As a product marketer, often your work all leads to this very moment: When you finally go to market and launch your product. In this guide, we’ll help you reign in the focus of your strategy and categorize the varying levels of deployment effort into three tiers.
Once we decide on the strategy tier that best suits the product or feature launch, we can identify and organize the specific channels and corresponding campaign activities that we have at our disposal to execute that strategy.
While this guide focuses on go to market planning, we consider this one of four product marketing phases. To unlock the other phases, sign up for a Reforge membership.
What is a Go to Market Strategy?
The go to market phase is all about getting products into the hands of your target audience.
A go to market strategy ultimately helps bring a product or feature to your target audience by setting specific goals, setting up your strategy based on channel organization and deployment evaluation, and planning your campaign activity and timeline.
In many organizations, marketing leaders who execute the product marketing strategy act as the central hub that connects the dots for a successful go to market plan.
To do this, they need to build alignment on goals across the organization, identify key input metrics, and build a strategy that prioritizes these goals, metrics, and the key driving activities to reach those goals. Product marketing’s main challenge is landing efficient prioritization decisions.
For example, product marketing leaders need to make tough calls on how to allocate resources across different product or feature launches. If they devote equal resources to all products and features, they risk over-investing in product launches that won’t drive big business impact, or under-investing in product launches that do.
This leads to inefficient planning, thinly stretched resources, and failing to give potentially high-impact launches the attention they deserve.
Reforge program collaborator John Russ says, “I try to get teams to ruthlessly prioritize launches so our efforts reflect our interests. Otherwise, it can be tough to deprioritize precious work for the greater good of the overall business goals. Treating launches in an equal hierarchy doesn’t help you align your resources with the big strategic bets.”
Once you’ve made those tough calls around which launches to prioritize, product marketing leaders must then prioritize the amount of time and effort needed to invest in each different campaign.
This is challenging because sizing and planning for go to market efforts are based on what feels like countless parameters, activities, and key assets. When product marketing leaders don’t have a structured approach for making these decisions, they risk creating negative trickle effects across the plan.
Let’s imagine a scenario for Esri, a company which produces geographic information system mapping software. They are set to launch a product at their Esri User Conference.
The sales team needs information from the product marketing team to create their sales pitch, and also needs to know when they can expect the video ads to be finished filming. But customer support also needs training materials, webinar content, and FAQ information.
Of course though, the product team then calls an unexpected, yet important, meeting to brief product marketing on final product updates that may impact messaging. And let’s not forget about the critical blog posts that need to be written and circulated leading up to the event.
Because the volume of activity can easily get out of control, it’s important for product marketing to size their go to market efforts, and focus on the key activities and assets that they can deliver on time.
This is where the go to market plan comes in handy.
3 Stages of a Go To Market Planning Process
Now, we’ll walk you through the go to market planning process step by step, in order to help you launch your product or feature both structurally and successfully. We’ll start by defining the three stages of go to market planning, and then we’ll look in more depth at how to complete each stage. The three stages are:
GTM Planning Stage 1: Setting Your Goals
We’ll begin with the first stage, which is setting your goals.
Product marketing leaders need to identify the business goals that matter the most to their stakeholders across the organization. Setting these North Star metrics helps product marketing leaders efficiently prioritize the high-impact launches, and plan the activities that serve these goals.
The North Star and respective input metrics that are solidified during the goals phase will be highly connected to the fourth phase of product marketing, measurement. Because measurement is such a complex issue, we cover it in depth in our Marketing Strategy program. Sign up today to access.
The best marketing leaders align their product marketing initiatives toward topline business goals, since this ensures that we prioritize and drive the right user outcomes through our product marketing campaigns.
In another guide, we provide a deep dive into North Star metrics and input metrics. When looked at together, we call these the constellation of metrics. Product marketing leaders can think of the North Star metrics as their product marketing goals.
