This post is part of an ongoing series that explores the fundamental principles of branding. Please feel free to join the conversation.
A brand category is a group of brands that sit in a similar place within a person’s mind. While each person’s list will be slightly different, the industry leaders are typically at the top. For example, when most people think of the soda category, Coca-Cola and Pepsi will typically come to mind first.
It’s long been recognized that the best way to thrive in a category is to create a new one and own it from the beginning. Joe Calloway refers to this creation of a new, niche category a “category of one.” He coined the term in his well-received book, Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison.
The benefit of being an establishing brand in a category of one is that instead of fighting for the consumer’s attention with the myriad of other brands in a category, the category of one brand is the only option. By the time competitors reach the market, the category of one brand has successfully staked its claim in the consumers mind. Brands such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s were first in their respective categories and they remain far ahead of their competition in terms profit and brand awareness.
Brands that find themselves in crowded categories will benefit the most from reframing themselves in such a way that creates a new category. One of the best examples of this is Red Bull. Rather than facing Coca-Cola head on in the highly competitive soda category, they invented a new one: the energy drink category.
A solid understanding of the category in which a brand falls is essential to any good marketing plan. Who are the competitors? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the brand, as well the opportunities and threats to it? Does the brand offer a distinct benefit around which a new category could be formed?