How To Name & Claim Your Niche

Eddie Yoon

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*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.

Arek Dvornechuck: Hey, what's up with branding experts? Arek here at Ebaqdesign. Welcome to On Branding Podcast. And today my guest is Eddie Yoon. And Eddie is the founder of Eddie Would Grow, which is an advisory firm specializing in business growth strategy. So previously he was a principal at the Chicago-based consulting firm, The Cambridge Group.

Hello, Eddie. Thanks for joining us today.

Eddie Yoon: Thanks for having me. Great to be here.

Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you so much. You write for multiple publications. You wrote a few books. But for those who may be new to this concept, can you briefly explain what category design is and, you know, in simple terms and what it means?

Eddie Yoon: Yeah, category design to me is the ultimate way to grow your business. That's what I've been doing for 25 plus years as a career growth strategist. I've worked with the largest companies in the world, mostly consumer facing. And my experience is that most companies fall into three buckets of strategy.

One is for me to grow, you have to lose, Arek. Like we compete, that's how we grow. And so the vast majority of companies fall into that. And that's where branding is often played out, right? My brand is better than your brand. Therefore it deserves a price premium, even though the car, the drink, the whatever might be virtually the same.

The second strategy is to have what I call "be the winner,” “be the best.” So the first one is to be the winner, the second one is to “be the best”. And so there, you might say I have the best product. I have the best technology. I have the best service. And then in that scenario people will say obviously you should buy me because everybody's inferior and the best product wins. And so you think about cars from that standpoint, right? “Be the winner” Toyota and Volkswagen have the most market share in the world. “Be the best,” you might have BMW, the ultimate driving machine, or Ferrari on the very high end with it. And that, that's the conventional way companies grow.

The third strategy is the most unique and I find to me the most valuable. In fact, companies that follow this strategy, they grow four times faster revenue and their market cap grows six times higher than other companies in the field. So this is the “Be Different” strategy. And this is where category design fits in. Whereas most companies are trying to be the winner, “I have a better, faster, cheaper product.” Some companies try to be the best. “I have the best technology and therefore you should buy me.” And others are saying, I'm the most different kind of eight dimensions, right? I have a different benefit. I have a different brand. Of course, I have a different price. I have a different experience. That's all on the consumer demand side. And on the business model side, it might be, I have a different manufacturing model. I have a different distribution model. I have a different marketing model and I have a different profit model.

So any one of those eight you can change. And that's the essence of category design is how do you turn any one of those levers into something so different that you can't even compare it to the legacy category. And that category design is not as extreme as ”Oh, we're creating a new element on the periodic table”. But you know how, like in the coffee category, coffee has been around for centuries and yet we have. Keurig, Nespresso, and Starbucks, they're all category creators and designers. And the way that you know, is Arek, if I said, let's go get a coffee and you said, and you were thinking, let's get a Starbucks and I handed you a Keurig or Folgers, you'd be like. What is this? That's not the same thing, even though they're the same category at some level.

Arek Dvornechuck: No, that's a great example. That's a great example. So basically. Just to sum up for our listeners, we always think about being the winner, being the best in our category, but you actually suggest being different to find the point of difference and you gave us eight different scenarios, right?

It could be a different benefit, it could be a different experience, a different marketing approach. Price point and so on. There is a lot to talk about, I think people will understand the concept if you give us a few examples, like you just did with the coffee. But maybe a couple more examples that you also mentioned in your book like with the liquid death with the water brand or Lululemon or even Apples, Apple redefined the phone category back in the day. So, people can understand the concept.

Eddie Yoon: Oh, absolutely. Water is a great one, Arek. We talked about liquid death in the book and, obviously some people will say that's a brand difference and that's the reason why it's successful, right? But it comes in cans. So there is clearly also a product difference as well. It's a different distribution model in the sense of traditional grocery but also, cans will show up in a different place than bottles, which is historically where water is, right? It's a different benefit. Plastic has gotten a very bad reputation and probably deservedly so, right. Cans far more easy to recycle. So it would be easy to say liquid death, exciting branding, it's different and all that's true. It's edgy and all that, but if you put that on a conventional bottle of water that was made out of plastic, it doesn't work.

The more than one lever of the eight has to be different for consumers to truly believe that it's, something not the same as buying an Aquafina or even a Pellegrino or whatever else it is, right? That to me is the point is that a lot of the times businesses will say they're looking for the quick fix, I'm just going to change my price and then we'll be fine. I'm going to change my brand and we'll be fine. I'm going to change my marketing, we'll be fine. Our data shows that you don't have to change all eight levers. Arek, but you have to change at least two or three. And ideally Arek it's one on both sides of the equation, right? I had four levers that are on the demand side and four levers that are on the supply side.

