How A Song & A Book Deliver Category Design Messaging

category design By Kevin Maney
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category design

There are endless ways to drive home a category-defining message. This is the story of how one company did it with a book and a song.

The company is called Shufflrr. Based in New York, it makes cloud-based technology that helps companies manage and track all their presentation decks. Its CEO, James Ontra, had read Play Bigger and applied the book’s category design concepts to his company, working to create and dominate a new category he dubbed “presentation management.” In 2018, Ontra and I first met for a beer at a New York pub, introduced by a mutual friend.

James told me that he, along with his sister and Shufflrr co-founder AlexAnndra Ontra, wanted to write a short book that would be a guide to presentation management. CDA often recommends that companies write thought leadership books to cement a category, so I encouraged James’ idea, and then ended up advising him and Alex in their work on the book.

Now, I’m also a musician and songwriter, and I play in a New York band called Total Blam Blam. At CDA, we’d never before known about a song helping to claim a category, but then again -- why not? 

More than a decade before all this, I had written a song titled “Go To the Next Slide,” about the agony of sitting through a mind-numbing PowerPoint presentation. I’d played it live a few times, but never recorded it. So I half-jokingly told James about the song, and he immediately liked the idea of having a category theme song. James said he would fund the production of the song in exchange for the rights to use it. I agreed and went into the studio.

The song turned out to be just what James was looking for – catchy and upbeat and a little 1980s New Wave-ish. James now has used parts of the song as the backdrop behind marketing videos, and has plans to use it more – maybe in ads, or as an intro when he’s doing a talk. 

Meanwhile, their book, titled Presentation Management, got finished and is available on Shufflrr’s website. It’s helped establish Shufflrr as a leading thinker about how companies can use technology to better manage the chaos of all the PowerPoint decks that get built by employees and contractors.

Together, the book and song helped Shufflrr set itself apart and signaled to the market that the company is creating something new and different, which is what category design is all about.