category experience

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I can count on 10,000 fingers the number of times I’ve come across hiring scenarios where people are looking for category experience. Steeped, repetitive, ingrained category experience is drawing the life out of innovation. That’s why the web and app-based tech sector is so vibrant. It’s only a few years old.

I have a really smart friend with lots of marketing muscle who owns a consulting business. She is employing a team of business development “hunters” to grow business by targeting certain categories: healthcare, tech, automotive, etc.

But what if she took a different tack? What if she looked at the business problem from the perspective of prospects? What if the hunters were organized not by business category, but by growth category? For instance, companies growing by 100% a year, companies growing by double digits, companies growing by single digits. Or how about companies holding at zero growth, or losing revenue by double digits?

Then allow the hunters to devise strategies tailored to these segments. The marketing tactics for the high growth companies are immensely different than those of no growth companies. The strategies for single-digit growers differ broadly for single digit losers.

The fact that a company is in a category presents neither a problem or an opportunity, so why do marketing consultants roll that way? Revenue growth and the speed of revenue growth are what companies need to learn about and affect. Freshies.


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Sales Accent.

I have long had a pet peeve about the importance of category experience when it comes to hiring.  In advertising and marketing it is very important when hiring candidates to know they have spent time working in the category. My wheelhouse, for instance, is in technology, healthcare, education and beverages. This may not be attractive to a company looking to hire someone with financial background. The logic is that the getting up-to-speed period for a newbie is longer and, perhaps, wasted time.

My view has always been that the categories in which ad and marketing people are expert, are advertising and marketing.  Selling, not manufacturing. I also believe coming to the party with preconceived ideas about a category stifles learning. Candidates may possess biases that are well-founded based upon their last assignment, but not necessarily accurate from the consumer’s point of view.

Where category experience comes in most handy, is in understanding the buying language. If you are trying to sell technology to a school teacher, it’s important to know what they care about. And the language they use when talking about what they care about.  If you use language in ads or marketing that is generic you are leaving cash on the table. You have a sales accent. Good endemic category language is like music to the ears of customers and prospects.  

How do we balance the negative that is “experience bias” with the positive that is finely-tuned “voice and language”?  Very carefully. Peace.


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