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Creating A Category With The Godfather of Category, Christopher Lochhead

If you want a point of difference with your company, if you want to be more Apple than Blackberry, then don’t miss this week’s episode of The Melting Pot with the Godfather of Category Design, Christopher Lochhead. 

He self-describes as a dyslexic paperboy who got thrown out of school at 18 and with few other options he started a company. Now, Christopher is a #1 Apple Business Podcaster and #1 Amazon Marketing author. He has been an advisor to over 50 venture-backed startups, is a venture capital limited partner and a former three-time Silicon Valley public company CMO (Vantive, Scient, Mercury Interactive), and entrepreneur.

“For me, entrepreneurship, like many entrepreneurs, is not necessarily a way up in the world, it’s a way out of a life of struggle.”

Today, Christopher hosts the award-winning dialogue podcast “Follow Your Different” and award-winning “Lochhead on Marketing” podcast and is co-author of two international bestsellers: Niche Down and Play Bigger.

Christopher is a firm believer that categories make brands, rather than brands make categories. In this incredibly insightful (and slightly longer than normal) episode, he talks about what might have happened if Steve Jobs had followed a traditional marketing playbook and why Google Plus was a failure. Plus, he discusses the importance of dialogue and what happened when Dan Alexander, the guy who covers President Trump’s business dealings, came on his podcast. 

On today’s podcast:

  • Why he started the podcast
  • Creating a category with Play Bigger
  • How the legends do marketing
  • How Steve Jobs created a new category
  • Creating the sushi burrito
  • Interviewing Dan Alexander

Links:


Why Category Design Matters with Christopher Lochhead

Chrisopher Lochhead wrote a fantastic book called Play Bigger, in it, he says that categories make brands, brands don’t make categories. What does that mean? Well, Christopher says, if Steve Jobs or Mohammed Ali, or any of the big category owners had followed a traditional marketing playbook, they would have failed. 

So if you’re hoping to make waves with your business, this is someone you want to take notice of. 

The Godfather of Category

Christopher was a dyslexic paperboy who got thrown out of school at 18 and with few other options he started a company. Now, he’s is a #1 Apple Business Podcaster and #1 Amazon Marketing author. He has been an advisor to over 50 venture-backed startups, is a venture capital limited partner and a former three-time Silicon Valley public company CMO (Vantive, Scient, Mercury Interactive), and entrepreneur.

His award-winning dialogue podcast “Follow Your Different” and award-winning “Lochhead on Marketing” podcast has seen him having insightful conversations with some truly big players and he’s written down his knowledge for others to use in two international bestsellers: Niche Down and Play Bigger.

“I got a lot of help along the way. One of my favourite expressions is, if you’re lucky enough to make it to the top of a mountain, you should throw down a rope. So I’m trying to throw down a rope. And hopefully have some fun doing it.”

Value of dialogue

Why did he start a podcast? Because the one he wanted to hear wasn’t available. Christopher is a firm advocate of real dialogue, not heavily edited conversations with takeaway nuggets. 

“I think authentic conversation is the most powerful thing we can have. It’s the thing that changes the world. When people get together and really pop the hood on an important set of ideas, and are willing to roll around and grapple with things. I think that’s how many of us learn.”

In Play Bigger, Christopher talks about creating a category. Now he’s become known as the category guy, having created a category for himself by writing the book. There’s a distinction, says Christopher, between capturing demand and creating demand, between playing a replacement game and a creation game.

How the legends do marketing

Here’s what the legends don’t do, says Christopher. The majority of us, when we do marketing, we play the traditional marketing game. We play the ‘we’re better than them’ game. Which, by definition, makes it a comparison game you’re playing. 

The problem with this, is that when you compare your product, your company, yourself to another product, company or person, you’re inviting comparison, you’re making a point of reference to the competition. 

“When we say we’re better or best, we are framing, we are grounding the conversation in a comparison to somebody else.”

The legends don’t do that. 

Henry Ford did not want his innovation compared to anyone else. Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx did not call it a girdle 2.0. What did she say? She said it’s a new invention. It’s a new category called shapewear.

Steve Jobs ignored the fact that the BlackBerry existed. He made the whole world think that he created the mobile phone. When in actual fact he created a subcategory called the smartphone via niche down and the smartphone overtook the mobile phone. And in doing so, he redefined and he recreated the definition of what a mobile phone was.

“The most legendary people did not compete for market share with a better strategy. What they did was they introduced the world to a new way of thinking about a problem and a solution in a way that opened them up to a new approach. And in so doing, they created a whole new market category. And that’s what category design is, we’re designing how people think.”

By creating a new category you create demand where there wasn’t any before. If you’re the person introducing people to a new way of thinking you become the leader, the thought leader, the category queen or king. 

How legends become legends

Being a legendary new product on its own is not likely to design a new category by itself, it needs help. And most legendary products can’t speak for themselves. So if you’re an entrepreneur or a marketer, don’t leave it up to chance that your legendary product will become a cult classic, be proactive, says Christopher, the way Sara Blakely was, the way Steve Jobs was.

“Legends become legends because they become known for a niche that they own…categories create new thinking, typically around problems and solutions. It’s the way the mind works.”

Legendary marketers and entrepreneurs distinguished themselves as innovators. 

“They explain their innovations in a very purposeful way, to create a new place in your brain, to introduce us to new thinking. And the reason it works is because that’s how the human brain works. You and I think category first, brand second.”

Owning your category

And once you’ve created your category, invite the competition over because it’s very hard being a category of one. As mentioned before, most marketers adhere to the traditional marketing playbook of comparison. And, says Christopher, most entrepreneurs and marketers are stupid and will try to rip you off. 

Just don’t make the mistake of thinking your brand will compete at category level, if you’re not in your category. Case in point, Google Plus. Google is the leader for search, but when they veered out of their lane to compete with Facebook, they got their ass handed to them. 

“They launched a me-too product. It’s a direct ripoff. It’s slightly different the way it looked, but does essentially the same thing. They spent a gazillion dollars on it, well in excess of a billion dollars. And they call it Google Plus. By the way, when you hear ‘plus’ after a brand name, that’s because the entrepreneur, the CEO and the CMO, don’t have a creative bone in their fucking body.”

Case in point – Dell. 

“Dell have tried to launch a whole range of stuff in the past, which they’re perfectly capable of manufacturing. They just weren’t capable of persuading people to purchase.”

Owning the narrative

So is the iPhone a better phone than the Blackberry? Christopher thinks it’s all an interpretation of different narratives. 

“Most people would say the reason Apple was successful is the iPhone was a better product than the Blackberry. Most people would say it was innovation. It was an innovator’s dilemma – Blackberry couldn’t innovate. Apple innovated and that’s why they won.”

How did that interpretation happen? By idiots leaving the interpretation up to chance. Legends, says Christopher, proactively design a new category. 

“By introducing thinking through this thing we call a point of view. And when the world agrees with you, or enough of the world agrees with you about your point of view, then the point of view tips, and bam, you have a new category and everyone is compared to you, as opposed to you being compared to everyone else. That’s why category design matters.”

Book recommendations

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