Imagine you walk into a convenience store to buy shampoo. You decide to try a new one.
You look around, read a few labels. Finally, you select one.
But when you actually pour it out in the shower, you realise....this is not shampoo. This is maple syrup.
And dammit if it isn't the best maple syrup you've ever tasted, albeit accidentally.
What do you do? You either stop buying the shampoo....or buy it to use as maple syrup.
And you know what? You might be selling maple syrup in shampoo packaging.
(Okay, stick with me. It'll make sense in a bit).
Your market category determines so much about how your product sells—it decides whether you're a leader or another SaaS business that dies out.
Your market category puts you in context.
It shows your audience what features to evaluate you on.
The shampoo is evaluated on how well it cleans your hair, how it smells, how it affects your hair.
Your product might suck as a shampoo. It's sticky and sweet and doesn't really do a great job at washing hair.
But it's amazing as maple syrup. It's the purest, tastiest, most ethically made, safest and most beautifully packaged, affordable organic maple syrup to be found.
So why not carefully place your product in the right aisle of the store? Why not sell your product to an audience that's not looking for shampoos, but maple syrup?
(Don't pour shampoos over your pancakes please).
This article will show you how 4 successful businesses selected their market category and the different strategies they used to emerge as leaders in it.
You might think the market category super obvious—but had Slack chosen to go for the 'messaging application' category instead of positioning itself as the 'email-killer', perhaps you and I wouldn't be using it today.
Your market category makes a huge difference in how you position your product.
Strap yourselves in and get ready to learn how the biggies did it and how you can do it too!
Here's what you'll get to read about in this article:
- How Hootsuite and Gainsight built a brand by creating a whole new market category
- What essential elements are important on your website to position yourself in a new market
- Drift's strategy of narrowing down and reframing the market
- What your website needs to look like if you choose a small niche within a big market and reframe the market
- How Zoom entered an established market and still made it to the top of the leaderboard
- How to position your product as a winner in an established market
The best way to think about product framing and selecting your market category is to look at your options and analyze your product in context.
These four businesses chose very different strategies while selecting their market category and establishing themselves in it.
Without further ado, let's go find out the different ways you can frame your product successfully!
How Hootsuite and Gainsight built a brand by creating a whole new market category
Hootsuite's story goes a little something like this: It was 2008. Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ were just starting to blow up.
Facebook's 'like' button hadn't been invented. We were all using those terrible sepia filters.
And Hootsuite founder Ryan Holmes was managing newly-made social media accounts for brands, through his digital advertising agency Invoke.
And it was hard.
Just like it's incredibly difficult for me to keep my professional profile, my personal account and my Justin Bieber fan account separate at times, it was tough to manage digital accounts for multiple businesses at the same time for Invoke.
So to make it all easier, Hootsuite made up a whole new market category: social media management software.
It all happened accidentally.
The team at Invoke was facing a problem.
A new, never-seen-before problem. A problem that emerged from a totally new way of advertising: social media. A problem that people were just starting to have, across industries.
People were still skeptical of social media and what kind of impact it'd have. Nothing was certain.
But Hootsuite saw the problem. And they wanted to solve it—first for themselves, and then for others. The tool started out as a free one, gradually expanding into a freemium model.
But creating a whole new market and emerging as a leader is not as easy as it sounds (and it doesn't sound easy). There's a lot of baggage that comes with it:
- You have to convince people that the problem is worth solving, and is going to be huge in the future. Hootsuite bet on social media—but they had no absolute certainty about how social media would boom. You need to show people the potential in it if they are to buy it.
- You have to educate people about the category and the product. Hootsuite created communities and organised meet-ups with volunteers to get people talking about the product and share tips about social media management. You have to show the problem and the solution to people.
- You have to make sure competitors who come in later (and learn from your mistakes) don't overtake you. You cannot be MySpace, watching the Facebook of your industry overtake you. This means constant innovation, and a kickass understanding of your customer base.
So ask yourself—is your product solving a new problem that people are only gradually starting to find troubling?
What job does your product do, are there others doing it in the same way as you're doing it?
If yes, are you ready to keep innovating as this new market grows? Or do you wanna go the MySpace route? Because Hootsuite didn't stop at Facebook and LinkedIn. It made every social platform accessible and easy.
