Category Design is Brand Strategy

Category design, brand positioning, and product marketing are all connected at the hip. If your brand doesn’t have its position and unique value proposition (UVP) nailed down, a new category will not be the silver bullet you are seeking. It's a tactic without a strategy.

Mike Geraci
February 16, 2021

In 1993, Al Ries and Jack Trout published “The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding,” a book celebrated by marketers as essential study in the brand marketing canon. It’s a straightforward, CliffsNotes-style operating manual and reference for brand managers. 

Immutable Law #8 is “The Law of the Category,” in which the authors document how a category strategy elevates and repositions potentially commoditized CPG brands, such as Stolichnaya, Rollerblade, and Prince tennis racquets (remember, this was 1993...).  

Law #8 stresses, “The most efficient, most productive, most useful aspect of branding is creating a new category. In other words, narrowing the focus to nothing and starting something totally new.” 

Category creation is required when that narrowing of focus leads to new insights and innovation, and the result outpaces existing market or product paradigms. Harvard’s Youngme Moon calls them Breakaway Brands, when the new product or company has deviated so far from conventional competitive norms that the category it is rooted in is no longer adequate or recognizable. 

Think Twitter, Peleton, Bitcoin, Uber, AirBnB...

As with most marketing best practices, the power of category is rooted in basic human nature and behavioral psychology. Economist, Psychologist, Behavioral Scientist, and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, documents how our brains have evolved to process new information through existing patterns and thoughts. We look for familiar categories before we spend brain energy on details.

In his 1922 book, Public Opinion, Walter Lippman noted, “For the most part we do not first see and then define, we define first and then see.” 

While this has long been understood and applied in consumer brand marketing (as witnessed by the Ries and Trout’s advocacy in 1993), SaaS B2B is newly discovering the Category Design approach (as championed in the excellent book Play Bigger), as competition heats up and they look beyond positioning and product marketing to higher level brand strategy. 

And yet, Category Design, brand positioning, and product marketing are all connected at the hip. Alignment and synchronicity are required to resonate. If your brand doesn’t have it’s position and unique value proposition (UVP) nailed down–or you aren’t true to it in product execution and marketing–the new category approach will not be the silver bullet you are seeking. You have designed a category without a brand strategy.

What happens upstream and downstream from a new category is critical for success. That’s why DRMG is SaaS Brand Strategy. 

A SaaS Brand Strategy system builds a distinct brand, an own-able/defendable position, and powerful messaging for the market through proven consumer brand marketing strategies and tactics customized for the harsh Buy Now realities of disruptive B2B SaaS companies, so you can tell and sell your story clearly, consistently, and with conviction.  

Category design is a timeless brand positioning strategy, because–as Al and Jack write, “It is easier to make news with a new category, than a new product.” When evolution and disruption create a product beyond which existing vernacular or categories are sufficient–or unable to give the product or company the credit it deserves–a new category provides a much more enticing launch pad to the market and the brain. 

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