How Category Creators Reach Escape Velocity

In physics, escape velocity is known as the “speed sufficient for a body to escape from a gravitational centre of attraction without accelerating further”. Think about the convention-busting companies that have graced the consumer landscape over the past several decades – Chobani, Burton, Starbucks, Red Bull, Kickstarter. To successfully escape the gravitational pull of the current paradigm, these companies had to do more than just offer a great product. They each had to create meaning for consumers and convince them to switch from their current behavior to something very new, not an easy task. Let’s look at couple themes that emerge from this set of successful paradigm shifting companies.

Storytelling and community building

Any new category has a basic problem that it must overcome. At the forefront of consumers’ minds is – what the heck is this thing? Let’s take Greek yogurt for example. For the average Yoplait consuming American, the concept of a thicker, creamier yogurt is quite alien. Chobani spent 18 months coming up with its initial recipe, then sold it to stores by having retailers sample the product. With no marketing budget, they tapped social media to spread the word. The strength of online consumer base propelled sales so much that traditional TV ads weren’t launched until 4 years after product introduction.

Adoption by delivery partners

Another issue is building infrastructure that addresses the consumer journey. As Geoffrey Moore notes in Crossing the Chasm, making the leap from Early Adopters to Early Majority is incredibly difficult. Consumers in the majority have different concerns – how do I install, learn about, maintain this new category? After snowboards were created, Burton made a concerted effort to work with local ski resorts. They helped develop terrain parks, instructional methods, beginner equipment, and competition programs to attract new users.  Snowboard’s U.S. Open is an event originated and operated by Burton.

Synergistic benefits

By offering a set of benefits that supplement the primary product or service, companies can create immersive experiences for their customers. Starbucks is a perfect example, not only do they offer high quality coffee with a multiplicity of options, they also surround their coffee with the living room of the future. This “home away from home” comes complete with comfy chairs, free wifi, curated music, and snacks. The perfect environment in which to enjoy a range of high quality coffees from around the world.

Every product launch has its own obstacles and demons to overcome, but the more successful companies have found ways to build community, work with delivery partners, and immerse customers in an ecosystem of benefits. While these elements are not an exhaustive list, they certainly go a long way in helping customers understand and learn to appreciate category creating new products and services.


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