Episode 24: Mike Zani and Allyson Havener

In our 24th episode, Gil talks category creation with two B2B leaders from the talent optimization and review categories.

Panelists for this episode include:

  • Mike Zani, CEO of The Predictive Index and leader behind the talent optimization category
  • Allyson Havener, VP of Marketing at TrustRadius and leader behind the software review category

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You’ll walk away from this episode with an understanding of branding, customer advocacy, and building a company culture.

Here are some of the key takeaways from this episode.

Takeaway 1. Category creation is a subset of branding

A common misconception about category creation is that it’s a marketing tactic that can be implemented by purely focusing on demand generation. The reality is a lot more different than that. Demand generation does play a role in category creation, but it’s only one part of a larger strategy. To fully understand the scope of category creation, you have to look at it through the context of branding.

Think of category creation as a strategy that helps you strengthen your brand story and win mindshare among your customers. It’s a subset of traditional branding where the end goal is to position your brand as the industry leader. And while some technical founders are reluctant to commit to branding in the early stages fully, there’s a lot of evidence to support the benefits of branding.

As you’ll discover from this episode, the organizations that invest in branding early on and reinforce that brand over time are usually the ones that become the leaders of a category. Even if you don’t end up creating a category, branding is still a powerful exercise that enables you to figure out what your company is and what it isn’t.

Takeaway 2. Find the right customers to tell your story

Category creation rarely happens in a vacuum. You need to involve your customer in every step of the process. In the early stages of your company, that means finding the right customers to define your brand story. Figure out how they’re using your product, what their aspirations are, and how your solution fits within their narrative. These early adopters will often be your first brand advocates, so you want to pay close attention to what they want.

Another benefit of adopting a customer-first approach is that it can help you identify what to call your category. This is an area where a lot of marketing teams get stuck. Either they spend too much time finding the perfect name, or they create a name that doesn’t truly reflect the value their product offers. A simple workaround to this problem is to listen to what your customers have to say.

Channels like software review sites are great places for market research. Make a note of the terms that they use when referring to your solution. Sometimes you’ll find out your customers are referring to your solution in a completely different way than you might have imagined. You’ll know you’ve found the right name when there’s a convergence between how your customers and internal teams talk about your product.

Takeaway 3. Your company culture has a big impact on your ability to create a category

When it comes to building a team to support your category creation efforts, you should prioritize candidates who demonstrate a high level of consistency. You don’t usually see consistency listed as a requirement in most job descriptions, but this trait often separates top performers from the rest.

Consistency is critical when hiring for leadership roles. A consistent leader will know how to set expectations with team members and establish accountability within themselves. When they say something, you can guarantee that they will follow through nine times out of ten.

Employees across all departments of your organization will be more motivated to set goals and reach them proactively when working in a culture of consistency. This will lead to the creation of high-performing teams capable of withstanding all the twists and turns that come with building a category.

There are many more insights about leadership, customer relationships, and branding covered in this episode of category creators, so be sure to tune in to learn more.


Allyson explains why it’s essential to collaborate with coworkers from different departments.

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