Building a Category for Emerging Tech Companies
July 23, 2021
Oftentimes when companies begin working with us they are well-established brands in existing industry sectors. Whether it’s enterprise IT, advertising software or cybersecurity, for example, we bring to the fore and communicate the differentiators that distinguish each individual company within their “category”.
Such is the nature of technology that we also work with entrepreneurial innovators who may be bringing something completely novel to market. These companies require a unique communications strategy to help them not only create awareness for and understanding of a category that doesn’t yet exist, but emerge as a leader pioneering that category. Because if the new category is truly innovative — and imitation is flattery — there will be others quickly seeking to do the same.
The strategic thinking that goes into category development is an iterative process with countless directions to go in, but it usually starts with developing messaging and highlighting the urgency and market need for a new category to be created now. When developing your company’s messaging you should be thinking about how you answer the following questions:
- What is the problem you are trying to solve?
- Where is the market in terms of receptiveness and acceptance for an unproven, new concept?
- How is your product or service benefiting society?
- Do you understand the current environment and challenges your target customers may face across industries?
- What are the different situations in which a customer would need to use your product or service and how will it help them versus existing solutions?
- What are your unique differentiators and how do you compare to other similar companies in the space? What do you offer that others do not?
- What are the potential questions, pushback, obstacles or objections you might face and how will you proactively address them?
- Are there established and well-understood categories or sectors your new service or product may benefit or change?
Once you’ve landed on messaging, you can begin to develop an external communications strategy that allows you to emerge as a leader in your category. This can involve strategically interacting with media and industry analysts to tell your story and build legitimacy around your unique value propositions. It also involves thinking about the ideal way to communicate your new category. Is it through thought leadership and bylined content that highlights a need for your brand? Press interviews on background and select product demos that illustrate how your product or service works? Who are the journalists and what are the outlets that will best benefit the story you need to tell and audience you must reach? Maybe it’s a combination of all, but the key is to build a foundation that drives awareness and education for your brand.
If you are doing something completely new with no direct competitors or a similar roadmap to adapt, how do you show the media and industry analysts that your company or service is indeed creating a new category worthy of coverage?
The first answer to this is time. As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and your category may not be either. Building a category is a journey that can take months or years to achieve. The second answer is education. The influencers– reporters and analysts — may need to learn about the space and understand market pain points or voids the new category is filling in order to understand the blind spots in the industry and how your company’s new category may fill them.
So how do you get your foot in the door and start these conversations? Companies who are doing something innovative and new may align with existing categories. It is important to identify related or adjacent industry sectors and the corresponding reporters or analysts who would be most receptive to learning about a new category. It’s our job as communication professionals to determine the best way to start these conversations and educate target audiences about our clients’ value.
Industry research firms are another channel that can help build and legitimize your category. Gartner and Forrester, two of the largest and most influential research firms, help define sectors and are known for their Magic Quadrants or Waves, which highlight the leaders and the challengers in a particular space. These reports are great for knowing where you stand within the industry, but with no direct competitors and no Magic Quadrant or Wave created that looks at your specific category, where does your company fit in? This is one of the larger challenges when it comes to category creation, as getting a top analyst at a research firm to create a completely new area of coverage and report is no easy task. This is where education and awareness comes back into play. Briefing target research analysts can help your company stay top- of-mind while also providing you with a better understanding of how they view your new category and space. Analysts follow the market, they rarely create it. So, it is imperative they understand your key differentiators and value because when it comes time for them to write their reports, they may just be thinking about your organization and include them.
Finally, on this journey to category creation, research is your friend. If you are the leader in a completely new category with no customer case studies to showcase, it’s hard to rely on data that isn’t specifically curated to your target audience or key stakeholders. Working with a team to develop proprietary research that supports your business goals is necessary. Not only will it help arm your sales team with data that supports the need for your product or service, but it also provides information and proof points for conversations with media and analysts. Research will only strengthen your category and your company’s position as a leader within it.
While our programs and initiatives are different for every client business and require a custom approach, the journey of category-building is ongoing. Salesforce didn’t become a leader in customer relationship management services overnight, but combining the right critical thinking, a groundbreaking offering and focused communications strategy, we can help even unknown brands define and create their unique category.