Kate Baldwin – Managing Director of The Flywheelers.
Startups are synonymous with innovation. After all, there is little reward in chasing a slice of a mature market.
But that’s not to say that many successful startups aren’t solving pain points where there were existing solutions before. Before Netflix there was Blockbusters. Black cabs preceded Uber. And take-outs existed long before Deliveroo. These startups found new ways to overcome challenges with innovative services and products. And this is where category ownership comes in.
The challenge for these startups is that they need to set themselves apart from the incumbents who already hold the dominant market share. It isn’t enough to merely present as an improvement on current solutions, startups have to show their potential to disrupt the market with a new – and better – way of doing things.
When a startup establishes themselves as a market disruptor, they show their potential customers that they are worth taking a bet on over more established players. It shows potential technology partners that their customers will benefit from integrating the solution into their existing offerings. And it shows investors that your growth potential is there.
Start by storytelling
It takes more than a revolutionary product to create and own a new category. Success rests on the ability of the founder and leadership team to articulate what differentiates their solution from incumbent players and – most importantly – gets people excited about it.
Storytelling is key here. Whether you are pitching to an investor or a customer, you need to be able to quickly get to the heart of the issue and convince your audience that you hold the solution they are looking for. The story needs to…
- Explain how the market is currently failing the customer and the gap between what is available and what they need
- Educate about your point of difference and how your new solution overcomes those customer pain points better than existing products and services on the market
- Tell them what value fixing the pain point will deliver by highlighting the impact on the business outcomes they care about. For instance, will it improve employee satisfaction, reduce risk, improve the customer experience, or open up new revenue streams. Make sure to elevate beyond what you do to what you can do for them.
Making your difference known
One of the great advantages of category ownership is being able to seize the first-mover-first-winner advantage, where category owners are typically rewarded by faster growth and a higher valuation over those that bring incremental improvements to market. But it also means that startups may have just a short window during which they can establish themselves as that leader.
Startups need a go-to-market comms strategy to help them elevate their brand story to drive mass awareness and establish trust in their solution. There is of course no one-size-fits-all approach. The brand, the solution, and the existing market will influence which tactics should be employed to achieve these objectives.
But there are common steps that all go-to-market comms strategies for category ownership should be built around:
- Nail the Narrative. Every communication – externally and internally, official channels or employee-led – needs to articulate that same vision for the problem you are solving, how you are doing it, and how it differs from what is already out there. No one must be in doubt about who you are and what you have set out to achieve.
- Establish thought leaders. Create big, bold content that then helps translate this vision and sets you apart from the other solutions in the market. Make sure your leadership are meeting your customers where they are – in the publications they read, on social media, at the right events – so they have the opportunity to hear directly from the brand visionaries about how you are disrupting the status quo.
- Work with Influential Figures. Consider who outside of your organisation could help you build the discourse around the challenge that you are solving and reach new audiences. If there are popular Influencers or Creators in your industry, you could bring them on for paid engagements. If you have investors or advisors, you could collaborate with them on content or events to boost awareness through their network. And start building and proactively engaging individuals in your online networks. Be the instigator of conversation on relevant topics and draw others in to expand and promote your industry connections.
- Use metrics wherever possible. Make sure the market understands that you don’t just have a vision, but you have a viable alternative to the status quo. Customer case studies and advocacy statements are important for showing how companies are already benefitting from your solution. Performance measures are also impactful – particularly before you have customers on the record. From onboarding and uptime, to the number of customers or products you’ve sold, think about what numbers can help tell your story.
- Be persistent. Establishing category ownership won’t happen overnight. Persistent communication around your vision is required externally and internally to ensure that your point of difference is not only understood, but recognised in market.
Get out there
Every founder’s goal is for their company to become synonymous with the problem they solve. But the market won’t do the hard work of understanding how you are different from what is already out there. If you have a new and better way of solving a problem for your customers – make sure that they know about it. You’ve got to invest in the story you are telling, and make sure that they have every opportunity to hear it.