What’s Your Category?

October 10, 2017

Hardly a week goes by without a CEO espousing to us at MeBox that their company’s solution is so right on – that it’s a flat out mystery why people don’t get it.  They then launch into what they are convinced needs to happen to drive sales: More traffic, better branding, clearer benefits statements – can we help?

Our response: “What problem do your customers want to solve?”  And that’s when we get the first opportunity to help.  Most CEO’s focus their company on solving a problem they are convinced their audience needs to have solved…not the one that the audience wants.

At the end of this article you’ll have tools to: (1) identify the problem that your audience wants to have solved and (2) the emotional link that unleashes their commitment to take action to solve that problem.  That 1-2 combination leads to a clear definition of your category – the first step in Community Design.

The Problem – a Metaphor

John had figured out how to make titanium bike frames that were beautiful, precision engineered to exact rider specs and durable because of the special cold-worked materials.  Titanium is the perfect material for making bike frames because it won’t fail – if assembled correctly.  So John set out to build the perfect Titanium bike.  He convinced himself that the market wanted and needed a bike frame that will not fail – and he sold a few frames a year…but never more than a few.

Working closely with John we dug into his point of view.  We worked through a clear and concise articulation of his audience’s aspirations, and what they would get if they bought from John.  We researched his perfect customer – and we argued over what the real problem was that his perfect customer was trying to solve.

Guess what we found.  People who buy and ride titanium frame bikes EXPECT very high quality.  What John’s customers wanted was a bike that fit them perfectly – and reflected their commitment as a rider.  They wanted to be part of an elite community that purchased their bike from an expert who behaved with the mannerisms of a dedicated, encouraging and concerned coach. They wanted the acquisition process to be a personal, memorable experience.  John’s category became “the Titanium Experience”.  He sells a lot more frames – at 8x NET profit per frame.  PLUS his lifetime value of his customer is 35x because most of his customers subscribe to his ongoing Titanium Experience tips and trips.

The Process

Understanding what your customer wants is an iterative journey/cycle.   We go through structured exercises that start with defining our client’s point of view. (Download the exercise that we use to start this process below.)  This exercise ALWAYS causes an argument.  Some of the questions frustrate our clients – so we work our way through this exercise at a pace that allows everyone involved to get comfortable – staying flexible about re-wording the questions if that helps keep the conversation moving.  When we get to the last question – “Why is your Point of View important to your audience” we suggest that the client’s answers be validated through audience research.  The research we get back can be just the eye opener that the leadership team needs to cap their commitment to defining what the audience really wants.

The journey/cycle includes a couple of other exercises.  We typically engage in a Before and After Exercise (Download the worksheet below)– just to see if the way we are solving the problem provides enough of an emotional link to unleash their commitment to sign up.

Once we all agree that the Point of View is “right” and that the Before and After is compelling – it’s not that difficult to name the Category.

Do’s and Don’t’s

To make this work the facilitator needs to be patient and able to disarm emotions.  This is hard work – and some of the team members will find it difficult to be vulnerable during discussions.  As a facilitator you’ll need to keep the conversation moving, using conflict resolution, creative thinking and re-framing processes.

If the company leadership is not collaborative and encouraging (see our blog: Are kind of leader that can lead a category leader?) you’re in for a rough ride.

As far as the research component: The challenge is not to ask the audience what they want – but to be able to frame the problem in such a way that when the audience is offered a problem definition and asked if that applies to them, you get insight that you can use.  It’s best to use interviews.  We’ve found other techniques to be too restrictive – and results misleading.

Next Steps

If you can answer these questions correctly you’re ready to start the Community Design process:

  • What problem do you solve?
  • Is that the problem that your customers want to solve?
  • Do you have a name for what you do that your audience will clearly relate to as a Category?
  • What is your Category?

If you can’t answer these questions drop us a note and let’s see how we can help.


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