Category As A Frame Of Reference
A brand’s frame of reference is the foundation of its positioning. It will determine the points of parity the brand has to meet in order to be considered a legitimate player, and highlight opportunities to differentiate. As such, your brand needs to fit into the framework of a brand category that people understand and relate to in order to really ‘get’ your brand. As UC Berkeley Professor George Lakoff explains, a frame of reference is absolutely essential, get it wrong and your difference may be ignored: “Framing provides a mental structure that shapes the way we see the world. If a strongly held frame doesn’t fit the facts, the facts will be ignored.”
It’s human nature to want to fit things into a category. The more innovative and disruptive your offering is, the more it needs a frame that people can relate to. If your brand can’t easily be defined, people often push it to the margins and leave it there. This is because its complexity is easier to ignore than to figure out.
People hold on tightly to their established understandings of what a category is and what it offers. Choosing the right category is about defining, or framing, what people are buying in such a way that your value shines through. The goal is to identify the best category that will help your customers “get” your value and make it relevant to them, while putting your competitors at a disadvantage.
When Your Brand Category Isn’t Serving Your Brand
If you are looking to grow your business, make sure the brand category you align with is still the right one for the brand. For some brands, the category they originally aligned with stops serving their needs. If you meet any of the following criteria, it might be time to break out of your current category and become a new breed of category creators developing new markets with innovative technology and products.
- You are altering your strategic direction and your business model is shifting.
- Your product or offering is misunderstood by prospects and partners.
- You have created a significant innovation or proprietary advantage.
- Competition is stifling your ability to grow.
- Your current category prevents your key differences from standing out as ‘must haves.’
- Your category is in crisis or has fallen out of favor.
- You are ready to extend your brand beyond current customer segments.
It’s Time to Create a New Brand Category
Creating a new brand category might be the best way to position your brand for success. But, creating a new category is incredibly hard. For most companies, it’s hard enough to explain what your product does and how it’s different from your competitors. And the task of explaining and defending a new product category can be too much for many companies to take on.
However, the rewards of creating a new category are great. High0companies that created their own category accounted for 74% of incremental market capitalization growth from 2009 to 2011. Category creators experience much faster growth and receive much higher valuations from investors than companies bringing only incremental innovations to market.
Category creators must be fearless and confident in their ability to lead the category, build momentum quickly, and maintain a reputation as the category leader over time. Before creating a new category, consider whether your business has the resources and time available. Don’t just define a new category for your brand, but brand the category itself. In the end, creating a new category can be transformational for your brand and business if you do it well. Look for the best practices for defining a new category and what mistakes to avoid in our upcoming post.
This is the 1st in a series. Check to How to Create a New Brand Category, Naming a New Brand Category, and Launching a New Brand Category by downloading our White Paper on Brand Category Creation.
Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy firm working with high-growth technology companies.