Category design is warfare.
You’re claiming new territory, and you need the means and the willpower to defend it. Indefinitely.
With that in mind, have you considered if your team is ready for battle?
In this post, I’m going to tell you why an internal category design launch is so important – and why skipping it might set you up to get blown out of the water!
You Can’t Afford to Rush (Even In An Emergency)
Just before World War II, the United States had just 334,473 people in military service. But to win, the U.S. would need to recruit nearly 12 million more soldiers. That number alone amazes me, but surprises me even more is how long these soldiers had to train before heading to the battlefront.
Depending on the branch and the specialty, soldiers would train anywhere from four months to the better part of a year (source, source).
During all that training, battles were being waged, soldiers were dying, enemies were getting stronger, and the country’s morale and resources were dwindling. If there was ever a time to rush recruits into the front lines, this would be it. But that didn’t happen. Despite all the pressures of the war, the U.S. remained committed to training its troops fully before sending them to fight.
It makes sense why they exercised such patience. A poorly trained soldier might not last very long. And what would be the point of rushing troops into battle if it meant they’d need to be replaced right away?
As category designers, we don’t have to worry about our troops dying in battle.
But we do have to worry about getting wiped out from a future competitor. That’s why prepping your team for the “category design battle” is so important – even if it means waiting to launch your category publicly.
Rushing a Category Launch Is a Quick Path to Failure
I understand the temptation.
You’ve already spent months building the foundation for your category. Every day you push back your first lightning strike is another day your competitors get stronger.
But if you launch your new category into the world before your entire company is behind the effort, here are all the ways you’ll leave yourself exposed.
You don’t get a second chance to tell customers about your new category. If your messaging is off, then your customers will be confused about what your company is all about. Failing to get your entire team on board with your category means they’ll be making up their own messaging as they go. And that may leave you worse off than before you started.
Poor Alignment On The Problem You Solve
Category design means obsessing over the problem you solve. But if your team doesn’t have a solid handle on how that problem is defined, then they’ll have trouble developing the right product roadmap. That’s exactly what will happen if you launch a category without bringing product and engineering along.
Slow Decision Making
There is a military term called commander’s intent. It means “A clear and concise expression of the purpose of the operation and the desired military end state that… helps subordinate and supporting commanders act to achieve the commander’s desired results without further orders.” If your team doesn’t understand your category design intent, then they can’t make good decisions about how to get there on their own.
“Gravity” Will Set In
Christopher Lochhead told me that one of the biggest threats to category designers is letting gravity set in – letting the “old” way of thinking take over. But that’s easy to let happen if you haven’t taken the time to rally your team behind your category design plans.
You Need to Prepare, But You Have to Do It Fast
By now, I think you’ve seen why you can’t rush into a category launch before your team is ready. But you can’t spend months and months on that. You have to get your team on board as soon as you can.
That’s why an internal launch is a key ingredient. Think of it as an internal lighting strike. You need to break through all the noise of the day-to-day, and provide your team with a memorable, galvanizing event that sets the tone for the future. (In my next post, I’ll share how we pulled this off at BombBomb. We scared half our team into thinking that Slack was overtaken by imposters!)
Here’s what happens when an internal launch is done right.
Each Department Knows Their Role
Category design isn’t a marketing initiative. It’s an all-company effort that combines product development, marketing, and business strategy. But if each department doesn’t know the why behind your category design plans, they won’t be in a good position to help. A good internal launch provides clear directions on how they’ll participate.
Category Thinking Becomes Part of Company Culture
A great internal launch should be something your team can tell stories about for years to come. If done right, your category design plans will start to feel like the reason people come to work in the first place, instead of something that was tacked on as an afterthought.
Your Team Has Time to Process
New categories represent new solutions to problems. Adopting that new approach means leaving an old way of thinking behind. That doesn’t happen on its own. An internal category launch can create a visible milestone in your company history. It will make it more clear that your team is in a new chapter – one opened by a specific, high-profile event.
Better Lightning Strike Ideas
At BombBomb, we had a third of the company devote a couple of weeks to brainstorming lightning strikes. And we got some killer ideas as a result. That only happened because of our internal launch. Do the same, and you’ll not only have more ideas to draw from, but you’ll also have more support when it comes time to execute.
Nailing the messaging for a new category is tricky. Almost anything you say will feel strange at first. And you don’t always know what words, phrases, and explanations will work best until you try them on for size. But you can get to the right messaging faster if you have more people participating. An internal launch kick starts this process.
Good Preparation Doesn’t Mean Getting It Perfect
I hope I don’t sound like I’m suggesting that you have to prepare your team to perfection before you launch your category. Moving quickly does matter. So does preparing sufficiently for battle. But if you take months to get your team on board, you’ll lose momentum. In the meantime, competitors will get stronger. An internal launch event can give you the advantages of thorough preparation, while only taking a few weeks to pull off.
What does this look like in practice? Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll share the internal launch event we held at BombBomb.