How To Design a New Category On Top Of Another One w/Jeff Benanto

Reading Time: 18 minutes

You might think that category design is a positioning strategy reserved only for companies building something entirely new. But for $2B Everbridge, they found that category design can be just as beneficial to large companies as well.

Everbridge (traded on NASDAQ as EVBG) had already built a leadership position in a category called Mass Notification software. But as the company expanded its product capabilities, it found that it had outgrown this space.

To help the market see what they were truly capable of, Everbridge decided to design a new category, called Critical Event Management.

To find out how and why Everbridge went down this path, I interviewed Jeff Benanto, a marketing director at the company, on the latest #categorycreation series of the B2B Growth Show.

Listen below, or find the episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, or Spotify.

John Rougeux: Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of the Category Creation series on the B2B Growth Show. I’m John Rougeux. Today we’re going to talk to Jeff Benanto, he is a marketing director at a company called Everbridge. Now you may not have heard of Everbridge, but they have more than $2 billion market cap on Nasdaq. And what’s really interesting is that they are in the middle of trying to develop and evangelize, a new category. Jeff’s going to tell us all about that journey. So stick around for our interview with Jeff Benanto from Everbridge.

John Rougeux: All right, Jeff, welcome to the show today.

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, they, John, thanks so much for having me.

John Rougeux: Yeah, yeah, you bet. And you know, we were talking a little bit before we started recording and I think one of the interesting things about this episode is you guys are in the middle of building, and evangelizing a category at, at Everbridge. And so I’m really excited to kind of hear how that journey’s gone and what you’re up to at the moment. But before we do, can you just give me a quick background on your role at Everbridge and, what you guys do as a company?

Jeff Benanto: Absolutely. And thanks again for having me. I’m excited to speak with you today about, about this journey, and the evangelizing of the broader safety insecurity space that we are doing here, at Everbridge and as part of our, category creation efforts. Also a little bit of background Everbridge where the, we’re the market leader in providing businesses, government agencies and other organizations over the globe with the platform and suite of SaaS applications to support what we call critical event management. So what this means is, you know, we enable our to improve how they identify, manage, and respond to different events that may disrupt their daily operations and put the safety of their people as well as their assets, their supply chain, and their reputation’s at risk. So we’ve over 4,500 of those customers. Now, Starbucks, a Walgreens, and companies like that, to entire us states like the state of Florida for example, uses Everbridge via there a division of emergency management.

Jeff Benanto: And then we also work with leading universities, healthcare entities, airports and beyond. And then my role will have a bridge, has evolved a bit. I’ve been with the company for over five years. So as any marketing professional, within a high growth B2B organization, I’ve, I’ve worn many different hats over that time. When I began, the marketing team was a lot smaller. and I sort of owned all facets of marketing, communications, PR, AR, social media, content marketing, things of that nature related to broad awareness. over time, I’ve, I’ve also focused more within corporate communications and now I’m in more of a hybrid role, still sitting within our communications group, but also owning our customer marketing efforts. So creating programs to support a customer engagement, retention growth, as well as customer recognition and advocacy to really help support the company’s brand to deal.

John Rougeux: So can you give me a little bit of context for this mass notification? What’s, what’s an example of an event or situation that would, that you guys would get involved in and notify these states and universities and businesses about?

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s a, there’s a broad range. you know, traditionally when you think of mass notification, you may think of a government agency, messaging out to residents, during, an emergency event, like a, a weather emergency. So up near the New England area, obviously we have lots of snow emergencies. So it may be a messaging out to two individuals within a community to let them know about pending snow. Maybe that there’s a parking ban, for example. Or it may be a, the message may be more urgent maybe around, you know, hurricane that’s coming and, you know, residents need to evacuate an area.

Jeff Benanto: But on the business side, again, it’s not just about messaging and what we do is we really help centralized incident management and response activities for organizations. But the types of events that our clients will use us around will range from those similar emergencies. You know, reaching out to our employees to let them know, you know, an office might be closed due to a weather emergency. But it’s also operational things too, right? It could be, communications around product recalls, supply chain disruptions, inventory related issues, IT outages. You know, we have a product that is part of our offering that is custom designed for it operations professionals. Yeah, there’s a lot.

John Rougeux: Yeah there’s a lot to unpack and I’m thinking that’s gonna give us some good insight. You’ve been talking about this mass notification category. And now you’re going to talk about why it was maybe holding you back a little bit in terms of your addressable market. So I want to ask you about that in a moment, but before we get there, I’m, I’m curious, how you define category and what I mean is, you know, we all are familiar with like the official categories at like Gartner or G2 Crowd would put out there and that’s certainly a good place to start. But I’m curious how you define what a category is and what category creation means.

