One of the best management books I’ve read in years is easily Play Bigger by four marketing experts. Al Ramadan and his co-authors did not invent the term category design, a concept that has been around for years. Instead, their research into some five thousand businesses driven by their curiosity resulted in giving category design a name along with some key disciplines to becoming a category champion. We also call it a mini-MBA that could replace strategic planning.
Interview Highlights With Al Ramadan
- While the book includes research, it’s not a marketing academic treatise. It’s written by four practitioners who have many combined years of category design experience.
- Al Ramadan and his co-authors did not invent category design. They just gave it a name with disciplines they identified who became champs in the categories they created.
- There are no similarities between category design and swimming in blue oceans. In category design thinking, oceans are created.
- What are the similarities between Play Bigger and Positioning by Ries and Trout?
- On thinking, “Different, not better.” Being different forces a consumer to make a choice. When someone claims they are better than the other, the customer may not be hearing the truth.
- Al’s two favorite category design stories. Yes, Elvis was a category designer too.
- Al’s favorite explanation of categories and category design starts with a few grocery store examples.
- What is the 6-10 Rule and how does it apply to category design?
- Category design is only one of the legs to a three-legged stool. The other two are a great product and a strong company.
- The references to Salesforce and Marc Benioff–outstanding.
- What did today’s category designers use to do professionally?
- Into Thin Air
- Barbarian Days
- All books by Geoffrey A. Moore, especially The Gorilla Game
- Good to Great
I loved this book which was a fast and easy to read. Some management books are a bit too dry for my taste. The reason this book resonated with me is that the authors are practitioners and lifelong learners. Through their passionate curiosity, they started turning rock after rock over to find out why category champions made it to the top. Their findings are captured in this engaging read which has plenty of stories that keep the disciplines they document far from abstractions of ideas.
After Al and his co-authors define category design, they give numerous examples of businesses that figured out this concept. My favorite story was the inclusion of Marc Benioff of Salesforce who played a great David where a huge Goliath existed in the CRM space. Marc clearly (‘clearly’ is a vast understatement) articulated the problem of on-premise software and those living with that problem. The way he evangelized his point of view was continual and impactful. His case study is a mini MBA inside the covers of this gem.
As with many management books, I read the front matter first, then the back sections including a quick skim of the index and acknowledgments. Then I read the last chapter last. Was I in for a surprise … no, make that a treat.
Chapter 10 is about category design for the individual. The co-authors sum up the thesis in this chapter succinctly in the following line that they borrow from Jeff Bezos:
… identify a new need that your skills will let you solve, or identify a skill that you have and find a need.
Page 219, Play Bigger
Who should read this? For starters, founders and CEOs of established organizations. Marketers at any level of the business should read the book too. I’m a longtime financial professional–we need this book too.
After reading the book, I was compelled to find any presentations by any of the authors because I wanted to learn more. Here is the first video I watched, and it happened to be Al Ramadan on the path to creating and winning the category. Just like the book–clear, simple, and engaging …
Play Bigger is More Than a Book
Play Bigger is also a consulting firm helping great technology companies design and dominate their categories. The website includes numerous category champion examples along with their framework for working with clients.