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Becoming a Category King, a Central Pillar to Break Out Growth

Nothing like picking up a book that just nails a concept you have been thinking about for decades. It's both validating and humbling. The voice in your head murmurs, “I can’t believe they wrote the book on it… about time!”

My latest such experience refers to “Play Bigger: How Pirates, Dreamers, and Innovators Create and Dominate Markets” , the seminal 2016 piece on category management.

Category management is not new but it’s now being fully appreciated especially in high tech. Several factors contribute to this. First, the data has made clear that category leaders are running away with the lion’s share of market value like never before. Somehow in parallel with the democratization of technology, the economics of markets have skewed towards “winner takes all”. Second, we have finally recognized that buyers are not rational actors seeking the “best products” or optimization of their economic interest. Rather, buyers are emotional machines, wired to think about markets in predictable ways and magnetically attracted to the perceived leaders. Finally, the “Play Bigger” guys have done a great job describing the art/science of category design and execution. It’s becoming part of the modern innovation playbook.

This simple illustration, borrowed from the book, puts category management in its rightful place among the other pillars of business design and management. The “Category Kings” are those who break out and get the big prize. Then there’s everyone else. Categories don’t happen by chance. They are created by entrepreneurs, just like the products that lead them.

Category Kings