How to Become the Leader in Your Category

The goal of every business owner or marketing executive is to occupy the #1 position in their category. No one sets out wanting to be the runner up, even if being second or third means making huge profits. If you’ve got an ounce of ego and competitive spirit, you want to be at the top of the charts. Number 1.

There’s good reason (beyond ego) to want to be #1. In the marketing classic The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk! (this book is a MUST read) the first law presented is the Law of Leadership along with the following example:

What’s the name of the first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Charles Lindbergh, right?

What’s the name of the second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo? Not so easy to answer, is it?

It turns out that the second person to fly the Atlantic solo was Bert Hinkler (don’t worry, no one knows that). So far the lesson is clear. Being number 2 wins no prizes. But the most interesting insight comes next.

Who was the third person to fly the Atlantic solo? Emilia Earhart (Yes, you HAVE heard of her).

Does that destroy the law of leadership? Not exactly. Although Emilia was only the third person to fly the trans-atlantic journey, she was the first woman to do it. She was first in her category.

If you can be first in your category, then the benefits are obvious. I know from first hand experience how being first in the Itunes app store dramatically increases your traffic. People want to work with, interview, and use the leader. It’s good to be king.

But let’s face it, not everyone can be #1. Odds are that you aren’t and probably never will be. So what can you do about it?

The secret is to be number one in your category. Just because someone else is holding the number one position doesn’t mean that you can’t be number one in your own category.

Let’s use online dating as an example. is the largest and one of the oldest online dating sites in the US (maybe the world?). Trying to launch a new dating site to take over the #1 spot is futile. So launched and became the largest FREE online dating site (Match is paid. They subsequently acquired okcupid). become the #1 Jewish dating site. Tinder became the largest dating app (they too are owned by Match’s parent company).

Get the idea? If you can’t compete against the undisputed leader, find or create a category that you CAN be #1 in.

You probably will never be a larger retailer than Walmart, but you might be able to be the largest retailer of a particular item. And within that item category you might be able to be the leader in your particular geographic area.

At some point, if your niche or category is too small, being number 1 might not matter anymore. But as long as your category has enough room, being #1 will definitely help.

As you work on establishing your positioning in the marketplace, going up against the market leader might not be the best strategy. Instead, try to identify the particular niche or category that you CAN be number one in. And then own it!