Defining the Business You’re In
The first attribution of the iconic quote “if I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter” dates back to 1657. For centuries, this idea has helped the world appreciate a powerful truth: simple articulation is hard work. This certainly rings true when trying to articulate what an organization does. The fewer words you have, the more thoughtfully those words must be used. But when you’re able to explain what an organization does with just a couple of words, the thoughtfulness that went into landing them is invaluable. That’s why, at Superhuman, we include a “Category Description,” the key element of category creation, as an output of our brand strategy process.
A Category Description is a short, hardworking term that defines the business you’re in.
Are you in patient experience? Automotive innovation? Craft beer logistics? At generally 2-3 words, a Category Description helps answer this question and often completes the statement “we’re a ____ company.” For complex companies in the SaaS space like we often work with, this sharp articulation is invaluable to internal alignment and external communication.
Here are three important questions we consider when aligning companies to a new Category Description:
1. What is the Right Altitude?
A Category Description should support an organization’s current-state brand portfolio while leaving room for growth. Adobe describes itself as a “Digital Experiences” company. The description’s broadness supports everything Adobe offers, with plenty of room to introduce new offerings. The tradeoff that can come with broadness is that it can feel more vague.
At a lower altitude lives Square, who describes itself as “Point of Sale Solutions.” The specificity of this term helps them clearly communicate where they fit in the world. The tradeoff of specificity is a smaller box for innovation. The key is to consider where you are and where you’re going. Then, align to a term that lives at the right altitude, balancing specificity with room to grow.
2. What Role Can Novelty Play?
Align to a familiar term and the first question a company will get asked is “How are you better than the other guys?” Oracle has positioned itself as the “Database Management” company. As the category leader in all things “database,” they force any company that wants to define itself similarly to compete directly with them. We often help companies not just align to an existing term, but create a new category to own. This also opens the door to explain how this differentiating term makes them unique (and articulating distinctness is the reason “brand” as a concept exists in the first place).
3. What Assumptions do you Want to Trigger?
When an organization tells people what business they’re in, it triggers assumptions. A Category Description can help the market understand the potential competitive set, what products and features a company might offer, and even what their price point may be. For example, if “intelligence” sits in a Category Description, customers should expect solutions that offer a deeper level of insight than if a company rallies around the word “data.” It’s important to consider what people will expect from a description to make sure a company is setting itself up for success.
It can also be helpful to consider what a Category Description is not. This term is not a tagline and does not need to be trademarked. Copycats can be a sign that something new and meaningful has been introduced. When others use your language, it can bring familiarity and legitimacy to the space you’ve carved out, in a way that continues to elevate you as a leader in your space. This term is also more than a description of your products. At Superhuman, we generally recommend that organizations leave out words (e.g. platform, software) that would make product the sole expression of their description. By shedding this layer of specificity, it enables everything they do to express the business they’re in.
No matter what an organization lands on for their Category Description, the key is to treat it with conviction. Like all strategy, this term is only as useful as its ability to rally organizations around shared understanding, then guide action.