Beware, Budding Category Kings

Published on 2023-11-14 byChris Ford

You’re a new marketing leader and you ask your CEO/founder/owner/business leader of a legal tech company what sets your solution apart from the rest. The differentiators boil down to one or more of:

  • It does something more efficiently
  • It does something cheaper
  • It does something more securely
  • It does more stuff
  • It’s easier to implement or integrate or adopt
  • It does something nothing else can do

The last one is what gets your big-brained boss really fired up. After they enthusiastically give you the far-too-long-to-be-an-elevator-pitch elevator pitch, you sensibly ask “so how do we categorize the product?”

“What we’ve built doesn’t fit into any traditional category” proudly states the founder. “We are creating a new category!”

The founder then entertains visions of the solution becoming the next Kleenex or Q-tip. These are true ‘category kings’ – brand names that became generic words for a type of product. As they surrender to another fantasy of constructing just the right hoodie, sportscoat, jeans and sneaker combo for the TechCrunch profile photoshoot, your mind is elsewhere.

The knot in your stomach suggests that you don’t share that grand vision right now.  You know that carving out a brand new category and educating the market about it would be a Sisyphean task. You realize that your new six figure marketing budget, even complimented by your blood-from-a-stone acumen, isn’t enough to achieve mission-critical business development goals.

Like most in the legal tech field, you don’t have the resources of a Kimberly-Clark or Unilever. And this legal tech company doesn’t have the time to ramp up industry recognition and usage of the new category name. The company may be bootstrapped, answering to investors, climbing out of startup deficit, swimming in a crowded pool of solutions, or a combo of all the above.

The cold, hard reality is that unless you are able to strike upon outrageous PR fortune, you will have to set more reticent goals, at least initially, for where your product sits in the market.

Here’s the thing. You are selling to a market. And this market consists of a target audience that has developed an internal taxonomy of recognized categories and functionalities. This audience is experienced, highly trained and mostly enjoys at least a baseline knowledge of available legal technology.  

At LegalTech Hub, our taxonomy of solution categories has been carefully curated to be recognized and understood by our users. And by users, we mean legal technology buyers – your target audience.

Our 2300+ solutions listed each fall under one or more of 150+ categories. There isn’t any category with just one solution. Or two. Senior Directory Analyst at Legaltech Hub, Sarah Glassmeyer says “Defined and standardized product taxonomies are essential for allowing users to narrow down the universe of tools to review and quickly surface solutions that they may not have been aware of. Also, given the international nature of legal technology, a common taxonomy smooths over regional differences in terminology.” A product that sits in its own category isn't easily discoverable by users familiar with an existing taxonomy.

At least initially, you will need to squeeze into a recognizable product category. Fitting into a category that is immediately recognizable to buyers will help them understand what you do and where you belong in the context of their other solutions.

“But we aren’t exactly a contract review product!” you exclaim.

Then use your value proposition and messaging to tell the audience what you are and how you are different. You’ll have no audience to hear your message if they can’t find you, and you won’t attract that audience if you can’t explain to them what it is your solution does

A question I always ask is “what search would someone put into Google to find you?”

Spoiler: it isn’t the new category that you have invented. It also isn’t the detailed description of what your solution does. It is, whether you like it or not, the industry-recognized category that you have squeezed into.

If your solution really is as good as you say it is, product-led growth will see you expand your market, recognition, market position and organization. When you have built a sophisticated marketing function that has successfully developed strong brand recognition within the industry and you have a powerful enough voice, you can promote this new product category. It will eventually be recognized enough that people google it, competitors emerge, and Legaltech Hub adds it as a new, searchable category..

And in case it wasn’t clear, the aforementioned “marketing leader” was me. Thinking about pushing that new product category boulder up the legal industry mountain is giving me a headache. I think I’ll take some acetylsalicylic acid (probably Aspirin, a trademarked brand name until Bayer was forced to relinquish the rights as part of the Treaty of Versailles) and have a lie down.

About the AuthorView Profile
Chris Ford

Chris Ford

Co-Founder, Head of Marketing and Consulting Legaltech Hub

Chris Ford is the Head of Marketing and Consulting and an original co-founder of Legaltech Hub. Having spent over two decades in marketing and business development leadership, he has found a home in the legal industry in the last several years. With experience building and leading marketing functions at LexisNexis, Axiom, ZERO and Baretz+Brunelle, he leads marketing efforts at Legaltech Hub as well as advising external clients. 

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