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s probably worth me just, you know, mentioning that, yeah, I certainly have not have written a book on, on category creation or design or nor do I consider myself an expert, but you know, love to offer my perspective as an operator operating within an environment where we are really trying to create a category. So my spin or sort of my riff on the idea is that I feel like a category can truly be created when the different levels of your customer base, refer to your brand and your product, in the same light, right? So if you’re in user, the actual administrator or the operator of user of your product and your decision maker, in many cases, an executive that the man or the woman with the budget, they view the experience and the environment and the ultimate benefits that you provide in the same fashion and then ideally within the same verbiage, right? So, so category is, you know, how you’re defined and how you’re differentiated by experience, benefits and the economics that you provide. And then category creation is when you know your customer, your buyer, all those different levels of that buyer, they’re viewing you within that same lens.

John Rougeux: Got It. So you’re, it’s like when your customers talking about you and think about you or potential customers, think about you when they, talk about the problem and the solutions that, that exist to solve that problem, they kind of equate that language, and at the same lenses how they would talk about your own company. Did I get, did I get that right?

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Right. Like, if they’re, if they’re first off, if your buyer, and also, I’m sorry, if your user and you’re their boss, if you will, the ultimate decision maker are viewing your, your company, your brand, your product, different lights. That’s, that’s not always a great thing, right? You want them to both be viewing even you in the same light because in that ultimately shows that there is broad awareness for your category and brought awareness for your category. It means that all different elements of your buyer or are from the lower level individual to the senior individual had seen that there is a need for this. Right? So viewing in that same ones because they’ve really bought into it, they’ve embraced it. So they’ve joined you, along this journey.

John Rougeux: Yeah, totally. Makes Sense. So yeah, you, you and I were talking before the interview about how you’ve been in this mass notification category and I believe that is an established a name category in at least one place or another. And you felt at some point that that was kind of holding you back in terms of the market you can address. And you came up with this, this term you’re calling, critical event management. So walk me through like what led to that decision? Did you guys come up with that name for critical event management? How did that come about? Just what was that whole process like?

Jeff Benanto: We still are a fit within the mass notification categories. So while we are defining, this new category of critical event management, you know, if you still are going to view companies within the mass notification, a space, you’re, we’re still a clear leader and we have no problems being defined as a leader in that space as well cause it’s still a completely viable space.

John Rougeux: And this isn’t about like replacing that category and discarding it. It’s like evolving what your company can address.

Jeff Benanto: Absolutely. Yeah, for sure. Right. We, we knew we would always be able to solve the problems that are inherent within the mass notification category, but we’re interested in solving broader problems. Right? We want it to follow our customers and learn more about the problems that they have that are maybe a little bit, you know, more extensive than the problems that can be solved by mass notification. And if we follow those problems, we realized that it would be very likely that we can provide solutions to meet those. And that’s how we sort of landed on critical event management, which is sort of a more umbrella overarching term to define those problems that industries have those problems that our customers have. Right? They have a need to centralize their response activities, their assessment activities, their location activities and their communication activities around critical events. So in addition to communication tools, which would be defined within mass notification, they need functionality to improve visualization assessment, automated workflow enhancements, analysis, situational intelligence, and we, through our platform and our capabilities and our product development could offer those and create a more unified operating and environment.

John Rougeux: Gotcha. So this old category still kind of sits within this new critical event management category. It’s kind of a component of the broader offering you deliver.

Jeff Benanto: Now in many of our companies, we’ll refer to mass notification as a product because it is also actually a product name for Everbridge. And then that sort of the communications piece. but the other pieces of the critical event management category, include, functionality that’s more focused on centralizing many activities, managing tasks and managing the overall life cycle of a critical event beyond just the notification piece.

John Rougeux: Okay. Did you guys come up with that term critical event management?

Jeff Benanto: We did, yes we did. We came up with that term. and again, it was, it was developed in response to a real world challenges that we saw our, our largest, organizations, dealing with, they had all these different tools, for safety and security, but they weren’t speaking to each other.

John Rougeux: Sure. And so did you just sit down and say, look, we’re going to come up with a new term and then work through a process to come up with that name? Or was it more of an organic process? What was that? was that process like?

