Apr 2020

Building a category, part two – when to build and when to buy

Written by Paul Maher

Building a category, part two – when to build and when to buy

As previously explained in part one, tech Category-building is hard, slow work. For B2B tech brands, Category leadership doesn’t come easy or fast.

To earn this in the eyes of the tech world, you need to have employees onboard and bring customers with you as you build world-class content into every stage of the customer journey. 

It all starts with a core story, or Point of View. Category-definers start strong and don’t let up. They have the sharpest headlines, attention-grabbing websites and crucially a distinctive and (mostly) defensible Point of View. There are no prizes for “sorta compelling”. Your POV needs to hit right between the earlobes. It needs to be emotionally charged and strikingly different.

Your stories need to start strong, because initial awareness prompts interest which leads to conversions. To really change the world’s view and build your category, follow-on messages need to remain consistent. This way as your solutions achieve widespread adoption, with luck and skill, early customer success will elicit longer-term satisfaction. This in turn will be mirrored in customer references which achieve a flywheel effect to build the Category out.

Loyalty is what powers Categories over the long term. It builds slowly, a single monthly, or annual re-up and upsell at a time. Sounds straightforward? It would be if B2B marketing teams were given the unlimited budgets and had the decade-long horizons of many of their B2C peers. Which of course, especially in these times, they do not.

Except for a decreasingly small handful of global players, few have the large in-house teams to handle every customer touchpoint from billboards to print, to digital and experiential marketing. But it may be that all of these skills are needed to build your Category. 

Even with the numbers, talent with the external perspective to power brands through the phases of Category Creation is rare. That’s why, in our experience, demand outstrips supply and most scale-up, and almost all startup, B2B tech firms cannot justify hiring directly to build their Category fast. So it makes sound business sense to work with teams with the range of skills needed for Category domination, whatever the most effective tactics. 

Help is at hand

At Positive, from the outset we designed our business to fill the skill gaps in the Category execution processes. We integrate skills across teams, rather than specialising in limited  skill sets leading to a pyramid structure where seniority is literally based on time in post, like in legacy PR or content firms. 

B2B tech marketing leaders need to constantly balance the right external skills with their internal-available skillsets. So we are diverse. We recognise the value of both sound counsel from those who have been there and done that, as well as the need for digital-natives to recommend and implement the latest smart ways to engage digital-native buyers. 

Category growth is a long-term and non-stop objective. Every working day, and under lockdown, every single day, all B2B Tech marketing and sales leaders live with this tension between the skills available from their internal tech marketing teams and the fresh thinking needed to push their Category to the next level. Assessing where each of your products or services is in its journey to market domination at any given point is critical.

Next time, I’ll talk about what to do if you have started up and scaled up and your challenge is pivoting or refreshing your category.


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