Go-to Brands are built differently
They are the bar setters, where other brands should aspire to be. And, as traditional boundaries blur, they must continuously rejuvenate to stay ahead.
We used our Brand Aperture™ research and brand-building experience to propose guidance specific to each quadrant.
Wherever you find yourself, there is work to be done.
Comfort → Go-to
Comfort brands are loved, but they’re not seen as pushing the boundaries — and, therefore, risk losing customers as soon as a more innovative alternative comes along. Many beloved brands, like Coca-Cola, Colgate, Chick-fil-A, fall into the comfort quadrant. Their enduring emotional connections still feel authentic and caring; however, they risk missing on innovation and helping customers advance in their lives.
Key steps to consider to move from a comfort brand to a Go-to Brand
Make things work like magic:
- Set the standard for how products or services should work; create a signature innovation that is a manifestation of your brand purpose.
- Disrupt yourself by adapting methods of rapid testing, scaled adoption, learning and failing forward; recognize the security of your strong customer connection as a liability — thwarting your innovation efforts — as well as an asset.
- Diversify your innovation portfolio to feed a constant sense of new and now; reset expectations is a way of life, not a one-off.
Advance your customer’s world:
- Activate the connection that you have with your target customers to help them feel part of something bigger than themselves.
- Partner with other brands that have ambitious missions and active collectives.
- Demonstrate and involve customers in new ways of doing good for society.
Enabling → Go-to
Enabling brands are valued for what they help me do but are not loved for how they do it. Without the loyalty to see them through times of product disadvantage, enabling brands are only as strong as their latest feature. Enabling brands are often viewed as company, rather than customer, first. To become Go-to Brands, those companies must focus on customer connection: understanding, empathy, happiness and values.
Key steps to consider for moving from an enabling brand to a Go-to Brand
Become true to me:
- Define and immerse in a clear brand target.
- Set out the vision for a personal brand relationship with the target customer.
- Celebrate the brand’s distinct personality and determine how it can fit seamlessly in the customer’s life and day.
Show you care:
- Develop a purpose-driven brand platform, and live it through tangible commitments.
- Link your vision for a personal brand relationship to operations and economics to make it real; understand and commit to the business implications.
- Design an expression and voice that are authentic to your shared identity with the target customer, and resonate with the customer’s journey and experience with your business.
Transactional → Go-to
While we have presented connection and progress as two different ideas, the power of Go-to Brands is that the two elements reinforce each other. The route from a transactional brand to a Go-to Brand is not to pick just connection first or just progress first but to use that reinforcement to climb a staircase along the diagonal of the chart. Advancing a bit in progress creates goodwill that you can transform into a stronger connection. That connection gives you the access to deliver a bit more progress, and so on. That is how we have worked with banks, airlines, utilities and others to create ever-more meaning for their customers in a self-reinforcing path.
The opportunities for building connection and progress are the same as described above. In addition, some specific boosters can also be helpful for transactional brands to consider.
Additional steps to consider for moving from an transactional brand to a Go-to Brand
Target a tribe:
- Many transactional brands lack the clearly defined brand target that is essential to create a deep connection and that can help unlock meaningful progress. Delta Air Lines’ focus on business travelers is one example.
Launch a sub-brand:
- When moving your brand is not practicable, creating a new brand may be the lateral solution. When Goldman Sachs wanted to get into relatively mass consumer saving and borrowing, it knew that its brand could not be a Go-to Brand for that market. While it’s a strong brand and one of the very few enabling brands in banking, the Goldman Sachs brand is strongly associated with its core business and client base, as it wants to be. Hence, the launch of Marcus by Goldman Sachs, which in the short time since launch has already established itself as a Go-to Brand.
Partner with others:
- If the journey is tough alone, how can others help you get there? Why does the Visa brand make people feel adventurous, while one of its closest competitors makes feel people anxious? In a business with very similar direct customer experiences, the answer may lie in the associations that each has with other brands. Visa is not only the Olympic sponsor in its category but also the network brand on the highest-rated cards from the top U.S. issuers.
Sustaining a Go-To
Go-to Brands are strongly placed, achieving both revenue growth and business resilience that is superior to others. But Go-to Brands are not invincible. Connection and progress are delicate constructs that need to be perpetually renewed. Plenty of comfort brands today can probably claim a Go-to Brand past and continue to deliver what made them so strong, but they are delivering on the customer expectations that they established and not continuing to set new ones. And plenty of enabling brands can probably also claim a Go-to Brand past, but they did not build the warmth and dedication into the relationship that they needed once their offer was not so new or so functionally differentiated.
Beyond the need to keep running to stay ahead is the challenge that customer expectations from brands today is not what customers will be looking for tomorrow. The power of innovation is to change customer expectations, and we are in a time where a lot of that is happening.
To sustain your Go-to Brand for the future, consider:
Do customers trust you to make good decisions on their behalf?
- Amazon, Google and Apple are all strong Go-to Brands today. Customers do trust Amazon and Google to make good decisions for them; for Apple, however, customers trust it less than they do most brands.
Will customers welcome you into their lives?
- If you ask whether customers are willing to share personal information, then Apple, Google and Netflix rate very similarly (all are a bit above the average across all brands surveyed). But if you ask if each is one of the brands that people are happy to let into their lives, then Google jumps ahead of the other two.
Brands that work differently need to be created and managed differently.
As traditional category boundaries blur, the authority of a Go-to Brand comes less from what it does and more from how it does it. This focus on how is pervasive, working from a deep insight into the progress that customers are struggling to achieve to a purposeful and distinctive way to respond. It requires the brand to be managed pervasively within the organization, not just from a marketing perspective. It requires you to challenge your focus and to shift your mindset.
Some questions to ask yourself include:
- Do your customers come to you for what you do (constrained) or for how you do it (extensible)?
- Is “insight” in your organization a fancy word for customer research, or is it a process for truly discovering the “white space” in people’s lives?
- Are you proud to be customer-led, or do you have the purpose and vision to lead your customers?
- Do you manage your brand identity as a protected, institutional asset or as a more open environment that, you hope, your customers feel belongs to them?
- Do you buy your customers’ data permission with deals that they cannot refuse, or do you get invited to share in their lives and businesses?
- Is brand governance in your organization about design compliance or creative direction?