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, it’s a little bit of an iteration off of critical communications and critical communications was sort of a iteration off of mass notification or you know, quite honestly that the category might’ve been more, it might be better to find as emergency notification and mass notification is sort of, aligned term or in our case, our product to them. But within, we sort of transitioned more to what we call critical communications because we thought that was a little bit broader because it’s not just when you need to reach people in mass, right. Mass notification so that the notes you’re reaching out to your entire city, during, a calamity event or you’re reaching out to your entire employee base, critical communications, to us, the noted more targeted notifications. Maybe you only need to reach a hundred it resolvers during an outage. Maybe you only need to reach five, facility executives, during a fire event or during something else related to your facilities.

Jeff Benanto: Maybe you only need to reach one of your offices if you’re a global organization with multiple offices around the globe. So then the next iteration was, well, it goes beyond just communications, just alerting and confirming and accounting for people and getting them, you know, on a conference bridge. It’s also about arming them with other tools to get in front of those events. that’s why we have a visual as visualization capabilities and risk assessment capabilities, abilities, data intelligence feeds to really pull out that in help them be more proactive in their response and management, to events. And again, even though we call it critical that management, we are also quick to mention and to clarify that not everything that we’re doing, with our customers, not everything we’re empowering for our customers involves emergency events. it’s really just anything that requires action in a relatively time sensitive manner. Right. So it’s certainly a critical event.

John Rougeux: Yeah. I’m actually glad you mentioned that because you know the definition of that category, it’s not something like people get maybe the first time they hear it and, and so there was a point where you guys, you said you came up with this term yourselves, so at some point in time that just existed within the walls at Everbridge.

Jeff Benanto: Sure. She was deploying where you had to, you know, tell your first customer, your first partner, I don’t know who it was about this idea called critical event management. It was a new term for them. And, and I know you’re in kind of still in this process of evangelizing that, but what were the, some of the first things you did once you decided that was the term and you want it to take that out to the world. Yeah. And I mean, you know, to riff off of that, I mean in a perfect world in, this kind of gets back to your earlier question. Yeah. It’s kind of your customers who are defining the term, right? I mean that is the, that is ultimately the goal here, right? You’re, you’re responding to the challenges that your customers have. So they’re talking about something they probably are already evangelizing a concept/

Jeff Benanto: So that would be the perfect world. But in our case, they just, the market was just sort of ripe for it, for this types of terminology. Because again, as I mentioned, safety, insecurity, when we’re talking about, we’re talking more about physical security, there’s all different types of sort of categories and product lines within this space. And we just saw an opportunity to really unify as much of this as possible. So once we’ve really did sort of develop that, that strategy, I mean, the first thing is you really have to have, you know, your employees, swinging from the same tree. So you really have to develop, develop the find positioning. You gotta define what the category is, what the term is. You have to define why it’s important. You know, what does that impact that you’re, that, that this category can ultimately have on an organization.

Jeff Benanto: And in our case because we sort of evolve the category for mass notification, we wanted to, we wanted to define, potential impacts from results that went beyond life safety. In addition to those life safety benefits. It can be more about, business results in ROI, faster resolution to it incidents, faster resolution to a critical equipment malfunction. And then we really had to work with, our most strategic customers. The ones who had sort of helped us already shape this vision. We had to continue to brainstorm with them. if they weren’t leveraging every bridge for some of the use cases that we felt a comprise comprises new category, we work with them to see where else we could be deployed, how we could expand our product, to, to help execute those use cases. And then, you know, wherever possible, highlight those success stories from those customers, get them to buy into this vision, this category with us. Get them to realize that while we are talking about transforming a space, transforming safety and security, we’re also as a byproduct helping to transform the transform their role. We’re trying to show that safety and security can be more of a strategic function to their business. So in that light, we’re trying to make them heroes as well. So really looking at like at them sort of collaborators in this space.

John Rougeux: Yeah, there’s, I think two things that I’ll just kind of recap from that because you made some really good points there. The first one is, you talked about going on to this process with your customers and developing this as a response to problems that they had encountered. Maybe they didn’t know that it can be solved, they didn’t, maybe they know how to solve them, but you weren’t just contriving a category to say, hey, we’re billing category, but you recognize that there was a need in the market and the, you know, your customers. We’re kind of headed this direction. And your job was to kind of capture that momentum and that discussion and make it something really like this or role in succinct that they could relate to. And then, that kinda leads to the second point, which is it’s not just you like trying to like beat the drum of critical event management on your own. You’ve, you’ve focused on equipping your customers to talk about it themselves, which is really, I think goes back to what you said at the very beginning of this episode where you know, people are defining the problem and your solution in kind of the same set answer that same lens. I think that’s when that happens is when you’ve taught your customers how to understand this category, what it means, what it means for them, and then when they’re talking about it, it becomes something a little bit bigger than just ever read. It becomes kind of a broader, you know, category in the market.

