By Pete Kloppenburg
If you gather together your leadership team and ask the question “What are we selling?”, you may well hear many answers. For instance, a typical tech start-up might be able to pursue several different business models with the same core technology: end-user products, back-end tools, OEM licensing programs, or consulting and custom development services. From a branding perspective, which one is your primary product or service?
(And may we all just take it as a given that when we say products, we include services and product service systems as well?)
Even mature companies with established business lines may face these questions when it comes time to rebrand. The various reasons that trigger a rebranding effort typically have a big offer component. Just merged with another company with their own products? Entering a new market space? Facing aggressive competition or structural changes in your existing markets?
Consider how this decision affects your other key conversations: audience and competition. Your consulting business will have a different audience and competition compared with an end-user product, which is different again from a licensing business model. In practice, this conversation can be complicated by the fact that different people within your organization will have a stake in pushing their own piece of the puzzle. It’s tempting to say yes to all of them, but this will only weaken the brand, which will not serve anybody well.
Which is why, when you have the what do we sell conversation, “all of the above” is not a wise answer. A brand that attempts to be all things to all markets is doomed to be fragmented or diffused. You’ve got to commit if you want a strong brand!
So the product conversation is all about committing. How you commit will likely vary from organization to organization. But here are some ways you might talk about it.
What’s the common thread?
One way to handle this problem is to zoom out a bit. Is there a way to abstract your current products in such as way that they can all be seen as part of a common category?
Where is the future of our company?
Your brand is all about improving your future performance, so what category must you dominate moving forward? This may again involve some degree of abstraction and finding common ground.
What is our gateway product?
This is a quite subtle approach that may work exceedingly well for some organizations. If you think about the work your brand must do – make a strong, memorable first impression and then build on that – you may want to focus your efforts on the product your customers engage with first. If customers go through a path of end-user solution to back-office custom development, you should probably make your brand work for the end-user product first, and let the other products leverage that initial brand equity.
What you’ll end up with is a strong set of priorities among your possible products, with one on top.
So before you have your offer conversation, you may be thinking something like this: “We’re good at everything, and we don’t want to lose any opportunity.” But after the product conversation, you should be thinking something like this: “We don’t want to waste any opportunity to make a strong, memorable impression, and by prioritizing our product, we’ll have a coherent valuable brand.”