Could you become a category of one?

Becomingcategorycover As many of you know, there are two books I wish I had written.  Steve Farber's Radical Leap and Joe Calloway's Becoming a Category of One

Joe's book originally came out in 2003 and when I read it…I was astonished at how brilliantly he laid out the rationale for branding.  So when he put out a 2nd edition in 2009 I knew it was going to be worth the re-read.  I was right.  I highly recommend this book. (You can buy it by clicking here)

Recently, I had a chance to chat with Joe via e-mail and ask him a few questions about the new edition.  Here's what he had to say:

What prompted the update — what of significance has changed that would require you to add to the already excellent book?

It's amazing how quickly information can become outdated.  Just look at the classic by Jim Collins "Good To Great."  One of the "great" companies in that book – Circuit City – went from good to broke!  They're out of business. 

In my book, I had referenced examples like a very successful internet campaign by BMW that, a few years later, probably no one would remember, so I took that example out.  A lot of the updating was of that nature – taking out dated material and replacing it with fresh examples. 

When the book originally came our, didn't even exist.  Now they're a prime example of a Category of One company. 

I also added two totally new chapters.  "Tiebreakers" is an entire chapter devoted to ways great companies differentiate themselves from their competitors.  "The Future Category of One" is a great new chapter that's made up of what twelve thought leaders in business think it will take to be a Category of One company in the future.   

How do you think social media impacts how a company can/should become a category of one?  What’s your favorite example of a company harnessing social media for this purpose?

I think that the business world is still figuring out how to harness social media.  It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.  To this point I think that some of the most effective social media marketing is being done by companies who have customer comment sites that let customers say what they think – uncensored and unfiltered. 

To create a truly honest customer feedback site builds tremendous credibility in this marketplace.  Lego is a pioneer in letting customers actually have a huge say in new products, etc. through their web site.  That's not social media, per se, but it's using the idea of free communication to build customer interest and loyalty. 

A micro version of tremendously successful use of social media is the mobile restaurant in Los Angeles (their names escapes me) that serves Mexican-Korean food (that's not a typo) from a truck that moves around LA.  They put out their next location via social media, i.e. Twitter, and people show up in droves.  Here's an important lesson, though – you have to have a great product or service to start with.  All the brilliant social media marketing in the world won't make up for a second rate product.

In your opinion, why don’t more companies truly brand themselves/become a category of one?

Well, to brand yourself as a Category of One company, you have to be able to deliver on that promise. Most companies will say they're "better" than the competition – but they can't prove it.  It's just lip service.

To me, the ultimate Category of One company is probably Apple.  They not only invent new products – they invent new categories of products.  Their Apple Stores have created a whole new way of doing business in retail. 

The key question is this – what are you willing and/or able to do that your competition is not willing and/or able to do?  Until you can answer that – you're no Category of One.

Most of your examples are retail in nature.  How do your ideas apply to the B to B sector?

The reason I use so many retail examples is that everybody is a retail customer.  Everyone can relate to retail because they experience it.  What's interesting is that the exact same principles apply to B2B.

The top factors in B2B buying decisions are "be easy to do business with" "understand our needs" and "be trustworthy."  NO different than retail.  No matter what business you're in, if you can fulfill those three customer expectations better than your competitor – you win.

Finally — if a company leader reads your book and knows they need to do some work to become a category of one company — what advice would you give them, in terms of actually getting it done?

Don't make it complicated – it's not.  Take action.  Assign responsibility, accountability, put a deadline on making it happen then GO.  The problem isn't not knowing what to do.  Everyone knows what to do.  The problem is in not DOING what we know will work.  Of course there's more involved, primarily having to do with building a culture and a mindset of excellence.  That takes time.  But there's magic in taking action.  Stop thinking about it and do it.

Oh.  And feel free to bring me in to help!!

Drew's Note:  The FCC would like you to know that I received Joe's new edition as a free review copy and that if you click on the links to Amazon, I'll make a few pennies as an affiliate.

15 comments on “Could you become a category of one?

  1. Ryan Barton says:

    You’re right about Jim Collins’ book becoming outdated. Though, he’s also recently released a follow-up book which dissects why those companies who fell, fell. If you haven’t already, you should check out “How the Mighty Fall.”


