Don’t Keep Your Superpower Hidden
Originally published by Christopher Lochhead, host of the Legends and Losers Podcast, and Heather Clancy, editorial director for GreenBiz.com, in their book, Niche Down: How To Become Legendary By Being Different.
If you really and truly solve a problem in a new way or you solve a problem that people didn’t even know needed to be solved, then by definition the market is not ready for you.
The market must be taught to accept you, and it’s your responsibility to be that teacher.
After all, you’re trying to reswizzle people’s brains to see the problem you’ve defined through your eyes, and then to look to you and your company for the solution.
Christopher’s previous career as a public tech company Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) — in the early days of the digital everything evolution — offers a great illustration of how this process of market conditioning looks for youpreneurs or for those of you niching down on your own.
He made sure the world understood that he was a different kind of CMO, not just another pushy pitch person with insights about how to create great messaging or to reinforce a company’s relevance within an established market. Christopher’s POV was: “I don’t solve the problem that most marketing executives solve. I help design and dominate categories.”
By adopting that mantra, Christopher distinguished himself as unique.
He went from being one of thousands of tech-marketing people scrambling to influence sales in the rapidly expanding information-technology industry to being one of the world’s first technology category designers.
Here’s how a typical conversation between Christopher and a CEO considering his skills would go. (We know, because he was there.) “Look, Mr. CEO. If you’re lucky, you can find a good CMO who keeps the trains running on time, fills the sales pipeline with qualified prospects, builds your brand and works well with customers and analysts. And if that’s what you’re looking for, you should go hire that person. Not me.”
By now, that chief something-or-other would be intrigued or at least incredulous. We can hear the inner dialogue: “A marketing executive telling me to hire someone else? Aren’t those sorts of things table stakes for what I need? Hell, I’ve got to hear more. This guy could solve a problem I didn’t even realize I had… until now.”
And Christopher would continue with this argument: “I know how to do all that, but that’s not where I add value. As you know, in every company’s life, particularly in the tech business, there’s often a 24-month window where it’s going to get into a very serious category battle — who’s gonna dominate this emerging space? I have a black belt in that. I know how to design and dominate categories, and I know how to take existing categories and redesign them to tilt the market agenda to our advantage. That’s my superpower.”
When you have that type of conversation, you’ve just changed the playing field.
Context is everything.
Ask yourself, are we having the right conversation?
When the conversation was around this question, “Can we wash our hands with water?” There was an answer. Soap.
Or “bar soap” after the designers of “liquid soap” pulled a niche down. And liquid soap became a new category when the question changed to “Can we wash our hands with water in a way that is not disgusting and wasteful?”
Ta-da! A new category is designed.
As GOJO has proven, you can reposition and destroy your competition by exposing a problem your prospect couldn’t articulate or maybe even identify.
From there, you show your customer — whether that customer is a consumer or another business professional — how you’re going to solve her or his problem.
Every market category works the way it does now because it got designed that way, either accidentally or on purpose.
No one knew why they needed an iPhone until the late great Steve Jobs showed them. But once he and Apple conditioned the market to see the problem that its “smartphone” solved, the market clamored to get their hands on the solution.
He redesigned the problem.
Its BlackBerry, while it was a very worthy gadget and beloved by the tech sales set, faded into has-been status because Apple changed the idea of how average humans should interact with their mobile-communications device. Instead of pecking away with your thumbs at a teeny, tiny keyboard, why not just touch the screen to navigate through messages and applications? So much simpler and more intuitive!
The BlackBerry primarily solved a mobile-email problem. Jobs created the smartphone category by designing a piece of technology that addressed a different problem — how to live a mobile life. That required computing, communications, millions of niche apps, and a glass, touch-screen experience. All in one device, not several different gadgets.
The BlackBerry went from looking awesome to looking like a Ford Edsel.
Apple didn’t compete in a traditional way. It did not get into a feature or price war like most tech companies do. It redesigned the definition of a mobile phone. It had a different point of view.
RIM’s big mistake was assuming that Apple’s “consumer” product couldn’t possibly matter to its core customer base, businesses and government agencies. To be fair, the BlackBerry wasn’t knocked out immediately, it staggered around the ring for almost a decade, mainly because of its rock-solid security software.
But what RIM’s executive team failed to intuit was that many people would decide they didn’t want to bother using two different mobile phones — one for their “professional” existence and one for their “personal” life. Back in 2007, when the original iPhone arrived, the line was already blurring for many people, and the iPhone made the boundaries even murkier.
Since the legendary “1984” advertisement that introduced the original Macintosh computer, Apple has set the standard for advertising technology, and its early campaign for the original iPhone continued that tradition.
The “Hello” teaser spent a few moments establishing the telephone as an indispensable and ownership-worthy device, by showing celebrities like Lucille Ball, Marilyn Monroe and Sarah Jessica Parker greeting callers, and then cutting to a ringing iPhone.
After the official launch, Apple didn’t waste time on spots espousing the device’s groundbreaking specs, even though there were scads of them. Rather, it leaned on videos that showcased the gadget’s usefulness for the thwarting the ordinary-yet-crucial challenges of everyday living, like looking up the phone number for a nearby seafood take-out restaurant or for helping ordinary people lighten the load in their briefcases and knapsacks like this one from an early testimonial series.
It took less than one decade for Apple to sell more than 1 billion41 iPhones. All because the company conditioned people to equate this brand-new category — a touch-enabled smartphone that also doubled as a media player and an Internet-access tool — with the iPhone.
Conditioning the market is the opposite of going to market.
Going to market means playing by someone else’s rules on someone else’s playing field. The game is automatically rigged — anyone aside from the category queen is going to fail until someone steps in to design a new category.
Conditioning the market is the process of teaching the market to think about a problem and a solution in a very particular way. Your way.
Do you have the courage to stand out? Learn more about category creation in Christopher Lochhead and Heather Clancy’s book: Niche Down: How To Become Legendary By Being Different.