Date: 05/06/2023
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Book Review: Play Bigger


Play Bigger is a new book by entrepreneurs for entrepreneurs (2016, Harper Business). The authors’ theme is that today’s markets are so crowded that you cannot rely on niche marketing into white spaces; you have to create your own white spaces, or “categories”. The goal is to be a “category king”. The idea of niche marketing has been around forever. Ries and Trout documented these ideas in their classic, Positioning (2000). Authors Ramadan, Peterson, Lochhead and Maney propose that in today’s markets, with enough money, genius and hard work you can create your own category. To build a business using their approach you need to create a category, a product and a company. They all need to work together. This is sound advice. The challenges are:  what is your idea, how big is your category and is it defensible? IPads, ERP software and SaaS are examples of unique new categories that have gone to the business hall of fame. Even if you don’t have ideas this “big” you can still take away very useful ideas from Play Bigger.

One observation is that a single “lightning strike” will not create a category. Only a series of connected initiatives will have the desired effect. While reading Play Bigger, I also watched “The Founder”, a movie about Ray Kroc’s life (highly recommended). In one scene he plans a lightning strike opening of a new McDonald’s in California. Unfortunately, a swarm of summer flies drove away customers.  He was undeterred, obviously, and kept redefining McDonald’s categories from local hamburger stand, to regional business and beyond. The one major contributor to his success: persistence.  

A second observation is that new categories come in all sizes and can be employed by new or old businesses. Last week I got a flyer from King Arthur Flour, a 227 year old, Vermont based, B2C provider of flour and baking equipment. It advertised flour and baking pans for baking your own hamburger buns. In my mind that is a different category, not just a better product. With different you can become a category king; with better you will be one of the pack.

The final chapter of Play Bigger applies the category concept to individual professional life. The authors suggest that you need to create your own category, obtain the backup knowledge to support it, and set up an ecosystem (mentors) of people to support your goals. Good advice for all.