Building Go-to Brands

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Executive Summary

For each of us, only a few brands have real meaning.

Creating brands in today’s digital world is easy and cheap. Reaching your target audience is not the challenge that it once was. Good customer reviews can catapult a little-known brand to the top of your browser. But building a winning brand is a different story.

In a world where 80% of product searches start on Amazon or Google, even successful brands with satisfied customers are being intermediated; they have to pay to get their customers’ attention on the big platforms. We have found that only a few brands are sufficiently front of mind — or front of phone — to be sought out directly. And it means big rewards for those that are.

Tougher world, bigger prize.

Shifts in markets, technology and society are making it tougher than ever to build a winning brand — but also make the prize more worth while.

It’s tougher, because:

  1. Competition is broadening. 
  2. Barriers to entry are falling. 
  3. Customer relationships have never been easier to lose. 
  4. Our tech-led economy can get in the way of human connection. 
  5. The relationship between customer and company has fundamentally switched. 

But that’s not to say everything is reduced to the functional. That “I” is about identity, and identity means belonging. Being all about “I” goes together with a social craving to belong.

In a crowded marketplace, where customers are craving belonging, the appetite for brand connection has never been so strong. The more the world becomes algorithmic, the more we want to connect as people. Identity is becoming more salient, and people are turning to brands as part of how they define and project their identity.

We have always needed to believe in something bigger and more important than what’s right in front of us. Now, though, identity has increasingly become a matter of personal choice and expression beyond what we were born into. We are ready to adopt brands that represent who we are and who we want to be. And to attach ourselves closely to those brands when the world is challenging.

The prize has never been bigger. Brands that break through, that reach their customers and understand their needs, get broad permission to assemble solutions across traditional category boundaries.

The result: fewer, deeper relationships.

We interact with a myriad of brands every day. But for each of us, a few brands have real meaning. They’re the ones that we seek out, care about, consult with, open up to and are happy to be seen with. Brands we love for how they relate to us. Brands that help us do what we previously couldn’t. Not institutions that push their way into our world, but agents we decide to pull in.

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We call them Go-to Brands.

The brands that win this high-stakes game are the ones that create meaning for their customers. That meaning sets a foundation for the deeper relationships that people commit to with those brands. 

Our Perspective, highlighting annual research, focuses on the question: what causes a brand to achieve “Go-to” status in our lives? Sampling more than 50,000 consumers’ personal perspectives on 600-plus brands, we built a statistical model that is easy to understand, predictive of financial outcomes, and directive, in that it shows leaders where they need to improve for their businesses to be more meaningful to customers and where to innovate to unlock growth.

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