Applying go-to-market discipline to your brand
It’s a truism these days that best-in-class organizations see brand as core to their end-to-end business operations, as well as to their end-to-end customer and talent experiences. “Brand is more than a logo”; you’ve heard it, you know it.
So of course, most smart marketers ensure that any product, service or experience that their organizations deliver to their markets has been thoroughly filtered through the brand lens. The goal is that not only is it visually and verbally in lockstep with the brand standards, but the attributes of the brand are also woven in to all communications and every moment of interaction with a customer, employee or candidate, partner, supplier or other stakeholder.
This is done using brand as a core tool informing answers to some fundamental, critical questions about products and services.
And this is where the structural elements of go-to-market strategy might well be a smart set of ideas to bring into your brand development, strategy and application portfolio of tools.
Flipping the lens of brand and go-to-market strategy
Often, go-to-market strategy is a technical exercise rooted in the sales organization, aiming to ensure that a range of key considerations and issues have been addressed in bringing a value proposition to customers and creating the right experience. Go-to-market strategy typically addresses some key questions:
- What markets do we pursue?
- Which customers do we target?
- Which channels fit with how our customers buy?
- How do our offerings fit with our markets and channels?
- What is our unique value proposition to each target customer?
Those are the basics; a robust go-to-market approach can go much deeper. Bain proposes 65 best practices across commercial system design, sales and channel effectiveness, product / portfolio, marketing effectiveness, commercial operating model and pricing.
Clearly, these issues go beyond the purview of marketing and into sales, operating model, and other areas of your business.
But regardless of how well a brand (and its management practice) is ingrained into the organization, brand tends to live at a level above specific go-to-market strategies and product / service messaging. In practice, this means that brand shapes and defines how the product and service is experienced in the marketplace. An organization will define its market and customer segments to ensure that it is exploiting the right operational and communication channels to match customer behaviors and best express the value proposition for a product / service. Brand can and should play a role in helping a leadership team define what markets should be served with what products and services; but significantly it should also be a tool to make sure that the product and service is expressed in line with a broader belief system, informing the kinds of experiences created around the product / service.
In other words, typically speaking, a business has a product or service that it believes can win in the marketplace based on its go-to-market strategy, and the brand provides a lens through which the product or service is best positioned and projected into the marketplace across all touch points and customer moments.
As brand strategy and business strategy start working together, the resulting practices begin to bring brand managers closer to and deeper into workflow and planning around innovation, service development, business model and operations. It’s therefore worth thinking about bringing go-to-market efforts into the brand strategy, development and activation realm — or at least bringing some go-to-market thinking into the brand world.
What if we were to look at a brand as a product / service rather than the more common approach of branding a product / service? Today the type of structured discipline I’m talking about here often is applied only to the visual side of a brand launch. (A new logo means new business cards and truck decals across the company, etc.) But how often do you see companies reviewing and refreshing every piece of existing website content, every office space, every legacy pricing model, and every recruitment and onboarding asset based on a new verbal brand platform? And how often is a brand launch tied to specific KPI goals across business units?
So as brand strategy and business strategy become more tightly intertwined and mutually dependent — and the resulting practices begin to bring brand managers closer to and deeper into workflow and planning around innovation, service development, business model and operations — I believe that a more formal go-to-market approach will become crucial to the successful development and activation of brand strategy.
Brand as product / service
Admittedly, in theory this idea might appear to be pretty nebulous. In practice, however, brand fundamentals can benefit by being better informed by the more robust, tangible and operational “nuts and bolts” criteria and questions that typical go-to-market development offers.
Interestingly enough, in researching this article the vast majority of online resources focus on highly operational and tangible aspects of go-to-market: highly technical segmentation, features and benefits, pricing decisions, operating models, sales and distribution channels. It was on Wikipedia where we found the broadest, most holistic perspective on go-to-market strategy. Wikipedia suggests seven Ps of go-to-market success (augmenting the 4 Ps some of us were steeped in at school):
- Product — including design, technology, usability, usefulness, value, quality, brand and warranty.
- Place — including retail, wholesale, local-export and internet.
- Price — including penetration strategy, cost-plus, loss leader, premium and opex vs. capex (e.g., XaaS).
- Promotion — including advertising, recommendations, special offers / trial, gifts and user testing.
- People — including founders, employees, culture and customer service.
- Process — including service delivery, complaints and response time.
- Physical evidence — including user stories, recommendations, office premises and performance / results.
“Brand” appears as a single point under “product” in this model. But I’d argue that your brand should touch and inform all of these decisions and many more (including the 65 best practices from Bain) as you bring a product or service to market.
Moreover, you could use all of these lenses as a way to help ensure that your brand itself is brought to market in a consistent, clear, impactful and sustainable manner, and that it drives tangible results across your suite of offerings and your business as a whole. What if your brand development process addresses each of these factors, making them explicitly referenced parts of your guidelines, standards and overall brand management operation?
Many advanced brand practitioners already bring this thinking to the table. Just the same, here are three suggestions for where to take this thinking next:
- Chicken, or egg?
Ask yourself (and be honest): “Does brand play a role in every one of my go-to-market conversations and processes, or is it brought in at a later stage to make sure everything is ‘aligned’? Would my company’s performance and competitiveness be improved if brand thinking were present earlier?”
Can your brand as a go-to-market asset actually act as the starting point for R&D, innovation and product / service development conversations? For strategy reviews? HR transformations? A robust go-to-marketesque process operated through the brand lens might well be a way to unleash disruptive thinking and breakthrough ideas for innovation and improvement.
- Permeable membranes
Brand, marketing, sales, service: typically these operate in distinct silos. Many organizations struggle to cross-fertilize and integrate thinking, practices and ideas across these business units in ways that deliver seamlessly in the market. Could go-to-market thinking help dissolve barriers in ways that bring your brand promise to reality both internally and externally? And could it be a useful discipline to apply to other aspects of organizational design and development, business model evolution, and operations?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let’s continue the conversation.
PHOTO by Felix Mittermeier.