  2. Drew,
    Great interview and post. I’m definitely interested in this book.

    The best line was in the second-to-last question when Joe says “be easy to do business with” “understand our needs” and “be trustworthy.”

    Build your business around those three principles and you’ll almost guarantee success.

    I’ll bet anyone here could quickly name more businesses who DON’T do that than businesses that DO that – which is sad.

  3. Drew, thanks for letting us know about this book. I like his pragmatic approach about changes in the market and the need to prove what you do, how you do ithow you measure it.
    The book is on my wish list for the nest round.

  4. Ryan,

    What was your biggest take away from “How the Mighty Fall?”


  5. Phil,

    One of the mysteries of business for me is exactly what you’re talking about. How can:

    Care about your customers?
    Make it easy for them to be your customers
    Be honest with your customers

    Be so hard? How do business people get in their own way?


  6. Gia —

    You’ll love it — let me know what you think once you read it.


  7. Drew,

    Businesses make it hard when they focus on themselves and not on the customer.

    Here’s an example. We made a $170.88 error in favor of a customer. I could A) call the customer and demand the $170 or B) let it ride and absorb the loss.

    If I choose to try to collect, I may or may not get the money. I can prove she owes it to me. But I’ll definitely lose the customer for life. And she’s worth way more than $170 to me.

    If I ignore it and/or say Merry Christmas, she’ll be back. Plus, I can still use it as a training issue.

    Yet how many businesses would choose option A? All the ones thinking only of themselves.

  8. Phil,

    Great example — I have a question for you. You’ve now decided to let the client keep the $170. Do you tell them about the mistake and your decision or not?

    And if you tell them, how do you tell them?

    (Both are marketing decisions, IMO)


  9. Drew,

    Yes, I told the customer about the mistake because she knew something was wrong, but I let her know it was our mistake, not hers.

    Had she not known, I would not have embarrased her to bring it up. (My mom and I don’t see eye-to-eye on this, but she retires in a couple months:-)


  10. Phil,

    If you’re okay with sharing…what did your mom think you should do?
    I find it fascinating that often times in family owned businesses — you can really see the generational differences when discussing how to deal with a customer related problem.


  11. She’s very left-brained logical. She is a model of efficiency and accuracy and doesn’t tolerate mistakes well. She believes all mistakes should be fixed the right way no matter what and doesn’t allow emotions into the equation.

    She isn’t a “shopper”, so she doesn’t understand how emotions play into buying decisions and how emotions affect branding. She goes along with all my branding and staff training that deals with emotions because she knows it pays the bills, but she cannot relate to it because it isn’t in her nature.

    It’s an interesting dichotomy between us, but one that works well. She is very good at the “bad cop” routine when dealing with vendors, bad check writers, etc.:-)

  12. Phil,

    It sounds like the ying and yang of your relationship has served the business well. You mentioned that she is retiring. How will you preserve that balance after she’s gone?


  13. Drew,

    That’s a good question. I have waiting in the wings a replacement for her that mirrors many of the same qualities she has.

    I always contend that a retail business, to stay strong, has to be good at 4 things – Marketing, Products (inventory management + product selection), Customer Service, and Financials.

    But few business owners are good at more than two of those, none are good at all four. I’m pretty good at the first 3, but not good at Financials. Therefore, I make sure I have a good person for that side of the business.

    For the past 32 years it has been my mom (and her mom for the 28 years before that – runs in the family:-).

    Part of the reason, I believe, that I’m not good at that part of the business is that I don’t have the right characteristics for that type of work. I’m much more of a big picture guy than a detail freak. (Which is why I became President when my dad retired – Mom didn’t want/couldn’t handle that role.)

    But each role requires a certain type of person.

    Her replacement has the same characteristics as she does because they are a necessity for the job.

    Great questions – thanks for asking.


  14. Sachin says:

    Thanks Drew for the informative post and interview. The Book would be very awesome to catch up the latest in concerns with the stability and whereabouts of the market today. Definitely, a must buy.

  15. Phil —

    Sounds like you have it well in hand. Congrats on knowing your strengths and giving yourself time/room to focus on those!


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