Don’t Mistake Category Design with Being An “Official” Category

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One of the most common myths about category design (especially if you’re in software) goes like this:

“Category design is what happens when the category name you created shows up on a research and review site like G2 or Gartner.”

It makes sense why you might think this.

After all, review sites and analyst resources like these often do reflect new market categories when they’re created. And they’re often viewed as a reference when evaluating software. But if you’re too focused on turning your category into an “official” one, then you’ll limit your success.

In this post, I’ll explain why – and give you a better way to think about category design instead.

Research and Review Sites Exist to Make Money, Not Build Categories

Let’s first take a look at why resources like G2, Gartner, Forrester, TrustRadius, and Capterra exist in the first place. At their core, they are businesses that exist to make money. They each have their own take on doing that, but it all boils down to this: each site focuses first on adding value to software buyers first. This can come in the form of capturing reviews, making it easy to compare choices, or publishing industry research.

Once this reputation is established, then something special happens: software sellers start to care about their presence there. And to help sellers improve that presence, each business offers products to help sellers stand out. For example, at BombBomb, we pay G2 for the privilege of advertising on the profile pages of our competitors. We pay Capterra so that BombBomb shows up first when people search for related terms (just like AdWords). We could pay Gartner six figures to publish some analyst research on us. You get the idea.

The important thing to see is these sites for buyers looking at established software categories. It doesn’t make economic sense to focus on nascent or emerging categories. Put another way, they aren’t in the business of helping buyers discover categories that might emerge. Their business isn’t built around that. Their main job is to reflect what already exists in the market and sell products that capture that demand.

Early category evangelization
Early on, buyers are only looking for categories of software they are already aware of. At this point, category designers should just focus on evangelizing the market about the category – not any of the review or research sites.

Here’s an example. BombBomb and some of our competitors (Vidyard, Loom, Drift, CoVideo, HippoVideo, Dubb, and others) have been offering software that lets you send, record, and track personal videos over email for years. But nowhere could you find a category that accurately reflected that functionality. The reason? The space hadn’t really taken form yet. That finally changed in mid-2020, when G2 created the “Video Email” category. (By the way, this is not the category we are actually building, despite our #1 ranking. More on that later.)

Late category evangelization
Once the market is aware of the new category and starts to show interest, only then should category designers approach review and research sites about getting the category listed. If it doesn’t happen, buyers will still engage with brands that have been evangelizing the category.

If you’re a company that sells software, you have very little control over when your category might get listed somewhere. It might take years. But if you’re doing category design right, your buyers don’t need to see this term listed elsewhere. Early on, your job is to evangelize the category and prove its worth. Turning it into an “official” category can happen later – or it may never happen at all.

Your Category May Never Be Listed, and That’s OK

The G2s and Gartners of the world might take a while to reflect reality, but does that just mean it’s only a matter of time before your category is listed? Actually, no.

Take HubSpot and the “inbound marketing” category. It’s one of the classic category design examples. So much so that “inbound marketing” is often synonymous with just plain “marketing” in most B2B SaaS companies. Naturally, you’d think that inbound marketing software would be a shoo-in for an “official” category name. But you won’t find that term anywhere on G2. Or Capterra. Or TrustRadius, for that matter. Why? I’m not completely sure, but my guess is that inbound marketing became such a broad category that it needed to be broken down into its components.

HubSpot isn’t the only example. Gong is hard at work building the Revenue Intelligence category, but you won’t see that listed anywhere either – even they are one of the most successful B2B SaaS companies out there right now. And decades ago, Salesforce pioneered what we now know as SaaS (in the form of a new CRM), but that category is so broad it’s not even helpful to treat it as one.

Sure, it’s nice if your category gets listed in an official capacity. But as you know by now, that’s not the point of category design. I’ll explain more about this by sharing our thought process behind category design at BombBomb.

Why BombBomb Is Leaving “Video Email” Despite Being #1

Earlier I mentioned how BombBomb provided video email software years before “Video Email” was ever an official category. What I didn’t mention is that we were also the first company to do this. And today we have more paying customers than anyone else who does video email. Does that mean we “designed” the video email category? Are we the video email category king? Maybe, but honestly, I don’t really care.

There are two reasons for this.

First, “video email” is starting to become standardized. While companies like BombBomb and Vidyard are focused on a robust solution for enterprise customers, there are now a number of free/cheap products for lightweight, individual use (e.g. Loom, HippoVideo). While they can’t do everything that more sophisticated offerings can, if you want to simply send a video, they get the job done. And that puts “video email” at risk of becoming a commodity. And in commoditized spaces, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of competing on features or price.

G2 Video Email Grid
Even though BombBomb is #1 in the Video Email category that G2 just launched, we’re choosing to go after something bigger.

That leads to the second reason: our vision is much larger than video email itself. After years of helping people communicate more effectively through personal, one-to-one video, we realized we were in a position to solve a much larger problem: something we call “digital pollution.”

Over time, the proliferation of marketing automation, bots, spam, phishing attempts, and other forms of this “digital pollution” have made it a real chore to figure out what messages are worth paying attention to and what should be deleted. If you’re a salesperson (like most of our customers), this is a real issue. It becomes harder every day to break through that noise. And that’s the problem we’re focused on. Video email and video messaging a great start to solving that, but we have bigger plans in mind. It’s an approach we’re calling “human-centered communication”. And we’re using the category design strategy to break free of “video email” and build something that is focused on a more fundamental problem.

Pursue Category Design To Be Different, Not to Get Listed

I share this story because if you’re working on category design, I don’t want you to get hung up on whether your category becomes something “official” or not. Focus instead on solving a new problem – or tackling an old problem in a new way. If you’re pursuing category design for the right reasons, you’ll be successful – regardless of what happens on a G2 or a Gartner.

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About the Author

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

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john_rougeux_2019

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

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