September 20, 2018
Digital Identity: The Task of Defining a Market Category
Posted April 3, 2018
Funny thing about disruptive technologies. They’re a lot easier to launch when a ready market already exists. But, sometimes even when a business need exists, a ready market may not. This is especially true for business enterprise applications, because even breakthrough technologies are not implemented in a vacuum.
This is the type of challenge we faced at ThreatMetrix a few years ago while bringing our suite of digital identity solutions to market. We also faced the challenge of a rapidly evolving cybersecurity landscape. In light of all this, we made the sometimes unenviable — but for us, inevitable — decision to define a new solution category.
The Road Less Travelled
When ThreatMetrix entered the cybersecurity market, our product offering was focused on IP address and location, which then quickly morphed to encompass the device, detect threats and then to recognize unique identity. A lot came together when our global Digital Identity Network grew to billions of records, and we could begin to see the data relationships that eventually became the Digital Identity Graph.
Then, with more volume and the ability to sift through it with machine intelligence across more geographies and industries, ThreatMetrixID emerged. Voila! A truly breakthrough technology for anonymously assessing and authenticating digital identity. There was just one problem: Until very recently, the category of digital identity solutions didn’t even exist.
At best, there was device intelligence, but that spoke to only a fraction of our capabilities. We were not a malware company, but needed to address that market because detecting malware, Trojans and compromised devices is part of our solution. We were also not an identity access management company. And while our solution supports critical APIs and has an open systems technology stack, we were not in the business of selling pre-packaged APIs by the thousands for enterprise applications.
Dare to Be Different
We came to realize we had something uniquely powerful in our Digital Identity Network. But while there were no incumbent vendors for comparison, there was also seemingly not many out there shopping for such a solution, either. We knew that evaluating ThreatMetrix relative to existing technologies would be pointless, because as powerful as it was, there was nothing else like it.
The question eventually came up among our investors: What solution category are you in?
We realized that we needed a way to get our message across, but it wasn’t as simple as creating a new way of saying the same old thing. That might get an initial nibble of interest, but if on deeper inspection there’s no substance, you’ve lost credibility. Messaging a set of features also wouldn’t get us to be the premium solution provider we wanted to be. We needed to define a new solution category.
This might sound like a way to chart a green field of opportunity. While there’s some truth to that, it clearly isn’t cheap or easy, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Rules of the Road
In having done this a few times in my career, I’ve discovered some strategies that I would like to share with organizations considering taking on this task:
- Instill a culture of change: You’ll need a start-up culture from the top down to pull this off. And, as hiring accelerates, it becomes ever more critical to select the right people to help you set the pace for the category you’re creating.
- Be ready: Don’t try to create a category too soon. You’re ready when you have a breakthrough product that is deployed at major customers, giving you advocates who have seen the product’s value and are willing to talk about it.
- Stand out from the crowd: Categories help make apple-to-apple comparisons. However, there’s always pressure to fit the new into the old. So, if you are an apple, stay an apple and be the best one. But if your solution truly stands out like an orange in a crate of apples, you’ll need to present it, fortify it and defend it with immutable facts.
- Speak the customer’s language: Creating a new category requires you to take great time, care and effort to educate the market. You can’t just start a conversation – you have to complete the picture by mapping solutions to business drivers and strategies. This is a conversation about the needs of your audience, not your technology.
- Never stop learning: When it comes to creating a new category, your customers are your best allies and collaborators. Working with them will help you gain the indispensable knowledge and expertise you need to continuously refine your offerings and go-to-market messages.
To expand on that last point, learning never ends. Which is why I’m so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have played a leadership role in helping ThreatMetrix become a transformative and successful (indeed, category-defining) brand.
As I prepare for a new endeavor, I know ThreatMetrix will never stop learning new ways to help customers thrive in the digital economy—and I aspire to do the same.
Because in today’s world, if you aren’t disrupting, you’re getting disrupted.
And where’s the fun in that?