Christine Tran, Head of Product Marketing at Quantum Metric, made this presentation at the Masters of Product Marketing event in October 2021. Watch the presentations OnDemand now.

My name is Christine, and I'm the Head of Product Marketing at Quantum Metric. We're a platform that helps big organizations continuously build and deliver customer-centric digital products.

Today, I'm here to share it from a product marketing perspective. I hope this case study on how Quantum Metric launched our category and continuous product design (CPD) will help you in your role, whether it's a category launch or any other major company-wide initiative.

What is a category?

So, before we get into the case study, let me quickly define what we mean by a category.

The traditional definition refers to a category of software: buyers, analysts, journalists. We’re human, we need categories of software! It helps us compare things of a similar nature.

Each of these images represents a category-leading company👇

Images of lyft, uber, hubspot and salesforce

Lyft and Uber created the ride-sharing market, completely dominating and solving a problem most of us never imagined a solution.

HubSpot created the inbound marketing movement- thank goodness.

Salesforce launched CRM and the end of software mantra. And 20 years later, we know how that's doing for them. Their stock ticker represents a market cap of over $260 billion.

You heard me reference software categories as a market, a movement, a mantra. When we talk about categories today, we've moved on from just a software category, which sounds kind of boring, right? Who cares about your software category?

I like how Andy Raskin of the Great Sales Deck framed it…

A LinkedIn post from a man called Andy Raskin which says "Goodbye category. Hello movement. Stop asking whether or not you should "create a category". My take: Books like Play Bigger are really talking about movements, not categories. Start asking what is the movement- and the old game/new game strategic narrative that powers it- that you'll champion for your buyer."

Goodbye category, hello movement! Also, see this tweet.

A tweet from the username garrytan which says "Sell outcomes, dont sell software. Software is confusion, hand wringing, cheese moving, and risk. Outcomes are something way better/faster/cheaper, a Gold Rolex and a big fat promotion. People want outcomes, not software."

Passion for a movement

What I'm talking about today is creating a movement that your buyers can feel passionate about. Because buyers are people just like you and me, with careers, aspirations, and the need to belong.

A movement speaks to a real pain they have and provides a vision that helps grow their careers in new ways.

So, as a product marketer, let me tell you about my experience at Quantum Metric, launching a category. I'm going to tell it as a case study.

I'm also going to share five golden rules as we go through them. Like any good case study, we start with a problem statement.

Case study

Problem: Not messaging the problem we were solving

It was 2019. A little bit before I joined Quantum Metric.

We were four years old. We achieved product-market fit. We had great customers, we raised our Series A. We were a digital experience intelligence platform.

When we looked at our space and how our solution had evolved, we felt like we were outgrowing the original problem we first set out to solve, and our executive team, led by our CEO, Mario Sierra Barra, set out on a month-long process to solve this.

We heard the same thing from our customers. They’d initially bought us for one problem, which was finding and fixing problems on their website, but they were renewing for a very different reason…

We heard things like:

  • “You provide the best customer-centric insights”
  • “You help align our teams”
  • “You're changing our culture”
  • “You're making us more data-driven, more iterative, more test-to-learn…”

It was clear that there was this huge delta we were missing out on, articulating a very different, bigger value proposition.

So, that takes me to Golden Rule number one:

Golden Rule 1: You’re doing it for the right reasons (not because everyone is doing it)

I see a lot of chatter about creating a category, there's definitely a lot of hype about it.

To borrow a concept from Gartner, we've passed that peak of inflated expectations when it comes to launching a category. We're on that slippery slope to the trough of disillusionment. See below:

A graph with the y axis labelled visibility and the x axis labelled time. Red line begins at technology trigger, rises to visability and is labelled peak of inflated expectations, dips to trough of disillusionment, rises with slope of enlightenment and then levels off with plateau of productivity.

There needs to be a real problem you're solving differently, from existing categories that don't describe you anymore, and your customers can validate this.

I’ll also add that product marketing cannot drive a category on its own. As you know, it's a corporate strategy. It impacts product brand sales and customer success.

Our CEO and our CMO led this process, and they brought along our board and our investors as well. So, let's move on to the solution.