Jeff Benanto: Yeah. No, absolutely. And I mean, I’m definitely not the person who coined this, but I mean I feel that, you know, customers are probably the best member of your marketing organization, cause they’re the ones that are providing you with the ideas that you really should be building all of your marketing programs and content off. And they’re also the ones that are out there, that should be doing the real old pining for you, on the need for the solutions that you’re providing.

John Rougeux: Yeah. Yeah. So you guys are a publicly traded, which means you have a group that you have to speak to that others, others don’t. That investment community. So tell me about that. What role did they play in this effort? Was that something you had to sell them on or, you know, how did that all play out?

Jeff Benanto: Well, you know, it’s a great, it’s a great question because I probably should mentioned it up front when we were talking about, again, sort of the evolution from the emergency notification category to critical event management. You know, part of that journey, you know, quite honestly is about increasing total addressable market. right. So that was a big exercise that, you know, we needed to go through and we needed to take that community through as we prepared for our IPO. So when you’re just talking about emergency notification, it’s more limited usage. You might have organizations that only need to use Everbridge. You know, once a month, maybe in some cases once a year. But now with critical event management, more applications designed for more operational routine, a daily usage, in some cases you’re getting, you know, threat feeds and, and visualization in real time, 24/7, you’re using it every day. You’re getting value for it every day.

Jeff Benanto: And that has increased our market and our end buyer environment. And as I was increased, you know, our ability to get users to get, to get more out of the tool and to use more of Everbridge.

John Rougeux: Yep. Yeah, that’s smart. It kind of reminds me of that article in Harvard Business, that came out a few months ago and it talks, it looks at the fortune 100 and so the economics around building a category and they looked at the, I think maybe there’s like 13 a dozen or so companies that had built new categories of that fortune 100 and of those 13 they captured it. It was something like 50% of the growth in market cap and like 76% of the, was he the growth in revenue or profitability? I don’t recall exactly, but the point is there were outsize returns for companies that were able to develop and own new categories. And it sounds that’s very similar to the message that you brought out to investors was this isn’t just a branding exercise.

Jeff Benanto: It’s not just something to keep marketing busy, but this is if done right, it’s, it’s going to have huge returns on investment, for our business. Yup. Yes, that’s, that’s very true. Yeah. And I know the, the article you’re referring to and I think that’s definitely part of a, sort of a guiding principle for, for what we’re doing here. and you know, why it’s why it’s so important to the sort of fabric of what we do on a, on a daily basis from a, from a marketing side of things.

John Rougeux: Yeah, sure. All right, quick question, Jeff. all the time you’ve been involved as a, as a category creator, greatest moment of fear along the way. Greatest triumphs as well.

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, I think one of the fear, the great question, I think, one of the fears is that as you create a category, you don’t want to forget about your base. because you know, even though you’re trying to bring your entire, you’re trying to evolve your entire category, your entire industry to view their problems through this new lens, there are going to be, there are still going to be organizations and entities that maybe have, you know, more of a basic need of, you know, they might just need to reach their 5,000 community members during, you know, one or two events per year. So you want to still, the fear is like, you don’t want to let them leave them behind. So you still have to make sure that you’re, you’re wrapping your arms around them from a sales and marketing perspective and showing them that, you know, this is a vision and while you might not see the value going to have a yet over time, you will, so if you feel like are our messaging is, you know, maybe not completely directed at you, that’s okay.

Jeff Benanto: We’re still going to everything we can to serve you. Just, just stick with us and you’ll see, you’ll see it click soon enough. So that, that’s always been a fear. But I think, you know, and then on the triumph side of things, you know, to counter that, I know, again, as a customer marketing and advocacy, professional, that’s sort of sort of the new field that I’ve really started to focus a lot of my efforts around. You know, the biggest triumphs for me are when we’re able to, highlight how successful our organizations are at solving or challenges, not at how they embrace Everbridge, but how they have utilized, a combination of tools including Everbridge and they’ve refined their processes and they’ve had a terrific outcome because of that. And one of the ways you’ve done that as we have a critical event management award program that we launched a couple of years ago, so this will you, this’ll be our third year.

Jeff Benanto: And we have the program, the old program is open to all of our customers on a global basis. and again, it’s about highlighting their success stories, overcoming a challenge that they had a meeting, an objective that is critical, to their organization and having some results, that again, either, you know, achieve something related to life safety, you know, accounting for employees who, you know, were traveling during a terrorist event or again, something related to, improving business outcomes. And so the real trap has been how I’ve seen the number of nominations we’ve seen come in, no increase. You know, you know, a hundred x over the first two years I think is going to continue to increase this year. And getting to see those, those stories, getting to read them, see the impact that these organizations are having on their organizations and their communities.

