The founders of a respected Silicon Valley advisory firm study legendary category-creating companies and reveal a groundbreaking discipline called category design.
Winning today isn't about beating the competition at the old game. It's about inventing a whole new game - defining a new market category, developing it, and dominating it over time. You can't build a legendary company without building a legendary category. If you think that having the best product is all it takes to win, you're going to lose.
In this farsighted, pioneering guide, the founders of Silicon Valley advisory firm Play Bigger rely on data analysis and interviews to understand the inner workings of "category kings" - companies such as Amazon, Salesforce, Uber, and IKEA - that give us new ways of living, thinking, or doing business, often solving problems we didn't know we had.
In Play Bigger, the authors assemble their findings to introduce the new discipline of category design. By applying category design, companies can create new demand where none existed, conditioning customers' brains so they change their expectations and buying habits. While this discipline defines the tech industry, it applies to every kind of industry and even to personal careers.
Crossing the Chasm revolutionized how we think about new products in an existing market. The Innovator's Dilemma taught us about disrupting an aging market. Now, Play Bigger is transforming business once again, showing us how to create the market itself.
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Design and Build to be a Category King
Early on in the book the authors are all described as “crazy.” Don’t let this description turn you off. If Christopher Lockhead is any example, theirs’ is the kind of high energy crazy that comes with brilliance. I worked with Christopher when he was CMO at Vantive and he was one of the most inspirational evangelist I’d ever heard or witnessed in action. The energy of Christopher, Dave and Al doesn’t come out in this book, but their big ideas come out in a BIG way.
So what? There are a lot of management and entrepreneurial books out there with big ideas and I’ve listened to/read a lot of them (Start With Why and The Hard Thing About Hard Things being two of my favorites.) Why is this one different and why should you care?
If you’re just out to build a new feature or making something just enough better to be attractive and bought by another bigger player, this book isn’t for you. But if you want to, or know you’re already building something different and it can be a market changer, this book can help you make that happen from idea/category design, through refining your message, to launch, execution and ongoing redesign. (Ref. some of the good, thorough book reviews on Amazon for more details on this.)
This book gives you the process and strategies for being disruptive and becoming what they call a Category King.
My epiphany, when listening to this book, was the eye opener that what our startup really is building is a new category and that we should be positioning it that way. What we are building is “different” and it will be a huge game changer, it isn’t just “better” than what our competition is doing (although it is that too.) When you’re really close to your own great idea on how you can address a problem, it’s really easy to think that you’re doing something much “better” than the competition, probably because you originally built it just to be better, but when you start to think about how it’s “different,” or better yet you specifically design it to be different and learn how to exploit that in your messaging, you can change the way people think about what they need in order to solve the problem YOU have defined. What they “need” is your different solution. Sure, you’d think that’s a no-brainer, but listen to the book and you’ll get how it’s more complicated than that and how their strategy and process can help you from cradle to grave (or exit, or the next evolution) to make it happen.
The case examples were also valuable, but I would have liked more of them. I specifically gained from the Tableau example which is very close to our “new” strategy (since listening to this book) within our own category.
Consider listening to this book at 1.25x speed.
The most impactful new thinking of the year
Yes. This book brings clarity and puts a name to the barrage of part-formed thoughts I have been contemplating for a very long time. All my experience in Marketing and innovation, for both world famous brands and startups, tells me that this book is right on the money, and has the potential to be a seminal piece of thought leadership. I can easily imagine a future where companies talk of Category Design the way that they currently do of Service Design.
I love the central importance of the Point-Of-View within the creation of a category, and the resulting king of that category. I have long considered this to be the defining difference that makes a strong, iconic brand in modern times.
I find the defined steps to category design very useful. One chapter in the book breaks down a repeatable process that we can follow for ourselves.
A key "aha" moment was understanding the concept of first naming the category that you are not (and that contains all of your competitors) before naming the completely new category that you lead. There are relatable examples of this in the book.
There is so much post-rationalization of company success in books and blogs these days. Writers often generate a theory of business success, and then provide an outsider narrative of why that theory helped poster companies (Facebook, Uber etc) to succeed. I instinctively believe that the principles within Play Bigger are the most useful I have encountered.
As the ultimate validation, I actually bought the book again for myself on Kindle so that I could have a written copy, and also recommended to several friends.
- Chris Guest