To briefly recap what we cover in that guide, North Star metrics identify the outcomes we want to accomplish across your company’s entire portfolio of marketing, spanning the three domains of brand, product, and growth marketing. These are the core outcomes or goals your product launch ladders up to.
- Our North Star metrics should be linked specifically to the three components of growth: acquisition, retention and monetization.
- Input metrics, on the other hand, represent the actions that drive your North Star metrics. They should be the leading indicators that cause, or are at least highly correlated with, our North Star metrics.
For go to market strategy, this means identifying the campaign goals and initiatives that will help achieve those North Star business goals.
Metrics: Go to Market Strategy Examples
Let’s say Brightwheel is launching a new feature called Staff Health Checks, which allows admins to monitor staff health by logging temperatures to ensure the health and safety of their center. Brightwheel defined its North Star goal to be a specific increase in retention, or an increase in the number of active users who increase their usage and engagement with this new feature over a designated time period.
Possible input metrics that might fuel that increase in engagement are then things like blog posts or Facebook content shares, or a spike in questions streaming in from the help center around this new feature.
We can take Zapier as another example. One of their new North Star goals included monetization, or increasing conversions of free users to paying users to drive annual recurring revenue, or ARR.
With monetization as the North Star goal, and with ARR through conversion rates as its North Star metric, one possible input metric would be to track how many users opened a new paid account after each specific campaign activity or initiative.
For example, tracking the conversion rate after a user views a webinar for a new onboarding user experience, after opening a new email, or even after experiencing the product via a 14-day trial or a live event. Each campaign activity would require its own tracked metric.
If we dig deeper into this example, we could see that in order to achieve high conversion after a 14-day trial, Zapier rebuilt their onboarding flow to have more frequent touch points, serve up more strategic content, and drive engagement with an emphasis on new users creating a Zap, or automated workflow, during the trial.
If Zapier hadn't identified monetization as their business goal, they could have focused only on signals like higher email open rates from prospective customers, or testing headlines designed just to increase those open rates.
Essentially, this would have been time and effort focused on a vanity metric that didn’t roll up to their overall business goal of monetization or develop the nurture flow that would drive paid activation.
Evaluating Go To Market Product Differentiation
Before we jump into the second stage of a go to market strategy, let’s review the level of differentiation your product or feature has. As we review in our Marketing Strategy program, in the first phase of product marketing, market analysis, you evaluate the relevant problems your product or feature solves for, as well as if it’s solving the problem in a differentiated and impactful way.
You can think about this evaluation of differentiation on an ascending spectrum with four different levels:
- Game Changer: Acquire new audiences, new users, and retarget all of your existing users
- Stay in the Game: Engage your existing users or become more relevant to get in front of users
- Just the Basics: Inform your existing users
Starting at the top, we have the Game Changer, which has the highest value and potential reach. In order for your product or feature to be a Game Changer, it must be solving relevant problems in an impactful and differentiated way so that you stand out to win against your competitors in the market.
If you have a Game Changer on your hands, you are more likely focused on acquiring new users, while also retargeting all of your existing users to deepen their engagement.
Consider Minted, a company that in 2007 disrupted the paper stationery incumbents with in-house designers, like Hallmark and Papyrus. Its vision was to monetarily support and amplify the voices of local artists by crowdsourcing unique designs into a single marketplace with voting contests that could predict top sellers.
With customers’ desire to support local business, Minted banked on the mission of supporting local artists. Customers could feel confident that the designs they chose for life’s special moments were helping independent artists earn income, and were also the most on-trend designs on the market.
This product launch was a Game Changer that provided relevant, impactful, and differentiated value to new customers looking for something different, inspiring, and in support of local artists. A product launch like this one would require a big splash.
According to Forbes, this type of “big splash” launch paid off, because Minted attracted millions of dollars from VCs and their annual revenues increased 39% year-over-year, into the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s now expanded beyond ecommerce paper stationary, while still staying true to its mission of creating new income sources for independent artists.