And that when you change, that's when it gets really different because most companies before the era of category design, they were kind of picking one lane or the other. I'm going to be wildly different from a brand perspective or demand side or wildly different from a supply side. But when you have, companies that, as you mentioned, Apple's obviously a great one. They have wildly differentiated products, but they're all part of an ecosystem and they sell them direct, as well as through conventional channels. So they've changed all eight levers in a way, so that it's made it incredibly hard to switch to a Samsung or Android or whatever, because there really is no comparison. Obviously, in many cases, the Android or the Samsung is a better piece of technology.

Arek Dvornechuck: I agree. Yeah.

Eddie Yoon: Yeah, foldable all like stuff that Apple doesn't have, but because all eight levers are so radically different, it becomes almost impossible to switch.

Arek Dvornechuck: No, it's a great example. I love this example because we all know that Samsung often has better phones. Oftentimes they implement the new technology faster. Apple is known for, they like to come in like for example, with the AI right now, they are late to the party, right? And this is their strategy. They want to really invest a lot of money, do a lot of research, and then come up with their own way of doing things. And I love this example that you just mentioned because the whole ecosystem is right, so it's really hard to switch. If you're an iPhone user even though you know that Samsung is first, it might be cheaper, better technology, better camera and so on. But still, as you mentioned, they use all the levers, right? So it becomes harder and harder to switch. So they created that different category, different niche, right?

In your book, you talk about those levers and you talk about different strategies. Can you walk us through some of the process? Or perhaps, talk about the examples of, the brands or businesses that you advise on how to, I know that it's going to be different from category to category for business to business, but perhaps you can give us like a high level overview of what's the process of, figuring out all those things, which levers should we focus on, which make the most sense for our category.

Eddie Yoon: Yeah, no, so it's interesting. I was going to answer your question, Arek, using my brain up here. I'll actually start here with the two things that matter the most in terms of category design. First you gotta ask yourself a question. Are you a missionary or a mercenary? Everybody in businesses, no, it's not like you're absolutely one or the other, it's more of a spectrum. You can be somewhere closer to the missionary, somewhere closer to the mercenary side, but I'll give you an example that we're writing about in Category Pirates now is take Mark Zuckerberg. Is he a missionary or a mercenary? Facebook was created to connect people all over the world, right? And, you take the movie aside for social networks and who knows what's true, what's not true, right? And there's a lot of opinions that exist, but the simple question is. Does he care about the mission or does he care about himself and his company? If you lean too far from the mercenary, it's really hard to join the category design movement because the temptation is going to be to take the shortcut, take the easy win. Like being different is, it's not just intellectually hard, it's emotionally hard. Like, you remember growing up in school, did you really want to be the different kid? No, like humans are not taught to be different. So there's this whole thing of being a mercenary is easier. I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing and that there are companies that are successful at being held by a mercenary. But when you think about missionaries, you think about people who will stop at nothing until the outcome is achieved. They don't care what other people think about them. They don't care if they, people are like, that's totally wackadoo. That's so different. What are you doing? They're so laser light focused on it. And that when you look at Mark Zuckerberg, you'll get a kick out of this. We counted how many times Zuck has posted about the metaverse versus mixed martial arts.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah. And what are the results? 

Eddie Yoon: It's slight, if you look across Facebook, Instagram, and Threads now, it's slightly more mixed martial arts, but what is telling to me about Threads as an example, so he launches this thing and it's supposed to be the Twitter X killer, he has posted ten times about MMA, and zero times about the metaverse. It's him, without his shirt on, flexing his muscles. It's him, I'm winning my first tournament in jujitsu here, right? And these are all noble things, but if I'm a shareholder of meta, I'm like, I think he cares quite a bit more about mixed martial arts and UFC than he does about the metaverse. And I don't know, and this is just speculation, right? But if you are so in love with the problem, this leads me to my second thing. So are you a missionary or mercenary? But mercenaries are in love with the problem. They see the problem as the thing they are trying to solve. They're not trying to market a solution. And again the Zuck versus Elon thing is just interesting and neither person is perfect, right? But there's no question that Elon is a missionary. He cares deeply about accelerating the world to sustainable energy, the cyber truck is coming out, lots of people have said that's the ugliest, stupidest thing I've ever seen. He does not care. And it is solely intended to be different in every single way. The product is different from how it's made, it's one piece of steel rolled like a hot wheels car. The manufacturing is different. They imported, did you hear the story? Yeah, he wanted to, it's because it'll be safer, and that's how you get to the bulletproof part is it's not pieces that are assembled. It's one piece of steel that's folded over. 

