As a category designer, your Point-of-View (or POV) is a critical document for your category design strategy. If you’ve read Play Bigger (the original book on category design), you already know that will inform nearly every aspect of your category design process. When done right, it shows your customers (and your employees, investors, partners, the press, etc.) the problems you are taking the world from and the new future your category is delivering them to.
The end result is a document that’s just a few hundred words long (if you push it). But developing one that resonates with all those audiences is no easy task.
In this post, I’ll share the process I use to develop POVs from scratch.
Start Outlining a POV by Using the Hero’s Journey
If you’re not familiar with the hero’s journey, it’s a classic story arc that many novels, movies, and other stores are based off of. It was first outlined by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Donald Miller based his popular StoryBrand approach off of it. And George Lucas followed it to a T when he created the Star Wars saga.
I like to use the Hero’s Journey as a framework for two reasons.
- It’s a story structure that we are all familiar with (and easily understand).
- It lends itself well to the category design approach of taking your customer (the hero) from a state of despair to a state of triumph.
You can find more about using the Hero’s Journey in business writing in this post I wrote. But here’s the short version:
- The story begins with the hero in a normal state of affairs. Life is fine.
- Something happens, and the hero is introduced to new problems.
- In this new reality, the hero embarks on a quest to conquer these problems.
- The hero struggles for a while, and looks like she might even fail.
- Outside help arrives that gives the hero a new ability.
- This help can be a person, a weapon, an insight, a special ability, or almost anything else.
- With this newfound ability, the hero is able to conquer her challenges.
- The hero returns to the place she came from. But life isn’t the same; it’s better.
I use this same framework for creating POVs, because most of them end up sounding like this (especially in B2B):
- Your customer was probably doing relatively OK at some point
- A change happened in their world, and then their job and/or life became more difficult
- They tried to find a solution, but no suitable ones existed
- Your category came to life and provided a solution
- Your customer gains this solution, conquers their problems, and levels up
- Life is back to normal for your customers, and maybe even better (more revenue, a promotion, etc.)
Know that you know the framework, here’s what to do next.
Ask These 8 Questions Before Writing Your POV
I don’t recommend going straight into writing your POV. You’ll have too much figuring out to do as you write it, and it will turn into a bit of a quagmire. Instead, answer these eight questions first, and you’ll have the right raw material to work with.
1. Who is your customer?
Problems don’t exist independently of people. So the best thing you can do to start your POV is to clarify who you are solving problems for. The tighter you can get this definition the better. You can always broaden your audience later, but you’ll grow faster if you are focused. Even if you are solving a general problem that lots of people experience, you need to do this. People experience the same problem in different ways, and suffer different consequences. They also use different language to describe the problem, which you’ll want to mirror in the POV itself.
2. What is your customer trying to achieve?
Ultimately, you want the problem described in your POV to put something deeply important at risk. Usually, this means a threat to something fundamental. For example, for a customer success team, it might mean their ability to reach net negative churn (and move from being a cost-center to a revenue-center). For a CTO, it could mean their chances of preventing a major data breach. In other words, a great POV won’t attack a surface level problem. You need to identify a goal that is crucial to their very existence and frame the problem in those terms.
3. What problems is your customer facing in trying to achieve this goal?
This is where you want to be specific. Identify the tangible factors that are directly putting your customer’s odds of success at risk. There are probably several. List as many as you can, then filter down the list to the ones your category is going to address. Don’t overstep here; no one expects your product to be a cure-all, and presenting it as such will only draw skepticism. (Here’s a more in-depth resource on defining these problems.)
4. What changed in your customer’s world?
Usually, there is some development that brought this problem to existence (or perhaps, raised the stakes enough to where a small problem became a major one). Find out what this is. You need to do this for two reasons. First, identifying a change in your customer’s environment makes it easier to make the case that your category needs to exist. If nothing changed, why does a new solution need to exist? Secondly, this development lets the customer off the hook. You never want to blame your customer for what’s wrong. Instead, use this development to frame the problem as a circumstance your customer simply experienced.
5. Why can’t your customer solve this problem?
Identifying the problem is a start, but you also need to demonstrate why customers should spend the effort looking into a new type of solution. In other words, you have to do more than point out the problem, you have to show why other potential solutions aren’t going to cut it.
6. What are the consequences if your customer doesn’t solve this problem?
This might be the most important question. Often, new categories aren’t competing against other products. They are competing against the status quo. When that happens, the worst thing a potential customer can say is “So what?” That translates into, “Yes, I’ve had this issue for ages, but I can deal with it. Why should I spend the time/effort/money to solve it?” If that’s the response you’re getting, then you haven’t framed the consequences of your customer’s problem in dire enough terms. As Christopher Lochhead taught me, the consequences of the problem should be on par with “genital cancer.”
7. How is your category addressing this problem?
This section is where you turn the corner. Now you can speak to the specific changes that your category will make in the lives of your customers. You don’t need to get into features and benefits. Just provide enough detail so that your customers believe you actually have this thing figured out, and are intrigued to learn more.
8. What future state will your category deliver?
Now is the time to bring things home. Remember, people don’t buy products, they buy outcomes. Create a clear, vivid, and desirable picture of the future state you are going to allow customers to experience. You’ve already laid the groundwork by speaking to the problem, its consequences, and the reasons why the problem still persists. And if you’ve done a good job of describing the problem, people will assume you have a good solution. Focus on what your customers will feel and experience when your category delivers on its promise, and save the technical details for another time.
Your First Pass at a POV Will Be Crap. That’s OK.
When you first put pen to paper, your first attempt at a POV will be pretty rough. It will be too long, incoherent, and raise more questions than answers. At least, that’s how mine are.
That’s OK. Give it time. This why Ernest Hemingway said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Come back to it the next day and make some revisions. As Kevin Maney at Category Design Advisors teaches in his post about writing a POV, “Simpler is always more powerful.” When you feel like you have something that’s starting to get close, run it by some friends. Or better yet, some potential customers. You can even do formal surveys is you want more structured feedback.
Even though it’s hard, keep going until you feel confident yourself and are getting the right feedback from others. Your POV will lay the foundation for much of your category design work that’s to come, so it’s important to get it right. Good luck!