If you choose this way of framing your product—here's what you need to do on your website:
1. Have entire section or two talking about the need and the outcomes.
You have to stress about the need for a product like yours, and how the future is going to be all about this new market category you are creating.
You have to talk about the success your customers can achieve if they tap in early and make the most of it.
Let me give you an example. If in 2008, Hootsuite had their current headline 'Manage all your social media in one place'—it would make zero sense.
Because social media was a new concept, you needed to show people why they should be managing it all in one place.
Show people how social media management = sales success, and then we're talking.
2. Have a lot of blogs and resources that they can use to understand your product and the new market category.
Spend some time on your home page, explaining exactly what your product does and the impact of it on your business.
'Get your brand in the spotlight on social media, and spend 20% less time on it' shows what social media can do for your brand and how your product can help.
A new market is bound to change quickly—and you need to constantly tap into what the customers needs are and reflect them on your website.
Initially, people were just looking for a way to see all their social media posts in one place. So you could highlight that on your website.
But today, your visitors are looking for reports and scheduling—that needs to be at the foreground if you want to keep up with competitors.
When your product is set in a completely new category, you need to make sure people understand how it'll help them.
When Gainsight practically invented customer success, the climate was just right—the SaaS business model was taking over and founders were realizing that they needed to make customers happy if they wanted to beat out competitors.
But Gainsight told people, right in the header what customer success would do for them: Reduce Churn. Identify Up-Sell. Increase Adoption.
And these were things SaaS founders were looking for.
Outcome-selling is crucial if you're adopting this style of product-framing.
And most importantly, SHOW why you're a new category. Show why you're different and important.
Gainsight can be relegated as a mash-up of customer service, account management and customer analytics.
But they knew that wasn't the right way to describe what they did.
If people think you're just another customer service software when you're actually a customer success one, they're going to be disappointed. It's going to be maple syrup shampoo all over again.
Drift's strategy of narrowing down and reframing the market
First of all, let's just admit Drift kinda blew all our minds.
They came into a market that was saturated as heck: Chat tools.
It chose an audience that had been around for a long time: Marketing and sales team.
And then they combines the two to make a product that won hearts and like $107M in funding.
The two styles of product framing that they adopted here were:
1. Niching down.
Selecting a small section of an existing market. Chat tools existed already, but they catered to everyone. The same tool could be used by marketing teams, customer support, customer success and basically anyone who wanted to talk to customers.
But Drift knew that if they had to make it, they had to be specific.
They had to do one single job, and do it so well that people couldn't ignore them.
So they chose to create a messaging platform, with chatbots, for sales teams.
2. Reframing the market.
Now sales teams have been around for a long time, but they were using forms and calls, because they couldn't afford to give time to every single prospect who showed a bit of interest.
So they made chatbots that did the qualifying for the sales teams, and then let the salespeople take it from there.
Drift knew chats were the next big thing: everyone used it. It made conversations human and personal and faster. Forms were dying.
Sales communications were already a category that forms were the solution for. But Drift shook up the market by showing how the old way sucked. They introduced a whole new way of looking at sales conversations.
If your product performs an existing function (eg. sales communication) in a new and exciting way (using chat), this method of product-framing is for you.
What is innovative about the way my product reaches the outcome? Is it better than already existing ways? How?
If the need already exists, but you're fulfilling it in a different way, you're in the right place.
After that all you have do is show 'em why your style of doing things is better. (It helps if you have a catchy name to your style like 'conversational marketing')
What you need to do on your website if you go for this way of product-framing is:
Use Before/After storytelling.
You have to position the old way (say, forms) as the enemy.
And show them why it is the enemy: what harm does it do to their business?
Forms make your visitors go through loops. Only 1 in 5 people submit forms after starting it. You're losing out on amazing prospects because it's hard to get through to you.
All these reasons push the visitor towards your product—they realize why they need to change with the times.
The old ways are dying and taking their businesses along with it.
Like that guy Chandler or Ross or whatever said:
Here's how Drift showed people that traditional messaging apps weren't the right fit for them:
The only way to survive is shift to the new way.
And here comes the After. Paint a picture of what they can achieve with your product. Show them the glories of the new way—YOUR way.
Shorten Your Sales Cycle. Connect Sales With Leads Faster.
All of it!
Look at Drift, literally talking point by point about why they're better and different:
Tell them why generic software suck.