Arek Dvornechuck: Right.

Eddie Yoon: Inspired by the Hot Wheels toy car and they called five of the manufacturers who make the presses because it's a big press, it's like a mold. You pour the liquid metal into it and then it forms the hot wheel, the toy, right? And there were five companies that did it. He said, can you do this? A thousand X bigger for a car. Four said no, one said, maybe he's okay, we'll take that. So there's a company in Italy that does this, that he's importing the presses into. But like that to me is the telltale sign of like, the book lays out all the, here are the forms and templates and things that you need to do. But until you ask yourself a question, Before this business, am I a missionary or mercenary? Am I really in it? Or if I got a better job, I would switch and quit and do something else. Or am I like, I am never leaving this job or this company until the mission is done.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right.

Eddie Yoon: Because if you do that, then you will fall in love with the problem and falling in love with the problem not the solution, is the key to being willing to do all these things differently, because being different. is not how humans are raised to be.

Arek Dvornechuck: No, it's a great example. And I love this example. And I follow Elon and I hear about Zuck a lot. And I'm also interested in UFC and martial arts as well. But, this is a great example. And I think the metaverse stuff is a side thing now for him. I think he moved on to AI now. I think people don't really care like the metaverse created a lot of boom back in the days. I think it was like during pandemic or before pandemic and now it's all about the AI. So he moved to AI. And yeah, I love this example. It's a great example. And Elon is definitely a missionary. So that's great. And I love this story that you just told us. And so I know that there are many different strategies in your book. Like the lightning strike marketing strategy, right? And you talk about different misconceptions and how to approach category design in general and how to use all those levers.

But just to sum up for our listeners, can you just talk a bit about key takeaways from your book? What would you say are like the key main points that people would get from reading your book?

Eddie Yoon: The main takeaway, which we start with Arek is don't buy the book and don't read the book. That's the first thing we say to people is that the book will be very frustrating unless the first two questions that we asked, are you a missionary? And have you fallen in love with the problem?

The book will be nonsense to most people. Everything is predicated on, yes, I have fallen in love with something and you know, and it doesn't have to be like, there's global conflict and I want world peace. It can be as stupid as I'm trying to think of a dumb example, right? I'll give you one is “I have dogs and they shed a lot and I just, it grosses me out that there's all this dog hair”. And so what, the problem that I'm solving is my home is a mess because of my family. I have dogs, I have little kids and it's just a total disaster and dander and everything. I sneeze, and what do I do about it? Turns out you brush your teeth daily, you take a bath daily, you should vacuum daily. And if you don't, that's just as disgusting as, Arek, if I told you like, “Hey, I want to be on your podcast, but I only brush my teeth once a month”. You'd be like, I'm not even there, but I don't think I want you on my podcast. Like it's such a disgusting thing to think about and yet we don't think about vacuuming daily. And so when we talk about well how- yeah, I guess if I could vacuum daily, I would do that. How do I do that? You need a robot vacuum to do that. Okay. Who's the number one brand of robot vacuum? iRobot, which was my client for many years. And that I have probably sold 200 robot vacuums this way. I'm talking very little about actually just pitching. Do you brush your teeth every day? Do you vacuum every or bathe every day? Don't you vacuum every day? Shouldn't you do this and stuff? And that whole kind of process of finding the, so I said, are you a missionary mercenary? Have you followed up with the problem? Can you articulate the problem concisely? Have you languaged them we talk about in our book, languaging it and the goal we believe for every marketer and brand builder is not to market your brand. Not to market your product or your solution. It's to market the problem. And the more that you market the problem, how do customers and consumers react? Oh, you want to help me. I didn't know I had that problem. And that the great category design companies are the ones that you're like, I didn't even know I needed this until they told me that I had a problem that I didn't know that I had. And then the solution becomes very obvious. And if you're so different, there's no comparison, you don't need to market yourself. And so I'll double click a little deeper, Arek, on why this matters a great deal. The problem being daily vacuuming only a small number of people do it.

