“Won’t You Take Me To Scootertown?” : Establishing A New Category
San Jose, California, like many other cities, is seeing an explosion of electric scooters. The model is neat: pick up any scooter you find on the street, pay via app, and ride. Then leave it on the street when you get there. Two companies, Bird and Lime, created the trend when they started leaving scooters around downtown for people to find and ride. The concept has a lot going for it: more eco-friendly than a car (and certainly easier to park), fun to find in the wild, and most of all, delightful to pilot. Now, it’s hard to find a street that doesn’t have at least three scooters weaving all over the place.
The success hasn’t come without controversy. Cities are frustrated with Bird and Lime for launching without seeking permits, and for leaving the scooters on the street. (Pedestrians might trip over them.) These are important concerns. But Bird and Lime are great examples of the Law of Category, from a book I often recommend called The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout.
The Law of Category says that it is difficult to establish leadership in a category with lots of competition, and the better path is to create a whole new category. FedEx did this by separating itself from other shippers as the first to have trackable overnight shipping. Bird and Lime are both trying to be the first company that comes to mind when the consumer thinks “electric scooter I can rent via an app.” To be the first, a company has to move quickly. Bird and Lime know that if they wait to “ask permission” from cities, the opportunity to establish themselves as the category leader will be lost in red tape. So they are “asking for forgiveness” instead, allowing people to start using the product as quickly as possible.
And it’s working. Ask anyone the name of a company that has “electric scooters you rent via an app” or “dockless electric scooter” and Bird or Lime will probably be mentioned. This name and brand recognition is priceless as they begin to roll this out to other cities.
This week’s mission:
Is your brand in competition with other companies in your area? If so, what new category can you define for yourself? Or, how can you capitalize on the category you already occupy? What are you waiting for permission on, that you could just do, and ask for forgiveness later? Oftentimes, being first is more valuable than being best.
Have a great week.