Any entrepreneur, marketer, or creator can carve out a new and different niche by applying the core category design frameworks. These tools help guide your strategic thinking, solidify a unique point of view, make the most of “weird” data, and attract your category’s top consumers.
The Magic Triangle
The Category Science of Superconsumers
The 8 Levers of Radical Differentiation
Lighting Strike Marketing Event
The Content Pyramid
Companies that successfully apply category design frameworks earn an outsized majority of a category’s market share. But the ones that ignore them? They rarely become Category Kings.
So, let’s jump into the 6 essential frameworks all category designers need.
1. The Magic Triangle
The Magic Triangle is the combination of product design, company design, and category design.
Product Design: The purposeful building of a product and experience that solves the problem the category needs solved. The goal here is “product/category fit.”
Company Design: The purposeful creation of a business model and an organization with aculture and point of view that fits with the new category. The goal here is company/category fit, meaning you have engineered the right business model and team for the problem you are looking to solve.
Category Design: The mindful creation and development of a new market category. It’s designed so the category will pull in customers who will then make the company its Queen. In marketing terms, this is about teaching the world to abandon the old and embrace the new.
Each side of the triangle is equally important, working together and balancing each other to exert great force on a company’s success and value. Ideally, you want to execute each side at the same time. This dramatically improve your odds of becoming a Category King or Queen by positioning you to avoid The “Better” Trap (aka, competing for minority market share with a “better” version of what already exists in the world).
For example, Tesla applied each side of The Magic Triangle to become the Category King of electric cars.
Product Design: Tesla is not just a car manufacturer—it’s a sustainable energy manufacturer. It simply began by building zero-emission vehicles. And is mission, accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy, is apparent in every product it designs.
Company Design: Elon Musk open-sourced Tesla’s patents because he understands that Tesla alone cannot achieve the mission of building electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis. So he made Tesla’s intellectual property accessible. The more, the merrier.
Category Design: Tesla doesn’t promote the “Tesla” brand. It promotes “electric vehicles” and, more broadly, “sustainable energy” (the category). And today, Tesla is the dominant EV company in the U.S. with about 63% market share.
Languaging is the strategic use of language to change thinking. It changes the way people perceive the thing they’re looking at.
Henry Ford called the first vehicle a “horseless carriage,” not a faster horse.
Sara Blakely invented “Spanx,” not better shapewear.
You “Google” questions to find answers online, you don’t search engine it.
Category Designers deliberately use Languaging to differentiate themselves from any and all competition through word choice, tone, and nuance. They use it to speak to (and speak “like”) the customers they want to attract—especially the Superconsumers of the category. And they use it to further establish their position in the category they are designing or redesigning.
A category/niche: “What’s the new and different market that we want to become known for?”
A POV: “What do we stand for that’s different than everyone else? How can we move people’s thinking FROM the way the world used to be (old category) TO the way we believe the world can be (new category)?”
And messaging: “What are all the different ways we can communicate our POV, to who, when, and why, such that they take action?”
For example, Keurig uses Languaging to claim its niche as a Category King of coffee.
Category: Single-Serve Coffee
POV: It's not a cup of coffee from a coffee pot/shop. It's a single-serve coffee maker that brews your own personal cup of coffee, based on the K-Cup flavor you choose.
Messaging: "Hey office manager: office coffee pots are messy. You want a Keurig. It's not a cup of coffee from a coffee pot/shop. It's a single-serve coffee maker that allows every single person in the office to brew their own personal cup of coffee, based on the K-Cup flavor they choose.”
If done well, Languaging has the potential to reflect the unspoken qualities of your category point of view.
3. The Category Science Of Superconsumers
A Superconsumer is the kind of person who knows your category better than anyone else—and is willing to spend 30% to 70% more with you.
Superconsumers (and the data associated with them) are essential to unlocking exponential growth for your business. When you gather and leverage this information through a data flywheel, you can forecast the future of the category. How?
By using Category Science.
Category Science uses a forward-looking lens to discover insights that reveal how the future is going to be different from the past.
One of our own at Category Pirates, Pirate Eddie, is a Category Scientist.
And what Eddie does is analyze data and look for things in the past that help him discover how to CREATE a DIFFERENT future (and not: a future that is a continuation of the past). For example, in his book Superconsumers he tells the story of his work with Swingline and the discovery of the “stapler Superconsumer.” As a “consultant,” he dove into Swingline stapler data using a forward-looking lens. And what the data revealed was that a small fraction of consumers drove nearly 80% of the category revenue. It wasn’t just how they spent their money that was an outlier data point, but how they spent their time.
Specifically, they would routinely shop office supply retailers 4-6 times per month.
Pirate Eddie shared this weird data and his weirder hypothesis with Jeff Ackerberg, the President of Swingline.
They immediately shifted their marketing budget to in store activation tailored to this “stapler Superconsumer.” Nine months after the changes were implemented, total stapler category sales went up 19%and higher margin heavy duty and electric stapler sales doubled. Category Science revealed an opportunity to CREATE a different future.
It does not start with last year’s plan as the template. And it is not an effort to try to market to “everybody.” Your goal should be to create the Comic-Con for your category — whatever that means to you (and for your Superconsumers).
To execute your own Lightning Strike, you’ll have to cover the main pillars.
The Information War: The war for who frames the problem, names and claims the solution, and as a result owns the narrative. These efforts are often focused on POV marketing/word of mouth.
The Air War: The war for who is able to most effectively “sell” a narrative at scale. These efforts are more focused on demand creation.
The Ground War: The war for who can best convert new recruits to the effort — prospect to prospect, customer to customer, consumer to consumer, and thus make the cash register sing. These efforts are more focused on demand capture and lead generation.
Tesla executes Lightning Strikes terrifically with their Tesla AI Day, Autonomous Day, and Battery Day events, which are primarily held in service of attracting more Superconsumers.
When you’re ready to create a massive amount of buzz, dive into our post on executing a Lighting Strike for detailed tactics and examples.
6. The Content Pyramid
The Content Pyramid shows the five levels to becoming a legendary writer, creator, or “thought leader” in your field.
Level 1: Consumption
Level 2: Curation
Level 3: Obvious Connection
Level 4: Non-Obvious Connection
Level 5: Category Creation
Unfortunately, most people struggle to make it past Levels 2 or 3 on The Content Pyramid.
That’s because getting to Level 4 means becoming a Non-Obvious Connectors. These are writers, creators, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders who change the world with their thinking. Here are some Non-Obvious Connectors you may recognize:
Both Obvious Connectors and Non-Obvious Connectors can achieve the top of the pyramid, Level 5. This is even true for curators (like Ryan Holiday). But to make it to Level 5, you need to know exactly who you’re creating for (and who you’re not for).