The level after this is the Stay in the Game type of feature. It solves relevant problems in an impactful way, but it isn’t differentiated from alternatives in the market.
This newly launched feature still brings value to your existing users, so your focus is best aimed at engaging those existing users. You may also find that you have the opportunity to become more relevant to certain audiences who don’t already use your product.
For example, consider Uber when they launched UberPool in response to Lyft Line, the shared ride option within the app. In this case, they sought to appeal to current users who might have churned in favor of more budget-friendly options, but also to reach new users to whom they were suddenly more relevant.
And finally, there are Just the Basics, which are features that solve relevant problems your customers expect you to solve. This includes maintenance updates, fixes, and follow-on features they’ve been requesting. The goal for products with this grade level is to inform existing users about these changes. There is less concern on broadcasting these updates to a wider audience.
Now that we’ve identified our product’s level of differentiation and identified our goals for each product or feature, the next step is developing a strategy to achieve these goals.
GTM Planning Stage 2: Setting Your Strategy
The second stage in our go to market planning process is setting up your strategy.
This stage scopes the launch and defines how much effort needs to be put into different campaigns using a tier system. Making these decisions helps leaders manage their resources and plan for the campaign activities more effectively.
Most marketing leaders would agree that there are varying degrees of deployment effort you can apply to each go to market plan. But it can be difficult to evaluate and prioritize the resources you will need to achieve a successful launch for the product or feature at hand, as well as for each important campaign activity.
To help you reign in that focus, we’ve categorized the varying levels of strategy into three tiers.
- Tier A: This tier requires the team’s full attention with a fully fledged plan to leverage resources at full speed. Use this strategy for Game Changer products or features. Planning for this tier takes longer, and starts earlier, because it generally requires more budget, time, and resources to achieve maximum force, impact, and reach.
- Tier B: Strategies here are less demanding than Tier A in terms of budget, time, and resources, but they still require a strong push to be efficient and successful. You would use this tier of strategies for Stay in the Game features or products. Planning here still requires a good amount of effort, though less than is required by Tier A strategies.
- Tier C: This tier generally requires fewer resources and less effort to execute the strategy. It just needs a steady level of deployment to have an efficient impact. You would use this strategy for Just the Basics type products and features. Planning for this tier takes less time and starts later. Budget for this tier may vary, but generally it takes less monetary resources to execute.
Once we have decided on the strategy tier that best suits that product or feature launch, it’s time to identify and organize the specific channels, and corresponding campaign activities, that we have at our disposal to execute that Tier A, B, or C strategy. Which brings us to our third stage, where we’ll focus on planning our campaign activities. r
GTM Planning Stage 3: Planning Campaign Activity
Finally, the third stage of go to market planning is planning our campaign activity.
Think of this stage as a structured approach to sequencing campaign activities, planning for dependencies, and solidifying timeframes before you finally launch a product.
Go to Market Strategy Template
The first thing that we need to consider when we’re planning campaign activities is the organization of our channels. We’ve created a checklist template that Reforge members can use to follow along (and includes Brightwheel’s Staff Health Checks as an example feature). Otherwise, feel free to build your own as we go! This checklist should serve as a starting point. Creating it upfront will help you organize and prioritize the many strategies that you have to work with, while aligning your teams on go to market priorities.
Let’s walk through the different components of what this checklist should include. It’s broken down into the three types of channels: owned, earned, and paid channels.
- Owned channels can include any channel or key asset that you directly control. This would include things like your website, blog, or organic social media accounts. You can list them accordingly in the template.
- Earned channels. include any exposure or channels that you don’t own or pay for, like organic media coverage, customer reviews, and social media reposts.
- Paid channels include any media channels or key assets that need to be created and paid for. This would include things like sponsored search, social media ads, TV ads, radio ads, or out-of-home channels.
If we’ve decided upon a Tier A launch strategy, we'll likely leverage a combination of all three types of channels, because it would lead to the largest reach of new and existing users.
