How to Build a Go-to Brand
The keys to delivering connection and progress
Go-to Brands are built differently.
They set the bar for where other brands should aim to be. As traditional boundaries blur, they’re continuously thinking about how to stay ahead.
We used our Brand Aperture™ research and brand-building experience to outline some guidance for each quadrant.
Wherever you find yourself, there’s work you can do.
Learn how to set your direction for each by selecting a starting quadrant below.
Comfort → Go-To
Comfort brands are loved, but they’re not seen as pushing the boundaries — and, therefore, risk losing customers the moment a more innovative alternative comes along. Many beloved brands, like Coca-Cola, Colgate and Chick-fil-A, fall into the Comfort quadrant. Their enduring emotional connections still feel authentic and caring; however, they might come up short on innovation and helping customers advance in their lives.
Enabling → Go-to
Enabling brands are valued for what they help customers do but aren’t loved for how they do it. Without the loyalty to see them through times a product doesn’t perform, 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 building customer connection: understanding, empathy, happiness and values.
Transactional → Go-to
While we’ve presented connection and progress as two different ideas, the power of Go-to Brands comes from both elements reinforcing each other. Going from a Transactional brand to a Go-to Brand doesn’t mean you just pick either connection or progress first, but use both to climb along the diagonal of the chart. (For example, advancing a bit in progress creates goodwill you can transform into a stronger connection. That connection gives you the access to deliver a bit more progress, and so on.) That’s how we’ve worked with banks, airlines, utilities and others to create ever-more meaning for their customers in a self-reinforcing path.
Sustaining a Go-to Brand
Go-to Brands are strongly placed and have revenue growth and business resilience that’s superior to others. But Go-to Brands aren’t invincible. Connection and progress are delicate and need to be carefully maintained. Plenty of today’s Comfort brands can probably claim a Go-to Brand past and still deliver what made them so strong, but they’re delivering on past expectations instead of continuing to set new ones. And plenty of Enabling brands can probably also claim a Go-to Brand past, but they didn’t build the warmth and dedication into the relationships they needed once their offer wasn’t as new or differentiated.
Comfort → Go-to
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’s a manifestation of your brand purpose.
- Disrupt yourself by adapting methods of rapid testing, scaled adoption, learning and failing forward; recognize that the security of your strong customer connection can be a liability — because it may slow your innovation efforts — as well as an asset.
- Diversify your innovation portfolio to feed a constant sense of “new and now”; make resetting expectations a way of life, not a one-off.
- Advance your customer’s world
- Activate the connection 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
Key steps to consider for moving from an enabling brand to a Go-to Brand:
- Become true to me
- Define a clear brand target and immerse yourself with them.
- Lay out a vision for a personal brand relationship with the target customer.
- Celebrate the brand’s distinct personality and figure out how it fits seamlessly into the customer’s life.
- Show you care
- Develop a purpose-driven brand platform and embody 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 a visual and voice expression that are authentic to your shared identity with your target, and resonate with their journey and experience with your business.
Transactional → Go-to
The opportunities for building connection and progress are the same as we talked about above. In addition, some specific boosters can also be helpful for transactional brands to think about:
- Target a tribe
- Many transactional brands lack the clearly defined brand target that’s essential to create a deep connection and can help unlock meaningful progress. Delta Air Lines’ focus on business travelers is one example of how to successfully avoid this.
- Launch a sub-brand
- When making changes to your current brand isn’t practical, creating a new brand may be the lateral solution. When Goldman Sachs wanted to get into relatively mass consumer saving and borrowing, it knew it couldn’t be a Go-to Brand for that market. Even though it’s a strong brand (and one of the very few enabling banking brands), it’s strongly associated with its core business and client base, as it wants to be. In knowing this, we helped them launch Marcus by Goldman Sachs, which has quickly established itself as a Go-to Brand.
- Partner with others
- If the journey is tough alone, think about how others can help you get there. Why does the Visa brand make people feel adventurous, while one of its closest competitors makes people feel anxious? In a business with very similar customer experiences, the answer may lie in the associations 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 Brand
Beyond the need to stay ahead is a central challenge: today’s customer expectations are not what customers will look for tomorrow. The power of innovation is to change customer expectations, and we’re 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 trust Amazon and Google to make good decisions for them; at the same time, Apple 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 actually a bit above the average). But if you ask if each is one of the brands people are happy to let into their lives, 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 Go-to Brands comes less from what they do and more from how they do it. This focus on how has to be from all angles, working from both a deep insight into the progress customers are struggling to achieve to the purposeful and distinctive ways to respond. It requires brands to be managed pervasively from within, not just from a marketing perspective. Your challenge will be to reconsider your focus and shift your mindset.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Do your customers come to you for what you do, or for how you do it?
- 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 think of your brand identity as a protected, institutional asset or as a more open environment that your customers can feel belongs to them?
- Do you buy your customers’ data permission with deals they can’t refuse, or are you invited to share in their lives and businesses?
- Is brand governance in your organization about design compliance or creative direction?
Take an in-depth look at the full report
Today’s customer expectations are not what customers will look for tomorrow. Get the full picture of what success requires to stay ahead.DOWNLOAD