Becoming a Category of One

"Nothing of substance will take place without commitment."

- Becoming a Category of One, page 12

It has been said that there were more millionaires created during the Great Depression than any other time in American history. In a crisis there is opportunity, and those that defy conventional wisdom will deliver great success out of adversity. In his book, Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison, Joe Calloway provides an insightful look into what it takes to create new levels of success despite changing market conditions and adversity. He explains that being extraordinary is a deliberate decision that must be recommitted to again and again.

Industry crises present crossroads that may force a company to expand their definition of themselves and clarify their commitments. These moments of crisis and clarity also give birth to opportunities for companies to separate themselves from the competition.


The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Beware of Business Atrophy: Success is a moving target

"There’s really no such thing as holding your position. You’re either gaining ground or losing ground."
- Becoming a Category of One, page 18

Every investment guide has the same disclaimer: “past performance is no guarantee of future performance”. According to the author, the same is true for business; past success means that you know what worked yesterday. “Success is a moving target that causes a very positive version of permanent dissatisfaction. It is a form of dissatisfaction that feels good because you are driven by the fuel of knowing you can do better.” The author encourages you to create a sense of urgency every day in every thing that you do so that you can guard against complacency.

Regardless what industry you are in the marketplace has become dynamic and competitors are no longer confined to domestic borders. When change is occurring outside of your business at a rapid pace you must innovate and redefine your market share on a continuous basis in order to survive. Business owners must ask themselves, “am I willing to commit to do what it takes to be extraordinary?”

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

See your company through the eyes of your customers

"You must change the customer’s basis of comparison…defy comparison…by creating a difference with customers through their experience of what it’s like to do business with you."
- Becoming a Category of One, pages 78-79

Did you see Jay-Z’s Samsung commercial for his new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail? The commercial offers an inside peek into the creative process behind the upcoming album. In the studio room with him are producers Rick Rubin, Swizz Beats, Timberland and artist Pharrell Williams. In the beginning of the ad Jay-Z explains that the album is about the duality of how you navigate your way through success and failures while managing to remain yourself. He goes on to declare that “the Internet is like the Wild West; there are no rules and everyone is trying to figure it out.” Jay-Z then tells the room of musicians, “We need to write the new rules”. And that is exactly what Jay-Z is doing. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Samsung purchased 1 million copies of Jay-Z’s new album for $5 and plans to give them to Samsung Galaxy owners for free 72 hours prior to the album release.

In a world where all smart phones do amazing things and all musicians produce quality music that their fans adore, you have to “find points of genuine differentiation…beyond the expected factors of price, quality, and service” if your intent is to endure. When Samsung, the number two smartphone market leader teamed up with Hip-Hop’s second wealthiest music mogul, Jay-Z, they began creating new rules in the marketplace and found a way to transcend being a commodity by creating a new customer experience. Google Play offers the app for Jay-Z’s new album, which is exclusively for Samsung Galaxy S 4, Galaxy S III, Galaxy Note II users. The app contains the new album and never before seen footage on the inspiration behind the album’s tracks. Talk about a dynamic customer experience!

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Your Story: Give them something they can feel

"Your story is a simple, inspirational statement that galvanizes and unifies resources and that maximizes employee and customer engagement."
- Becoming a Category of One, page 28

Why you and not them? That is the question that every customer poses to the business owner. Why should I do business with you? Your answer to that question has to resonate with the customer, provide value by addressing their needs, and be emotionally compelling. “The single most powerful sales tool is…to know more about the customer going in.” The experience that you create with customers when you do business with them is a new competitive factor that goes beyond price and quality.

What do you anchor this experience to? The answer is your core values and the driving purpose behind your business. Blake Mycoskie incorporated philanthropy into his business and established the One for One global movement behind TOMS shoes that drove his brand to incredible heights. He understood his customer and delivered something they could emotionally connect to. How do you translate your product or service into something that is compelling?

Category of One businesses do the following things flawlessly:

1. Create value by solving problems or creating opportunities.
2. Deliver a compelling consumer experience through creativity and consistency.
3. Pay attention to customer needs.


Joe Calloway refocuses the business owner’s thought process by outlining action steps that one can take to boil down their brand’s message to something simple and emotionally compelling. He offers viable case studies of businesses that have clearly drawn their own mark in the sand. Deliberate action that is customer focused is the key to becoming a Category of One company.

While reading this book I redefine the mission statement for my foundation, I am O’Kah! so that the message clearly articulated what we do and sparked an emotional connection to our work. There are no rules is the world of business. You will have to make your own rules and redefine how you connect to your customers in order to transcend being a commodity. Continuous innovation and a relentless commitment to being exceptional are essential to Becoming a Category of One.

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Aisha DaCosta

ABOUT Aisha DaCosta

Meet Aisha, a Jamaican born New Yorker with an intense passion for self-development and entrepreneurship. Aisha is the founder of a Baltimore non-profit, I am O'Kah! Inc which provides mentoring and financial aid to deserving high school graduates...
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