This is the fifth article in a small series of punches surrounding April Dunford's Obviously Awesome! and how good positioning relates to good branding. Please read the first article, second article, third article, and fourth article before jumping into this one.
You know what the alternatives are, you know the special things that make your startup unique, you've established what makes that valuable, and you know who finds it the most valuable. Now, what frame of reference can you give to customers that will help them understand who you are?
This is accomplished through establishing a market category. For example, an automobile is a specific market, motorcycles are another. If you say your startup is going to be an automobile, it is assumed that it will be some kind of four-wheeled transportation. If a motorcycle, it is assumed it will be two-wheeled.
Same thing applies to software. If you are building out a creative software, it's assumed it will be capable of creating artwork digitally. Or if you were creating a video conferencing platform, it'd be assumed you could do something like connect with others via teleconference.
Why does this matter? Because it's important to make sure you don't allow for false assumptions. A famous mash of market category explanation is "it's like Uber, but for (blank)." What does that mean? It means that whatever you're building is going to have something to do with transportation, the shared economic model, and probably be app based, right?
When you repeat those assumptions to startup founders, you frequently get a response similar to, "well, kinda."
Ouch. Bad move. Now you've got a bigger problem. Now you have to combat assumptions and pay close attention to fix them.
At its core, market categories and choosing to associate your company with one is done to make your marketing easier. This happens because, when done right, those assumptions allow you to cut straight to the differentiating pieces of your startup rather than trying to explain what it is.
What does this have to do with branding?
I'd guess the biggest impact this has on branding is the ability to see what assumptions are already in place about the emotional value of the category. The companies in each market category have stigmas, jargon, and they tend to adopt similar brand personalities. You have the opportunity to break those assumptions and create a unique personality.
One company that comes to mind is Liquid Death, who blew past expectation when they took a death-metal inspired, brewery-like approach to selling water. They entered a crowded market with few companies straying from a fresh, clean, and renewing vibe. We know what it is, water, and because of the market category we are able to ascertain what separates it from the rest of the herd.
It's easy to get caught in the trap of "more is better." More features, more services, more users, more shareholders, more views. More is a hungry ghost. Endlessly craving and never satisfied.
On top of that, they haunt you. Chasing hungry ghosts inevitably ends with the roles reversed.
"More" doesn't end and it pushes companies to do costly things that they wouldn't do otherwise. If you want to chase after more you need more hands, you need more money, you need to fundraise, you need to step out of the garage and buy a fancy office, you need to pull all-nighters, you stretch your team. All because you are haunted by "more."
An alternative: offer the smallest, best promise you can make. Small, so you know you can keep them and accomplish what is asked of you. Over time, they will build on each other you will have something amazing.
It's a good way to keep hungry ghosts out of your life.
I recently deleted several apps from my phone, ones that I had previously used on a daily basis (Gmail, LinkedIn, Slack, etc). Apart from not being bothered by the constant slew of information or feeling the need to satiate a hunger for attention, something else happened after deleting these apps:
I could critique and analyze them more effectively.
Akin to seeing the forest through the trees, opening an app after not using for a bit gave me a new perspective. I could examine each step in their onboarding, I could observe their interactions with a keen eye, I could look at their layout and better empathize with someone who hadn't seen it before.
Using these apps or obsessively critiquing them daily wouldn't allow me to do that.
In the interest of getting good ideas and understanding what makes these products great, delete them... for a bit.