If we’ve decided on a Tier B strategy, we’ll most likely only want to leverage owned and earned channels, because this tier focuses on retargeting your existing users with new information.
There are a few exceptions to this. In some cases, paid media is useful for retargeting existing customers, and we’ll explore this further in the Growth Marketing module. Overall though, your paid budget would likely be lower with a Tier B launch.
For Tier C strategies, we would focus only on our owned channels, because it’s simply about informing or updating users on a feature that is relevant for them. Because it’s not of the highest priority, we focus on owned channels to keep the key assets and touchpoints at a minimum.
To illustrate how to best use this checklist, let’s look at Brightwheel’s Staff Health Check feature mentioned earlier. We might consider it to be a Stay in the Game feature. The appropriate strategy then would then be a Tier B strategy, which leverages owned and earned channels.
With that in mind, they would decide to anchor mainly on owned channels, including their help center, website, social media channels, blog, and emails. This then would dictate which key assets they would focus on, like their in-app messaging, product round-up newsletter, blog posts, customer support, and FAQs. If they experienced any social media reposts, they would also leverage that as an earned channel.
Go To Market Plan Timing
Once we’ve organized our channels and key assets by launch strategy, we can create a plan for the timing of our campaign activities. Just like our channel choices, the timeframe of our campaign activities will also be informed by the chosen tier. It informs how much time we’ll need to execute the plan.
The more key assets, channels, and campaign activities we need to execute by a given launch date, the more time it will take to complete, which requires an earlier start date.
According to Reforge program creator Martina Tam, scoping this out accurately to meet deadlines is critical. Once the launch date is set, you can work your way back through the calendar to set start dates and deadlines with the allotted number of weeks. This is how your planning calendar might look for the different strategies.
Brightwheel used the high demand of back-to-school season as part of their timing strategy to decide on their launch date. Once the launch date was scheduled for August 19th, marketing leaders could scope the necessary work and implement the necessary timelines to execute each piece of their Tier B strategy on time. This calendar shows what one campaign activity in a Tier B strategy could look like.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the more key assets, activities, and timing required for large launches, the more involved stakeholders you’ll have. Product marketing leaders need to set expectations with their stakeholders about the timing required and create alignment cross-functionally.
Go To Market Strategy Messaging
Once you’ve developed your timeline and overall campaign plan with all of its moving parts, it’s time to start creating the messaging. Messaging is where product marketing leaders add the most value. In the previous module, we discussed the product positioning statement as the internal-facing component of the positioning strategy.
Messaging is the external-facing component of positioning. It translates the positioning statement into language that expresses why this product or feature matters to our audience in a captivating way which ideally compels them to take action around this product or feature.
There’s a lot of tactical nuance around how to craft the most captivating message for your target audience, but the most important question for a marketing leader to answer is what aspect of our positioning strategy do we want to bring to life—that is, which aspect will resonate most effectively with our target customers?
While a positioning statement is always targeted at your “who,” a great positioning statement leverages your “why,” “what,” and “how.” You may need to craft your message so that it leans into one of these three areas more than the others, depending on the complexity of each dimension.
Let’s do a quick recap of product marketing’s complexity framework, which we cover in our Reforge program in detail, and see how it can affect your messaging.
The first dimension we’ll look at is product familiarity. When your audience has lower familiarity with your product, the alternatives are more likely to be analog incumbents, rather than direct competitors.
In this situation, your value propositions will need to really spike on “differentiation,” as the switching cost is going to be high, and the relevance isn’t always self-evident.
For example, we can look at Peloton’s first launch. They really had to index on the ways that Peloton is differentiated from the analog incumbent: boutique fitness classes. So their core messaging was built around the convenience and empowerment of bringing boutique fitness classes to the user’s home, on their schedule.
On the other hand, if your product has a high level of familiarity, then your messaging can become less complex, allowing you to focus on the “why” of your product or feature.