Your first obstacle was the old way of doing the job your product does. In Drift's case, forms.
Your second obstacle is other products who use your way to do other things. To use Drift's example, Intercom.
You're at an advantage here because you're speaking to a specific audience, with a deep understanding of their problems, needs and objections.
Drive the nail in the coffin with landing pages dedicated to the difference between your competitors and you.
Show your audience why you're just inherently better at what you do, because you specialise.
How Zoom entered an established market and still made it to the top
Okay, so your product doesn't exactly create a category.
Nor does it reach an outcome in a new way.
It performs an existing function....in a better, technologically-driven way.
The category already exists, and has a number of competitors—and your product is one of many. You can still make it.
When Zoom entered the video conferencing market, it wasn't the first. But it was the best.
It identified the biggest problem that customers were facing: bad video communication. And then, it solved it.
There were established leaders and new-comers in the market: Microsoft, Adobe, Citrix, and Polycom, Highfive, Join.Me, BlueJeans Network, and Vidyo.
Zoom thrashed them all.
By identifying all that was wrong and missing with the existing products, and marketing themselves as bigger and better. And then delivering on that with a great product!
Zoom was cloud-first. Zoom allowed free one-to-one calls, unlimited. It was easy to use—one link and you're connected. It integrated with multiple softwares and was friendly to any and all devices. It made video calling the norm.
And they made sure people KNEW why they were better.
Their product-framing involved taking on a crowded market, battling the giants in it and emerging strong.
This style is near-impossible to achieve and you need a product that your audience can instantly recognise as better.
Did Microsoft have more street cred than Zoom did? Yes. But do we use Microsoft to video call today? Nope.
So is it difficult? Hell yes. It is impossible? Not if you truly have a better product.
But just a better product won't be enough. You need a website and marketing that stands for your brand.
Your website needs to show your audience why you're the David and the market leader is the Goliath of this story.
Here's a few ways you can do that:
What your website needs to do if you want to replace established market leaders:
Talk about the problems that existing solutions have.
You don't need to educate people about the problem your product solves. They already know. They've been using other solutions to solve the same problem.
Eg. People already know why they need a video conferencing tool. But what they need to be reminded of is that the product they're currently using is sub-par for their needs.
Add an entire section talking about how bad video calls are wasting your time. Talk about how miscommunication and remote work are incompatible.
Talk about the cost, the limitations—talk about everything that your customers feel bothered by.
Everything that makes existing solutions imperfect is a reason for users to shift to your product.
Find the weaknesses in their product, pricing and delivery systems and share it with your audience.
Talk about what your audience needs that is missing from the existing solutions.
So now, people know why their current solutions are not up to the mark. They know what they do NOT want.
But what makes a product a good video conferencing tool? What is missing from the market leaders that your product offers?
Here's your chance to blow your own trumpet. Talk about what makes you better than the other products.
Tell them they need cloud-first software. Tell them they need faster, easier meetings that can be accessed through a single link.
Tell them how you can make video calling better. Show them why you're aiming for the crown. Show them why you're challenging established market leaders.
Show them why you'll win.
Build case studies that highlight the outcomes of your product over competitors and erase objections about switching.
Your audience is already using a product to solve the problem.
Your job is doubly hard.
You have to not only convince them that your product is better than companies as big as Netflix and Google, but also help them get over inertia and push them towards switching.
So first, show them how important switching is, using statistics and case studies.
This screenshot from Zoom's website is a great example:
These are valuable statistics—engagement, performance—your audience wants to see this. These numbers erase any doubt people might have about your superiority.
Add case studies to the mix, and you're doing 100% better. You need evangelists. You need your audience to speak for you.
And with case studies that stress on the outcome of using your product, you get exactly that. Social proof, fighting your battle for you.
(Psst, check out how Intercom uses social proof to drive conversions on their site)
Don't make the mistake of letting your customers choose what bracket to put you in.
Don't let the default product framing defeat you. Whether you choose Zoom's style of mix up a couple of markets to invent a new market—the choice is yours.
But the responsibility is also yours.
You hold the key to positioning your product as the leader of any market. No matter which style you choose, one thing is for certain. You have to put in the effort to know your customers and create a brand they love.
Once you've decided your market—how do you become the hottest business in it? The answers to this question are found in my free email course. Check it out to learn how you can make your positioning BOMB.