Legendary Entrepreneurs Are Relentless Category Designers

This post was excerpted from Niche Down, my new book with the legendary marketer and podcast conversation host Christopher Lochhead.

Legendary category designers never stop reminding the world that
they created the category. That they are the standard by which all others
must be compared. And that they haven’t stopped looking at the
original problem from new angles.

Take the story of GOJO Industries. You might not know this privately
held company’s name, but you’ll recognize the name of its most
famous product.

In 1997, GOJO, with its introduction of the consumer edition of
Purell20, convinced millions of parents and germaphobes that we
should use “hand sanitizer” before and after we touch anything.
Refuse to do so at your own peril!

In 1996, none of us even knew we needed hand sanitizer.

Today, millions of people carry the stuff with them everywhere. Hospitals and doctors’ offices worship it via dispensers hanging on the walls. You can find bottles scattered on hotel check-in counters and at the start of restaurant and cruise-ship buffet lines.

It’s even tough to make it through boot camp without being exposed to the brand: the military is a huge customer.

At its height, Purell owned an estimated 70 percent of the hand-sanitizer market category. (There was a brief change in ownership, but that’s a story for another book.) Its name is the one to beat for mindshare.

The brand that all other hand sanitizers are compared to.

There’s a corollary: The bigger and more urgent the problem, the more time and money people will invest to solve it.

You don’t want to be walking around with unsanitary hands now, do you?

The “overnight” success story behind Purell maker GOJO actually began almost 40 years earlier, in World War II-era Akron, Ohio, with a simple problem identified by tire factory worker Goldie Lippman — it was super difficult to get carcinogenic substances like graphite, carbon and tar off her hands with regular bar soap after a production shift.

You had to use benzene, which was irritating. Women, in particular, were interested in an alternative23 because who wants red, smelly hands?

That problem inspired Goldie’s husband Jerry, who invented a formulation that was less harsh and that was delivered in liquid form. The two entrepreneurs mixed up the product using a washing machine and packaged the soap in pickle jars pilfered from local restaurants.

Yes friends, GOJO (the company’s name is a mash-up of the founders’ first names) was also the designer of the “liquid-hand-soap” category!

Before GOJO, most individuals used “bar soap” to scrub their hands, faces, feet, clothes.

And the venture also came up with a way of controlling portions, so that it was more cost-effective for business owners to buy the product.

Today, more than 70 years later, GOJO’s identity is still synonymous with the hygienic benefits of keeping your hands clean. That’s true in large part because it has never stopped thinking about the original problem and new ways of addressing it. “You don’t go up against the giants unless you have a category-defining brand,” GOJO’s current CEO, Joe Kanfer, (the Lippmans’s nephew)  for a corporate profile published in 2013.

Have You Niched Down Yet?

It’s odd to realize that my first ever book, Niche Down (How to Become Legendary by Being Different), with Legends & Losers podcast host Christopher Lochhead has been officially on sale for a whole week.

So far, the feedback has been humbling: we’ve been cycling through the #1 bestseller spot for the entrepreneurship and small business categories since the launch. (Right now, we’re #1 in new releases.) And, check it out: someone even donated a billboard in Melbourne, Australia, to help get the word out! Thanks to our marketing entrepreneur friend, Vaughn O’Connor, for this stunt down under.  He apparently is Christopher’s kindred spirit when it comes to lightning-strike marketing tactics.

I’m pausing for some vacation until early August, but just wanted to say thanks for making my birthday extra special this year. I’ll be back with book excerpts and such after my return.

What Makes a Legendary Entrepreneur

So, I’m finally doing it. My long-time friend and legendary CMO Christopher Lochhead (that’s awesome retired marketing guru to you acronym-phobes) has convinced me to help give voice to his second book.

I’m terrified, but also incredibly excited about the subject — an exploration of what turns entrepreneurs into queens or kings of their market category. The working title of our e-book is Niche Down: How to become legendary by being different. (But we reserve the right to change it!)

The thesis is pretty simple: the most successful ventures you know — whether it’s the small biz down the street or a mega-corp with a multi-billion-dollar market capitalization — don’t try to compete on price. They got to where they are by solving a problem in a unique way, and “niching down” to capture the conversation around it.

You hear about the big guys and gals all the time. (That’s the focus of the first book about category design co-authored by Christopher, Play Bigger.) This new tome is dedicated to solo-preneurs and new ventures that fall into the “small e” category of entrepreneurship.

Why I Said ‘Yes’ to This Project

A bit of trivia: the first regular freelance gig that I landed out of university many years ago for a now-defunct trade magazine involved profiling entrepreneurs. It hooked me. That led me to a long-time collaboration with Entrepreneur magazine, and I’ve lived and breathed tech startup-dom for close to three decades. That’s where I met Christopher. YIKES!

I’ve been asked to co-author books before, but nothing has ever caught my heart like this project. No more playing coy. So, here I am, doing something I’ve never done before in my life. You’re never too old!

If all goes well, we should debut said e-book by the end of June. Meanwhile, if you’d like a sneak peek at the arguments, here’s what you should do:

  • Take a listen to Christopher’s no-holds-barred podcast, Legends & Losers. (Warning, he swears like a sailor. You can’t deal? Your loss.)
  • Tell him what you think, with a review on your fave podcast platform.
  • Email a copy of the review to blackhole@legendsandlosers.com. Copy me for good measure at heather@heatherclancy.com. (Sorry, I’m not making these links live/clickable because of spambots.)
  • Eh voila! We’ll send you a copy of our book “teaser.”

So easy! Want to start a dialogue in private? Reach out via my contact form.

Laters.