How do I do it? I need a robot vacuum to do it. Okay. What kind of robot vacuum do I need to do this? Is it one that has a lot of horsepower or one that has great software and navigation and cameras? Totally different product development paths, right? And that where most companies have fallen down, like the big ones, Samsung has tried to enter robot vacuums. Dyson has tried to enter robot vacuums and they all did the conventional thing. What do vacuums do? The more power, the better, more horsepower. That's expensive. It adds to the cost of it. But if you said, I actually can get away with less horsepower and less suction, enough suction, right? But what I want it to be is smart, I want it to navigate, I want it to have a home charging base that it can vacuum and go back to recharge itself and then empty itself. Now you have a radically different product design that solves for daily vacuuming.

Arek Dvornechuck: Right. No, this is a great example as well. And I can relate to that, I have a robot vacuum too. Although it's a small one, it doesn't empty itself but... Yeah, no, this is a great example. I think people can relate and I know you give a lot of other examples in your book and you describe the process step by step. You give us some frameworks and strategies on how to implement that and design your own category. Because, and I love what you said earlier that you made this distinction, to know that we shouldn't focus on marketing our brand. We should rather focus on marketing the problem, which is also in general, a great marketing principle, right? Focus on the problem, focus on the target audience, and then. Work from that instead of just marketing the brand and I love this example with the vacuum and vacuum brands and what they do. I think this helps us understand the concept.

Arek Dvornechuck: So we are going to link your book to your newest book, right? You have a couple of them and tell us how we can connect with you and are you active on social media?

Eddie Yoon: You can find me on Twitter @EddieWouldGrow also on LinkedIn. Those are the two that I probably spend the most time with. And yeah. You can find us. We have a top 10 business substack Category Pirates. Arek, any of your listeners can reach out to me on Twitter @EddieWouldGrow and happily give you a complimentary trial to it. We have, you know, 100 plus posts. We call them mini books, like, we have regular books as you talk about with 22 laws, but then we have a load of mini books that get after it. And then also we have, this is my first time announcing it publicly, that we have a limited number of spots for our Mighty Networks Category Design Academy. Because what we believe is that category design is the single greatest way to grow your business and it's the most important skill. Just like we're having this conversation now, the best way to learn is to do it. You said you were interested in martial arts, right? It's one thing to practice the forms and another thing to roll around with somebody or spar with somebody like that's a totally different part of experience.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah.

Eddie Yoon: So if anybody would like to learn how to do that, then, reading is great, reading the substack is great, but we have a limited number of slots available for people who actually want to practice with us. We will bring clients into this sphere so that you can learn how to, whether or not you're a consultant like me, everybody sells something to somebody, even within a company, the ability to learn category design and to market and sell it to achieve the goal that you want. Super important. So we want to give people a chance to learn, practice and try it out in the real world, so to speak. 

Arek Dvornechuck: So tell us more. So is it going to be an academy? Is it going to be about live webinars, courses? Can you tell us more?

Eddie Yoon: A lot of asynchronous courses, templates and workbooks and as well as a community so that people can coach each other up, so to speak. And some of them will be asynchronous. Some of them will be live. We will bring in my business partners, Christopher Lockhead and Katrina Kirsch. Clients that we have, some of the best CEOs from Silicon Valley, some of the best fortune 500 CEOs will come in. They bought a lot of consulting and know what they are looking for. And, like this is the part of me growing up in consulting, like one of my best mentors I ever had was a senior partner at McKinsey. And that apprenticeship is so valuable, but we're trying to open source it to more people because, the art and craft of being a consultant, a category design consultant is just too hard to scale one on one like this. And so we're trying to figure out a technology way to scale it so more people can learn it, cause it's the single greatest difference maker in my career and it'd be selfish for me not to share it.

Arek Dvornechuck: Yeah. No, definitely. Do you have a website for that? Have you launched any website yet? 

Eddie Yoon: You can reach out, find it there. The formal launch of the academy will be in the fall, October probably with it, but yeah, go to You'll see you all the latest so we're up to it, but we have been thrilled with the chance to write books. We would do it for free because we enjoy it so much, but. What we have learned is that people want to be able to learn these skills in real life. So the obvious thing we had to do was to launch the academy. So that's what we're working on right 

Arek Dvornechuck: Now it's an option to do that. Yeah. So Academy Community Coaching online courses and stuff like that. So we're gonna link to your other website as well, category pirates. Okay. Awesome. I really appreciate you coming on the show.

Eddie Yoon: Thanks, Arek, for having me. This was so much fun.

Arek Dvornechuck: Thank you. 

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