The Balancing Act: Creating Brands in Emerging Categories

By Lindsay Gravette and Anthony Miles, Partners at BOND

No matter where in the world, all consumers are very much the same. We are all wary of change. Happy enough with what we already have, with the choices we already made.

But it is always through innovative products in emerging categories that we progress. We all lived happily without smartphones, smartwatches and streaming TV. Until someone made them for us and persuaded us to give it a go.

What all those products have in common is they find a way to make change, make it stick, and do it quick.

So, how do they do that?

Sometimes it’s about perfect product-market fit, just having the right product at the right time.

But often we have to give our product a little boost. And that is always a careful balancing act:

  1. Balancing fitting in with standing out from the crowd.
  2. Balancing educating about the product without boring people.
  3. Balancing the allure of luxury with, in time, availability to the mass market.

Fit in (a lot)…

Whatever the product, whatever the category, you need your customers to feel totally comfortable with what you are offering.

This is certainly true with Aleph Farms, a food technology company that unveiled the world’s first cultivated thin-cut steak in 2018. Under the product brand, Aleph Cuts, the company is in 2023 launching its first product, the Petit Steak, grown from non-modified cells of a premium Angus cow.

Everyone knows what a steak is, but cultivated steak? Now we’re moving into new territory. Reactions to Aleph Cuts range from “OMG, that’s amazing! When can I try it?” to “Uh… is that meat from a lab?”

With any new product category that requires a change to ‘the way we do things’ status quo, there is always a period of adjustment. While we are infinitely adaptable creatures and it doesn’t take long for us to integrate new things into our lives, we often need a little push to make the change in the first place.

So while the exact category of ‘cultivated steak’ doesn’t quite exist yet, we are playing in a wider category with well-known conventions. So we leverage existing conventions to fit into existing mental models and category entry points.

One way to do that is to balance the old with the new. With Aleph Cuts, we talk about how cultivated steak won’t change your grandmother’s recipe – it will taste just as delicious as before, but with a steak that was cultivated not slaughtered.

…Stand out (a little)

But fitting in on its own, that’s not going to grab attention in the way we need to start to change buying behavior.

Jenni Romuniak, co-author of How Brands Grow, talks about how so much advertising wrongly focuses on persuasion rather than fame: “most organizations are failing to get into the room, but they’re spending their money .. as if they’re already there”. Likewise, pioneering new products have to fight to get into the room and persuade.

Persuasion is for naught if your customers don’t know you exist.

First fight for fame. Then fight for favor.

Case in point: Beats by Dre. The best headphones on the market, with the best sound? Or the ones around the necks of a hundred sports stars from Lebron James to Serena Williams to Neymar? Talk about ‘getting into the room’ – they got into every locker room in world sports for the price of a few pairs of headphones.

Educate but don’t preach

Too little education and people won’t know what to do or why they should do it. Too much and they’ll stop listening altogether.

With Aleph Farms, it is undeniably yummy food, better food, more equitable food. The long-term benefits of cultivated meat are clear: animal welfare, food accessibility and security, local cultivation and reduction in food miles.

This is not about politics, but it is about much more than just for commercial gain. This is about a steak, so we educate as much as we need to get people comfortable to try it. Because it tastes damn good.

While this is true in food, it is equally true for any new product. Even if you know the product will make the world a better place, focus on the right level of education to get people to buy.

Because you can’t change the world with a product that nobody buys.

Aim for inclusive exclusivity

Think of Nespresso. Although it requires you to purchase expensive hardware and then to feed it with a constant supply of high-cost pods, in 2022 it generated over $7bn in revenue for Nestle. It can’t all be because of George Clooney.

The consistent quality, a luxury brand experience and riding the wave of a burgeoning global coffee culture makes it what it is today.

Similarly, Aleph Cuts is launching unashamedly as a premium product. Working with some of the world’s leading chefs, the aim is to first be the requested choice for discerning diners looking for a new dining experience.

At first, the product will launch in Singapore and Israel (pending regulatory approvals). But the long-term ambition is much, much bigger – to use this as a jumping off point, and quickly become a brand that, like Nespresso, is found in kitchens across the world.