Jeff Benanto: Again, trying to me is not about the impact that Everbridge is necessarily having all those organizations. It’s more about the impact that our customers are having on their stakeholders, their employee, their fellow employees or their residents. So that’s a tangible one. And then, you know, I would also just mention that we also have a user conference that is evolving to be more of an industry conference. It’s called Resilience. Last year was, the second year that we hosted that event. So next year will be our third year. And that’s also trying to, just seeing how that event has continued to grow, from an attendee size, but also from a speaker, perspective. Right. So, you know, this year we had industry and customer speakers from organizations like the Dow Chemical company, Valero Energy, CBS. It just kind of shows, how, how mainstream within that security and safety space.

Jeff Benanto: Some of these challenges are, becoming, such to the point where the people want to get up there, I want to talk about these things. They want to socialize with others in the industry and they also want to sort of, you know, align with us on this journey and help us transform this space.

John Rougeux: Nice. I like I with both those like the, the event and then the award, those have value to your customers, but they’re also, serving double duty as a means to further promote the category. So I think that’s really smart.

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, it’s great. And I’ll just repeat that real quick. I mean, I’m one who thinks even though customer marketing is sort of my, my domain currently, I’m one who’s really more invested in just, advocating for the industry as a whole. So, you know, if I were to launch a, a tactic tomorrow, around soliciting, you know, perspectives on a common challenge, in the global security world, let’s just talk about, you know, lone worker safety.

Jeff Benanto: I see no problem querying folks, you know, across the industry, whether it’s a customer or a prospect, because at the end of the day, you really want to evangelize the entire, buyer, the entire industry, and not just your customers.

John Rougeux: Yeah, yeah. Sure. All right. Jeff well look, I want to close things out with one question. I’ve started to ask all of my, category creation guests. It’s a, you’ve been, you’ve been at Everbridge, you know, five years and change, right? Correct. Yeah. Okay. So if you could go back roughly five years and give yourself one piece of advice, what would that be?

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, that’s a, that, that is a great question. There’s a, there’s a lot of advice that probably would give, because I, I definitely grown up a lot from, from a marketing perspective, in that time. Partly because, you know, prior to Everbridge, most of my background was centered around public relations, and primarily working for PR and digital marketing agencies. So, I guess if I had had one piece of advice, it would be, and this is more broad marketing advice. It would be, just continue to learn every single day. Try to try to, to develop and hone a new skill set every single day. If you’re someone who’s starting in, a B2B marketing organization in your, I mean, I guess at that time I was, hadn’t even turned 30. I look at it as just an entree to becoming, more of a generalist. Try to expose yourself to everything, try content marketing, try, PR, try marketing demand generation. If you can send out emails, learn Marketo, learn Salesforce, learn how to run an event, learn how to run an internal event or internal meeting leverage, you know, you know, hone your skills, hone your, your PowerPoint skills, you know, your, your copywriting skills and things of that nature.

Jeff Benanto: So that, that’s from a marketing perspective. And then maybe more relevant or more Germane to our conversation here, from, from category creation. I think that the customer advocacy journey has really sort of taken off in the last two or three years. So, so five years ago I would’ve said first things first, meet with your customers. from, from day one, if I could have gone back to it, you know, there was probably a year or so where I wasn’t as close to the customers, especially the ones who are helping us shape this category creation journey. So if I could have met with them, learn from them, as quickly as possible, I would have had a faster awareness of the problems that they’re, that they’re dealing with. And then we maybe would have been able to develop some of our category a messaging even faster and gotten it out to market in a more efficient manner.

John Rougeux: Good stuff. All right. That’s a good advice there, Jeff. If a one of our listeners wants to get in touch with you, maybe ask the question about category creation, category design what’s the best way for them to do that.

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, absolutely. I’m a very available on Linkedin, Jeff Benanto, so, Twitter is @jbenanto. And those are probably the best ways to reach me. I also do, blog about customer marketing and customer advocacy, and talk about category design and creation as well, on Medium as well. and you can find that through my, my Twitter bio.

John Rougeux: All Right, nice. Jeff, thanks again for being with us. A lot of, good advice today and in really just actionable, information since you guys are in the midst of building this category. So thanks again for being with us. It was a real pleasure to have you on.

Jeff Benanto: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much. I really appreciate the opportunity.

John Rougeux: All right, take care.

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John Rougeux

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

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