The "art" of B2B category creation
Lessons from the fight over cow udder
“Find a vector that you can own — the key is it has to be ownable. It’s not a product message, it’s a community message, an industry message.”
Aaron Levie — CEO, Box
Category creation is glamorous.
But never easy.
In the world of B2B SaaS, we talk up brands that have been successful in this endeavor, overlooking all those that did not. Salesforce and Gainsight are two that decided to create their own kingdoms. But for every Salesforce, there are countless others that faded into obscurity.
So, what's the 101 playbook of Category creation? Reposition your competition by labeling the product category (that you exist within today) as The Villian, the "Old way of doing things". At the same time, position yourself as The Hero, the "New way". This approach helps your audience to consider two questions - "Why should I change?" and "Why should I change now?". Among other things, the playbook involves developing a strong brand identity, creating a distinct point of view, and wielding a heavy marketing budget.
The more interesting question is what can we learn from organizations that failed at category creation? The lens I use to examine this is that of a marketer.
B2B marketers are adept at convincing their audience - SEO-optimized blogs on feature comparison and eBooks on category thought leadership are some of the necessary steps marketers take when they have to communicate "new knowledge" to their audience. A large part of these efforts, however, appeal to the rational brain. Only a few marketers work towards persuading their audience.
Convincing can change your mind but persuasion to change your hearts and mind.
In this scenario, it could be educative to learn from other categories that pursue a different path to category.
Introducing, Oatly, the oat milk brand.
Seen this Ad?
So what makes Oatly's approach to category creation so special? Here are a few principles to follow when embarking on a category creation exercise.
Define the Cast: The Villian - "Cow milk" and the Hero - "Oat milk"
The category comes first and the Brand later- The belief that if you sell the category (as against your own brand), your product sells automatically because of the association. This is the difference between building for the long term as against the next quarter
Clarity about buying roles and the route to influencing the purchase -
Current consumers - The Kids
Target consumers - The Dads
Influencers - The Kids
4. The Roles, They Are A-Changin' - Upend the relationship between Dad (traditionally the buyer) and the Kid (traditionally the consumer). Surprise the Dads.
By swapping conventional roles - In this case, the Dad is the one who makes the request and the Kid rolls her eyes about how terrible that request is. The Kid knows better.
By making the Dad question his long-held belief - the Kid parenting her Dad is a great ploy. Your Kid telling what's right for you is different from yet another brand telling you the same. Because you know that your Kid cares about your health.
By reprimanding when you as much as a request for the Villian - the Dad is at first taken aback at his request being denied, stands up, mumbles to himself, and takes his seat again. Something that would happen to Kids.
By making the Villian sound like an addiction that needs to be got rid of - when the Kid says, "We talked about this...", the viewers understand that there have been discussions in the past where the Kid has sat the Dad down and educated him on this topic.
5. The Trickiest part - The Tone
A risk that you carry when your point of view is only about all that is wrong with the Villian (cow milk) is that your prospects begin to question your credibility. The reasons to believe and purchase needs to go beyond your competition. The right balance is key.
Secondly, you can not afford to hurt your main constituent (the one who holds the wallet) - The Dad - by making him sound ignorant. Be acutely aware that you are questioning his long-held belief and objections such as "What is the problem with a Pint of cow milk now? I have been having it for years"
Oatly executes well on both these counts.
6. Know what triggers a purchase
Emotional - Using the Kid as the one who parents the Dad
Environmental - Elevate the conversation. Switching to Oat milk can also help you save the planet
Social proof - This campaign does not start and end with this 30 seconder. The conversation continues with a dedicated microsite that has tips, statistics, and vegan dad-recipes to help out Dads across the world
Category creation is a herculean task.
Let us not paint category creation as the altar that every marketer should aspire to reach. But if you do land a role where the product deserves to take this journey, make sure that you appeal to both the hearts and the minds of your audience.
Don't just convince.