Solution: Internal alignment/educating the market

internal alignment - educating the market

Creating that category itself, plus the story, and the point of view behind it, took us months.

Our CEO and our CMO led this work. We worked with an outside agency, we brought along our investors and our customer advisory board, a lot of really smart people inside the company.

After the board investors are all in, it's time to build a strike team.

Bring in the strike team

This is where product marketing comes in and shines. This is your tiger team! This is going to help you bring along the entire company.

Because, as is the case with any big change, there's a whole range of emotions and reactions at first. And our job as a product marketer, along with the executive team, is to help begin building those internal believers and champions.

As part of that process, I really encourage you to just acknowledge that it's going to be very hard. And it's going to feel like this a lot…

Image of the desert.

For a long time… alone in the desert.

This is how the CMO of Qualtrics described it when they launched their category.

At first, customers won't know what you're talking about. They knew you as this former category, analysts will be skeptical, prospects might be confused.

I recently learned that Segment launched their category, but then went back to their old one. It took Zuora 10 years for the subscription economy to go mainstream.

That's the hardest thing about launching a category; there's going to be a pull to go back. You really have to commit, you have to have conviction. And it starts with the CEO and CMO. That's what we have here at Quantum Metric.

I'm going to borrow another metaphor to illustrate this...

Image of burning boats on the water.

You’re going to have to burn the boats. I got on stage with our CMO at our company kickoff the first time we revealed this category, I said:

There is no turning back.

When we get to launch our category, we're going to have to burn the boats.

Golden Rule 2: To burn the boats, you have to prepare the sailors

This takes me to Golden Rule number two, to burn the boats. You have to prepare your sailors.

Objections we heard

  • “We’re not a design platform!”
  • “We’re doing well with our current messaging!”
  • “Prospects won’t be searching for it!”

People internally are going to have questions, they're going to have nerves, and that's fine and fair.

Write out a PR FAQ

What I wish I’d done was write out that internal FAQ with our executive team.

Then, I wish I’d added to it as I heard more objections. It would have helped us flesh out our thinking more and helped us be more aligned internally when we launched to customers.

Lightning Strikes

The company kickoff was the first time we shared our plans for a category.

A timeline that begins on Jan 7 labelled "internal CKO', then Feb 3-5 labelled "CAB and Summit", Early march labelled "virtual all hands" then MArch 23, 28 labelled "lightning strike! shop talk, website, digital, media, adobe summit, and the finally april 1, thunder strikes.

That set in motion many, many more activities and milestones. It took us a few months to get to that internal kickoff, and then it took us another few months to actually get the big reveal to the market: The big lightning strike!

Every time we met with internal stakeholders, we had this high-level plan. I feel it was really helpful just to continue building that alignment internally, providing that big picture, but also communicating that there's a lot of work to be done.

Our strike team met every week, we had a Slack channel as well, just to keep each other on track and keep the conversation flowing.

Golden Rule 3: Build a bridge to the category for sellers and customers.

When I look back, this is an area that we could have done better.

Hopefully, you'll learn from our learnings. And you'll realize what I mean by this golden rule if you hear things like:

“This works for executives, but not our level of buyers.” Or “our level of buyers are directors and they don't care about this vision.”

To borrow a reference from Mean Girls…

An image of Regina George from Mean Girls saying "Stop trying to make fetch happen".

We're just not going to make fetch happen. So, I learned from a really great blog post by Jennifer Johnson, she was a fourth-time CMO and she laid out this point really well.

Don’t over-rotate

She stated it as, ‘don't over-rotate.” You create this messaging that's very visionary and top-down, it gets to the executive and what do you do? You over-rotate there, and you leave behind the directors and practitioners who make a big portion of your existing pipeline, the people who got you where you are.

You need an and strategy, not an or strategy. That category is going to be that sea-level of vision that provides the strategic value that your category solves.

A pyramid titled "don't over-rotate" - the bottom is titled "individual user" - makes their life easier - the middle level is titled "functional leader" helps achieve functional priorities and the top level is CxO and titled provides a vision for strategic business value.

Then, you’ve got to build that bridge and connect that vision to every level in the organization you're selling to the functional leaders.

