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Play Bigger book summary: Is your brand a category king?

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

Category King?

Is that even a real marketing term?

If this is what you are wondering, then let me introduce you to this life-changing book ‘Play Bigger’.

I think the name does not do justice to the content of this book, because it fails to capture the magnitude of knowledge this book encapsulates, nonetheless let’s dive in to see what it’s all about.


With 100s of things that this book talks about, my biggest fascination has been in regards to this whole concept of ‘Category King’.

In a nutshell, it refers to the brands that have made it so big that they now stand as the symbol for the entire category.

How many of us have asked for a Cadbury when all we needed was a bar of chocolate? Asked for Xerox when we needed just a photocopy?

These brands are what the author calls Category Kings.


The book talks about the importance of making your brand the new Category King and goes on to explain how this is the new strategy that needs to be built to ensure your brand succeeds.


We are no longer living in an era where just coming up with a product and advertising about it can make it big.

The process starts right from making people think differently, by understanding that they are not even aware of a problem, that your product intends to solve.


The book highlights this beautifully with the example of Uber, but with respect to the Indian context, I think a better fit would be Swiggy.

Before Swiggy, our radius of food order was restricted to a very small space, but Swiggy made us look beyond.

They realized that food is something everyone craves but the barrier is in regards to delivery and that’s where they come in to help.

People weren’t even aware of this ‘problem’ but soon got an amazing solution.


Now, there is no fixed strategy on how to become a Category King, and this changes as per the product and the monopolistic scenario, however, the book introduce the concept of Category Design for this.

This is everything that forms a part of the strategy of becoming a Category King, so it includes Marketing, Public Relations, internal employee relations, everything!

The goal is focused on making people experience the moment of ‘aha’ which will then act as a life-changing habit inculcating your product in it.


Let’s look at some examples of start-ups in India that are on their way to becoming Category Kings, if not already there.

And also, look at a few start-ups that couldn’t reach that level, this is important because I believe we learn better looking at mistakes.


3 start-ups that made it big

1. Zomato

Play Bigger book summary
Image Source: Entrackr

India’s first food tech unicorn surely experienced a mix of both peaks and lows before becoming what it actually is right now.

It was initially used only as a food directory but this is one company I really admire given that it ensured to change with time and acknowledge the competition offering to change itself.

It introduced an app when they realized the need to go mobile, they introduced Zomato Gold to ensure brand loyalty, they introduced food delivery when competition from Swiggy became a problem.

I believe changing your offering with time and need of the hour is extremely crucial for a company to succeed in the long run and become a Category King.


Lesson: Evolve with time to win, or your competitor will


2. Big Basket


Play bigger book summary
Image Source: Dealsshutter

Gone are those days when we had to queue up around a food market to buy daily vegetables and other grocery items, thanks to the introduction of Big Basket.

It started off small and only in South India before they decided to expand beyond.

They experienced or rather still face competition from Grofers or LocalBanya but the company still succeeded to gain maximum market share.

What worked for them, is that they realized the importance of personalization.

They figured that each part of the country requires a different amount of dairy and hence providing a unique experience to individuals will be the game-changer, and we know how well that worked out.


Lesson: Provide personalization to your customers, it will surely be appreciated


3. Nykaa


Play bigger book summary
Image Source: Entrackr

Now this one is a little personal, not only because I’m a regular user of this brand but also because this brand inspired many girls like me about women empowerment.

Nykaa set out to firstly realize the exorbitant potential that the beauty market has in India and then set out to introduce women to this completely different way of shopping beauty products.

What started as a full-fledged beauty retailer, today has its own brand of cosmetics, such an inspiration!

I believe this is already in the run to become a Category King very soon


Lesson: Always keep your eyes wide open, a big opportunity might be just around the corner


3 Start-ups that couldn’t make it big

1. Tiny Owl


Play bigger book summary
Image Source: Startup Buzz

While every year there are many start-ups which fail to create that mark, this one is a special case and hence I decided to talk about this one.

Unlike other start-ups that might have failed due to external reasons, this one had internal problems.

The problem with Tiny Owl can be simply attributed to greed when a lot of investors jumped in, the company soon started expanding left right and center failing to realize the impact this would have on the future.

The founders did tap into the food tech zone which was quite new around 2012, however, they were not well equipped with the overall know-how and soon couldn’t sustain.


Lesson: Know things inside out before you venture into something, you cannot jump into the pool and then learn swimming


2. Frankly.me


Play bigger book summary
Image Source: Twitter

For those of you who haven’t heard of this, Frankly.me was a Q & A social platform meant for Indians to directly connect with public figures.

While the concept was really new and unique, it couldn’t build the correct ‘market fit’ over time.

This wasn’t the only reason behind the failure, it was also a funding problem, but the major reason was that the idea couldn’t work well in the long run since people couldn’t relate to it.


Lesson: Its important have a long term idea in mind at the start itself


3. DocTalk


Play bigger book summary
Image Source: The Indian Wire

Loosely put, this was another Practo back in the day but it failed to create the impact it expected to have.

DocTalk was a medium that connected doctors to patients and also included a directory to store medical information of patients for ease of use.

While in my opinion, this area has great potential, this startup failed because it couldn’t pivot the business model based on the new needs of the market.

The model needed revision to ensure the connect, and it couldn’t provide that.


Lesson: Change your offering with time, flexibility is the first step towards growth


While success and failure are very important parts of life, it’s important as entrepreneurs or marketers for you to realize that everyone starts at ‘from’, but you have to make sure they get to your ‘to’!

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