"There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come."
- Victor Hugo
Category design is about making it your time.
The most legendary companies are different. They introduce the world to a new category of product or service—like Clarence Birdseye creating the very idea of frozen food a century ago or Uber defining on-demand transportation in recent years. Such companies replace our current point of view on the world with a new point of view. They make what came before seem outdated, clunky, inefficient, costly or painful.
Legends Are Category Kings
Category kings become some of the most famous brands because they become the symbol of the whole category – Spanx, SnapChat, Google, IKEA, The UFC and 5 Hour Energy.
The category king literally owns the problem it is solving. And for that reason, a category king is almost impossible to dislodge from its position as leader in the category. Customers are too wedded to it. That’s why Microsoft spent $10 billion on Bing yet never made a dent in Google’s share of search. It’s almost always futile to try to unseat a category king that’s not fucking up.
To increase the odds of winning, in an increasingly crowded world – more than two million apps in the Apple app store for example - many forward leaning CEOs are embracing a new business discipline called: category design.
Category design aims to un-pack the intuitive approaches used to create categories, by the greatest innovators to establish a repeatable approach to designing (or re-imagining) market categories.
Category design fuses insights based on data science, research and experience between the way markets work, brain science, and the intuitive approaches used by the most successful entrepreneurial innovators.
Category design is the discipline of creating and monetizing new markets in a massively noisy world. Category design is about establishing your own niche by educating a market to think about a problem and solution in exactly the way you want them to.
Legendary Innovators are Category Designers
Category kings takes it upon themselves to design a great product, a great company, and a great category at the same time. A category king willfully defines and develops its category, setting itself up as the company that dominates that category for a long time.
Many of the elements of category design have existed for over a century. In fact, many of the greatest innovators instinctively knew that the path to success was in teaching the world to think a particular way, not just offering them a product and hoping they’d get it.
These legends made sure that the world understood why their breakthrough innovations mattered. They didn’t just market their product and it’s features, hoping the world would get” why the product was a breakthrough worth considering. They educated the market about why they should consider doing things in a new way, different way. They used new language to market a new point of view (POV). They intuitively lead their markets by teaching customers how to think about a problem and thus why they should abandon old ways and embrace new ways.
In Silicon Valley category design has been used by savvy CEOs like a secret “black art” as a weapon to out-smart overly product centric competitors. Category design is emerging today in much the way engineers embraced product design in the 1980s to make sure individual products had the best chance of succeeding -- of beating the odds.
In the early-2000s, companies adopted experience design -- a discipline a step up from product design, developed as a way to make sure the mix of hardware, software and usability together gave the user the best experience possible. Experience design is yet another way to improve the odds of winning in a nutty marketplace.
Category design involves creating a great product, a great company, and a great category at the same time. It is a broad, deep discipline that impacts every part of a company and its leadership team.
Category design is a strategy for aligning the whole company to become the leader in a giant new space that you’re the creator of.
Category design is about playing the game of your own creation --- not someone else's. Category design is about playing bigger to become the category king and introducing the world to whole new ways of thinking, living, or working and earning the massive economic reward for doing so.
“Category design is a really really big idea - as important as when we first heard about Lean Startups.”
of Management Science