Category Design Is a Business Strategy You Can’t Ignore [Video]

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If you’re a growth-oriented leader who wants to help your business break free of crowded markets and avoid commoditization, then I want to share this presentation with you.

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk at the Empower B2B conference about a business strategy called category design. What is category design exactly? It’s an approach that helps companies define the terms of competition in their favor.

In this 30-minute talk, I’ll walk you through how category design works, who it’s for, and how to incorporate category-design thinking into your organization.

Don’t have time to watch (or hate the way my voice sounds on 2x?) Check out the summary and the slides below.

Here’s the Recap of My Category Design Talk

What is category design?

  • Category design is a path that many aren’t familiar with, but it’s one that can greatly improve your outcomes when applied in the right way.
  • Mike Volpe, founding CMO at HubSpot, taught me “There are basically two business models. You can carve out a niche in an existing category, or you can create a new category.”
  • Category design helps you define the terms of competition in your favor. You are stepping outside the confines of an existing category, and creating a new territory that you can own and dominate. It’s more than a marketing strategy, it’s a business strategy that guides your marketing, your product, your sales efforts, and the way you plan for growth.
  • There are many companies practicing category design thinking today, you don’t have to be publicly traded or have VC funding to employ category design thinking.
  • Books like Positioning, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing, Crossing the Chasm, and The Innovator’s Dilemma set the stage for category design thinking.
  • In 2016, the first real book about category design was published, by Christopher Lochhead, Kevin Maney, Al Ramadan, and Dave Peterson. It’s called Play Bigger, and created a blueprint for the entire process.

Here are the top 3 reasons you might invest in a category design strategy.

  1. Competing for a sustainable position within a niche is getting harder and harder.
  2. Trying to position your product or service into an existing category can actually work against you. That’s because if you’ve built something that solves a new problem, trying to position yourself in an existing category is going to confuse your buyers.
  3. Category design, when executed well and applied in the right situations, can yield outsized returns. Check out this research to see why.

An easy way to understand category design in practice is to contrast it with a nice positioning strategy. Here are six main differences.

  1. Niche players competing for demand within an existing category. Category designers create demand for a new category.
  2. Niche players sell the product. Category designers sell the problem.
  3. Niche players advertise points of differentiation. Category designers advertise a point of view – a unique take on the world.
  4. Niche players improvements to the status quo. Category designers deliver a new way of doing things.
  5. Niche players focus on advertising efficiency. Category designers focus on changing the way people think.
  6. Niche players are competitor averse. Category designers invite competitors because they legitimize the category.

Category design thinking can be practiced in any industry or any size or stage of business. Here are four examples.

  1. Tesla – taking electric cars from economy-minded to performance-minded
  2. HubSpot – re-imagining marketing from an outbound approach to an inbound one
  3. BombBomb – tackling digital pollution with a human-centered approach to communication
  4. UpdateAI – helping customer success move from churn fighters to customer champion builders

Here are some resources to help you further your category design knowledge


Here are the slides I used in the video; they mostly follow the notes above.

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About the Author

John Rougeux

John Rougeux is a Partner at Category Design Advisors. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Get the newsletter that will help you become a better category designer.

About the Author


John Rougeux is VP Marketing Strategy at BombBomb. Connect with John on LinkedIn.

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