Category Ownership

I’ve been either a part of a category campaign or driving one as a strategist for 25 years. Let me tell you this – if you are an innovation and category-busting company it is 100% achievable to own a category within a year, and sometimes less—with the right team who knows how to do it.

I was recently asked by a founder how anthonyBarnum specifically drives category ownership within a segment of the market. It’s a multifaceted strategy with numerous underlying tactics. It’s such a big question and it inspired me to write an entire 3-part blog series on the subject!

In this series, I’ll unpack how to begin, how to execute, and how to measure category ownership. 

Let’s dive in!

In every kick-off meeting with new category companies, it’s important to get grounded with insights from founders and marketing executives. But to own a category, my team needs to dive into the details through the lens of our craft to gain a deeper understanding of the market. Our ability to understand the reporting and positioning of the market and its tangential markets help us shape campaigns that cut like a knife through the noise. 

1) Know the Existing Category – 

If the category has pre-existing competitors, we conduct deep Share of Voice (SOV) research to understand the positioning of each of the players within the given sphere. We do this with powerful software tools designed to do advanced subject matter and keyword searches tied to reach and audience. More than collecting coverage, our team wants to get granular to determine what the total composite of earned media coverage looks like for a specific company. We compartmentalize the coverage: corporate coverage versus product coverage; news versus thought leadership; and minor mentions versus significant market positioning.

Within this process, our team is able to distill how various companies are positioned so we can quickly identify openings and alternative narratives that draw out our client’s advanced product differentiators.

2) Disruptive Category – 

Not all categories have a structured set of technologies that seek to achieve similar outcomes. In some cases, the new innovation is an advancement on a pre-existing set of manual or less efficient disconnected processes. Translation: No one is even trying and it’s pure greenfield. In these cases, it’s also important to understand any thought leadership on the perimeter that may be influencing the way target audiences think through a solution. In some cases, we need to drive the complete creation of the narrative and start from scratch. Still, the SOV software we use helps us sort through subject matters and concepts – gathering all that touches the market from a media coverage viewpoint.

3) Gather ALL Media  + Influencers + Analysts that Matter – 

When commencing a category-defining PR strategy, we want to identify and analyze all the early birds who are the most likely to cover the innovation in a meaningful way. Their audiences are going to be the personas that are of the highest importance to reach as quickly and as deeply as possible.

anthonyBarnum scours and researches these, placing targets into tiers prior to commencing outreach. Our approach is always to focus first on earned media targets, followed by influencers and analysts. The reasoning behind the prioritization is that the media targets are the most likely to deliver the strongest return on outreach the quickest, and the earliest positioning wins. Media coverage also will help support the credibility of the disruptive platform to the targeted industry influencers and analysts.

Most category campaigns are going to have an accompanying social campaign on LinkedIn. This creates an opportunity to not just track influencers, but systematically connect. It’s important to leverage published coverage within the LinkedIn campaign to make the strongest possible impact on the influencers. Influencers don’t necessarily want to go out on any limbs too quickly, thus early earned media coverage is helpful in influencing the influencers to engage and evaluate.

Earned media coverage can also impact analysts. The tricky part with analysts is the timeline and whether the category or tangential category is already on their radar. If the analyst is in a raging hot segment, they will hop all over a new category-busting company, quickly schedule a briefing, and immediately provide insights and start following the company. Their coverage focus may include covering every possible innovation in a set of markets. However, in other cases, it may be a multi-month slog before the PR team is able to secure that initial briefing because the market segment is not front and center to Tier 1 analysts. This is why simultaneously having a strong earned media strategy with an influencer strategy can help to nudge analysts who may be harder to engage on the front end.

4) Positioning and Evolution – 

We find that our category companies invariably go through some form of messaging evolution on their way to dominance in a specific market segment. Because their innovations are so new, the initial messaging typically has a very pragmatic and feature-to-benefit bent. This is because the company is carving out the use case and the nuts and bolts of its differentiation to its target audience. Once there has been a certain amount of adoption of the premise, the messaging and positioning can evolve to become more visionary, and more category-encompassing. It’s this fine line of defining the differentiated product narrative as the primary messaging pillar to set up the company to take over a broader vision in the market.

Messaging and positioning are always a collaboration between the PR team and the category company’s leaders. In this process, we take in the feedback from increasing numbers of customers, conversations with industry reporters, and feedback from analysts. We’re offering what we’re hearing, and absorbing what marketing is seeing on the frontlines. The goal is for the category company to set the bar for their solution in a market. This takes listening to the market to get the messaging totally there. 

Carving out a category is not for the faint of heart. Visionary founders and marketing executives can come together with a skilled and experienced PR firm to drive results. anthonyBarnum’s methods have been used across innovation companies from launch to the innovator position, and all the way to category driver.

The keys to category creation are:

  • Deep understanding of everything to do with existing, tangential, and competitive categories
  • Clear targets on the media, influencer, and analyst front for a 360-degree driven campaign
  • Messaging and positioning of differentiation that speaks to its market in a way that matters to them, in their world

Persistence and longer-term thinking are key. To fully influence the ecosystem driving a category the campaign cannot be thought of as a short initiative. Category creators need to be willing to be out in the water iteratively communicating their strategic differentiators – until the message begins to catalyze and transform.

In the next blog, I’ll dig more into the specific tactics that are central to category ownership campaigns.