These are the people your sales team is meeting with. Then there are the users, the influencers, who will ultimately evangelize your product.

Alright, Golden Rule number four….

Golden rule number 4: Building believers is a long game

You start with your biggest advocates, the customers who already love you, the customers who helped you validate this new category. You ask them to share with you what your category means to people like them, to businesses like theirs.

This gives your customers reasons and ways to talk about your category. We contacted the Chief Digital Officer at Bed Bath & Beyond, to write a white paper with us to talk about credibility, we turned it into a one-hour certification. 👇

When customers share our content, or their certificate on LinkedIn and elsewhere, we promote these internally, which has a double effect.

It keeps the momentum going internally, and it encourages a social boost to our customers. Now, as I said earlier, category creation is a company-wide strategy.

It's not just a marketing ploy. We've aligned our post-sales process to our category. This is our continuous product design maturity curve.

The continuous product design (CPD) maturity curve. 0 is Reactive, slow to understand customer experience, 1 is visible- view every customer experience, 2 is Quantified- easily quanitfy issues and opportunities, 3 is aligned- prioritize with a single version of truth, 4 is continuous- innovate ahead of customer expectations.

We've built out a systematic approach to help our customers up this maturity curve.

This was led by our customer success organization. Every time there’s an onboarding, training, and a readout of QBR, they're reinforcing our category. It's a methodology, not just a narrative. We're helping our customers even launch continuous product design Centres of Excellence.

Listen for your category name

A little tip: Listen for customers using your category name, it's the best feeling. We've got alerts from customers or prospects in a neighbor category, and sometimes you learn something really interesting.

I tracked down the account manager and I asked, “Why did our customer say that?” “How did you get them to talk about continuous product design?” And then we retell those stories to everyone...

It's proof that we're building believers, and that our category is resonating.

A word on analysts

When it comes to building believers, you just can't leave out analysts, especially for enterprise software. They will be skeptical. They've heard it before. They hear it all the time from startups like ours.

And then what happens? They're looking for traction, they're looking for proof points, they're looking for customer validation. In the early days, they're gonna put you in their existing categories.

This slide from Gainsight shows how Gainsight thought Forrester and Gartner viewed them before the concept of customer success existed.

A Venn diagram titled Analyst will try to put you in existing categories- one circle is labelled CRM, one is labelled customer support and the last is labelled account management.

What worked for us in speaking to the Foresters and Gartners of the world is we create a bubble slide just like this, and it helps us articulate how we're different, where we're similar, and how we bring point solutions together.

And I got a lot of great feedback from analysts on that. It put us in their world.

My biggest lesson from working with analysts is you've got to bring them in at every stage of your category creation: from the point of ideation to when you actually have something to get feedback on.

It's a two-way street: You're educating them, but you're also taking their input and learning from them as well.

The most important thing is that they're part of the journey.

Golden rule number five: Don't reinvent the wheel, start from a playbook

There are a lot of great resources out there. You may have read Play Bigger.

There's also a great lightning strike mobilization book that they produced faster and has a lot of great resources.

An image of lots of different brand logos from Salesforce, Hubspot, Zuora, Gainsight and Drift under the title "There's a playbook for category creation".

I looked at a lot of other great companies who’ve already been on this journey, like Salesforce, who have long proven their success, to ones earlier on in their journey, who are experimenting and trying all these great new ideas.

There are so many great ideas, and it's going to help you if you can prioritize and communicate proactively, how you're prioritizing what you're going to work on.

What’s next?

There are so many things you could do. At Quantum, we said we weren't going to do a podcast, but we did.

Every good case study has to have results, right? At Quantum Metric, we still are early on in this journey. And here are a few success markers I could share with you.

There's a lot more priming and educating the market, we have to do a lot more building believers, and creating a community around our category of continuous product science. Remember my five golden rules for launching a category:

  • You're doing it for the right reasons.
  • To burn the boats, prepare the sailors.
  • Build a bridge to the category for sellers and customers.
  • Building believers is a long game.
  • Don't reinvent the wheel, start from a playbook.

Good luck on your journey. It’s a lot of fun!