keep using tools like 6sense and Drift, AND Warmly, and here's why 1+1+1=5..."
Step 1: Select the right problem
Market >>> everything else. As Marc Andreessen, Founder and General partner of a16z, puts it, "In a great market - a market with lots of real potential customers - the market pulls product out of the startup."
A great market is more important than a great team or product for building a big business.
We felt a lack of market with our prior nametags product.
The market wasn't there.
Luckily, our team got better over time.
Given the recessionary market environment of Q3 2022, every company was looking for more warm leads, including us.
Teams that predominantly fed off inbound leads now had to go outbound.
We found that the key sub-problem of finding more warm leads was:
- Identifying who was in-market for your product
- Getting in front of them in that buying window
Step 2: Frame the new, different future for the customer
Bring your customers into the future by showing them something new.
As Category Pirates explains it...
Unique points of view have a simple architecture.
- Frame a different problem/opportunity.
- Evangelize a different future.
- Show customers how your “solution” bridges the gap from the problem/opportunity to a different future.
Most importantly, the company evangelizing the POV is immediately viewed as the leader.
For us, there were already many awesome tools out there to help with intent data and buyer signals, but all of these siloed solutions still have to be orchestrated - usually by humans, which is expensive and time-consuming.
Incumbents created their products during the golden age of the sales development representative, where companies solved their lead generation problem, which required a lot of manual effort, by throwing more humans at it.
With advancements in AI, instead of coordinating humans who need to operate multiple tools to catch a buyer's attention, we leaned into the point of view of using automation and orchestration to do the repetitive work.
Let humans do what they do best, building relationships, and let automation take care of the rest.
Step 3: Crystalize a radically different brand
What's the number one thing you want your audience to think when they see your name?
We wanted our audience to shortcut their mind to "AI Sales" when they thought of Warmly. Conversely, when they think of AI sales, they think Warmly.
Next, what do you want your audience to "feel" when they see your name?
We wanted them to feel powerful, that they could access something mystic and extraordinary by having Warmly.
We studied Carl Jung's brand archetypes and how they could be applied to companies.
Jung theorized that humans use symbolism to understand complex topics. And these symbols can be timeless and understood as categories. In the case of brands, these categories exhibit personality traits that customers easily understand. Archetypes, he called them.
We selected the "magician" brand archetype, the ethos of which you can see reflected in our website.
We chose our category name to be autonomous sales orchestration because
- It encapsulates our unique point of view and the future that we saw.
- Nobody else occupied it from an SEO perspective.
Once we crystallized our brand, we reflected it in every facet of our marketing and product - website, language, social posts, blogs, sales calls, feature naming, branding.
As Seth Godin, world-renowned marketing author, explains, "Having a brand means you've made a promise to people. They have expectations. It's a shorthand of what they should expect the next time."
Step 4: Lightning strike!
Once you define your problem, unique point of view, category, and brand, you're next step is to let the world know who you are and what you stand for in a lightning strike.
A lightning strike is a category-defining event.
It defines a new problem or, like in our case, an old problem that can be solved in a new way.
It must be carefully crafted to trigger a moment in the minds of your prospects where they say, “Wow, this is new... I want that.”
We wanted to frame the problem, claim the solution, and own the narrative.
We decided to use our Series A funding announcement as our lightning strike to spread word of mouth.
Super important here is to tell your story in three bullet points. Because that's all people will remember.
Any more and it dulls the punch of what you're trying to say.
Our template looked something like this:
- "The world is changing..." (Problem reframe)
- "Because of X, Y" (Unique point of view)
- "Warmly closes that gap" (Bridge the gap to a different future)
It's difficult to unwind the narrative once it's been released in a lightning strike to the world. You get one shot.
It's worth spending the time to get your story right.
Step 5: Make your position as category king permanent
Once the category king dominates the category, it can use that position to expand the category to higher levels.
Create a flywheel to continue reinforcing your position as category king.
We instituted a constant beat of mobilizations and lightning strikes we call "operation rolling thunder."
- Our investors wrote thought leadership pieces about our space, expanding awareness around the category, and putting us at the center. For example, Why NFX Invested in Warmly: Harnessing AI to End the Cold Call by NFX or Investing in Warmly by Felicis Ventures.
- We launched on Product Hunt, Bookface (a launch within YC's community), Hacker News, and others
- We actively engaged with revenue operations, account-based marketing, and demand gen community groups across Slack, LinkedIn, and Reddit, extending the reach outside of our inner circle of influence
- Our evangelists and affiliate influencers educate our category within trusted CMO/CRO groups
- We sought out additional press and newsletter coverage to keep our market attuned to how Warmly was developing
- We built an ecosystem of affiliate influencers, integration partners, and agencies
- We use each new customer as an opportunity to turn drive more testimonials and positive G2 reviews.
- We leveraged Lavender's playbook, consistently generating high-value content like webinars or blog posts and distributing across other channels like YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Medium, newsletters, and emails
Each lightning strike gives the flywheel another shove. It amplifies the effects of each of the prior listed initiatives, furthering the gap between the category king and the rest.