If we go back in time, and think about iPod commercials, you’ll recall there were different silhouettes of people dancing in a variety of background colors with an iPod in hand. What it conveyed was that an iPod allowed you to dance and jam out anywhere, even on the go, because you had your music right at your fingertips.
Folks were pretty familiar with portable music at the time, but by showcasing cool dancers enjoying life, it emphasized on their “why”—those moments of feeling your best when jamming out to music on the street, making life sweeter. This came through in taglines for these ads like, “The best just got better.”
People didn't need to know how many megabytes the storage was, how many songs it could store, or the battery life. Even if those things were superior, Apple differentiated itself by honing in on the emotional benefits of why a customer should get an iPod.
The second dimension is portfolio size. A larger portfolio with more products and features increases your complexity level, which means more specialized messaging across each of your products so that they align.
Let’s look at the GIS mapping software company, Esri, and its products. They provide various products and solutions with different names, including ArcGIS Platform and ArcGIS Developer.
This increases the complexity of their product marketing efforts, because they need to help users self-select the best option for them. Therefore, they focus on each solution by highlighting its unique value to that specific customer, and then lean into the “what” and the “how” with comprehensive descriptions on their website.
They also utilize their YouTube channel to better illustrate their specific and detailed messages around each product. For example, this YouTube video highlights the unique value of their newest product, ArcGIS Platform. The message directly states that it is an affordable and open location-focused Platform as a Service that allows organizations to bring maps and locations services into their products and systems.
The third dimension we’ll look at is audience needs. When a company has different customer segments or different audiences that they need to serve, the product marketing activity becomes more complex. They will need to address various audience needs at the same time, and do it without alienating or crossing over the needs of another audience.
For example, let’s think about Amazon’s different messaging. Amazon has many different customer segments with diverse needs. One segment includes customers who want to support local makers. Amazon targets this segment by promoting Amazon Handmade and creating messaging that leans into their “why.”
Take the tagline on their Handmade landing page, which reads, “Unique products crafted by makers around the world.”
Another segment includes customers who want to find the best deals to purchase the best products with confidence. Amazon targets this segment with their Shopper Kit landing page, which focuses on “how” they can do just that. The messaging on this page makes use of a variety of quick one-liners like “Find new deals everyday” or “Secure shopping.”
The final dimension of the complexity framework is service motion. If a company’s service motion is more complex, it may be best for product marketing to lean into the “how” of the product in order to lessen or navigate that complexity for customers. The customer will need more support in understanding how your company solves their customized needs.
For example, let’s look again at Zapier, which emphasizes that you can unlock a more efficient way to work with their easy automation tools. Automation, however, can feel highly technical, especially for new entrants in the space.
With this in mind, they make sure to message around both the tools they offer and how they make it easier for customers to use the tool. Take the messages on their Why Zapier? page, which include, “Build it your way without writing code,” “Build a Zap workflow with just a few clicks,” and “Solve problems fast with pre-made templates,” with an adjoining link to those templates.
Meanwhile, in Zapier video of client testimonials, which also ran as an ad, customers spoke, unscripted, about Zapier in pithy messages that doubled down on its ease-of-use.
Statements like “It’s like having an engineer in your pocket,” “It’s easy to set up in 5 minutes with zero technical experience,” and “It took us less than 10 minutes, which freed up 20 hours a week” all help to reduce friction around automation’s inherent complexity.
Zapier also makes sure to combine this message with high-quality, ready-to-go customer service representatives to help onboard and troubleshoot complex issues.
Summary: Go To Market Strategy & Planning
To recap, go to market planning focuses on three stages: defining your product marketing goals, assessing your product and best fit strategy, and detailing your campaign activity plan Once you’ve planned for your campaign activities by identifying its strategy tier, as well as the channel, the timing, and the messaging strategy, it’s equally important to communicate this plan across stakeholders and orchestrate the different tasks effectively across teams.
To walk through some key measurement techniques that you can leverage during the post-launch phase of product marketing, sign up to Reforge and unlock our Marketing Strategy program.