Making the biggest splash in the market, one that continues to gain momentum even after the first announcement, requires a three step process: assessment, strategy, and execution/enablement. Enter Dorit Shackleton. Shackleton heads up integration for Global Corporate Affairs where she leads the newest of the new cross-enterprise topics at tech giant SAP. Last month, in the first of a three-part series, Shackleton shared her insights on the four questions you should answer before creating a launch plan. This month, she shares the four components you need to transform your go-to-market strategy.
The biggest determinants of a culture are found in corporate values. For many innovation-based companies, a higher value is placed on product-focused innovations and not in the potentially competitive impact of strategic communications. Feeds and speeds are king. Here's the thing: if you want to make money and gain market and mind share, you have no choice but to create a culture of 'and' instead of 'or' whereby value strategic communications and product innovation are given equal weight. While product innovations create demand with customers, the strategic communications function paves the path to top influencers and key channels where a company's most important customers and market makers listen, learn, and engage.
Unfortunately, transforming a culture is really hard. In fact, only 25% of change initiatives succeed. When it comes to changing a corporate culture in a big way, the CEO and executive team must visibly be on board. "In order for strategic communications to have a seat at the table and provide the expertise needed to get results, the c-suite needs to openly trust and respect the function, just like any other critical discipline, such as engineering or sales," says Shackleton.
The internet of things has created a level playing field for business. Alternate: Social media has changed how business works. It has also created a lot of noise. Half the world's population uses social media to educate themselves on both consumer and professional buy decisions. The fragmented information environment makes big announcements more challenging. Shackleton's boss, Torie Clarke, SVP, Head of Global Corporate Affairs, has a clear mandate for her team, making smart, strategic corporate affairs a unique competitive advantage of sorts: "A big part of our job is to disrupt the crowded information environment," says Clarke.
Leveraging a toolkit approach, Shackleton believes go-to-market (GTM) strategy creation should have a heavy focus on what she calls the "no surprises' rule", where all the what-ifs have been addressed with proactive, obsessive planning and where the competitive landscape, marketing opportunity, and communication channel trends provide the roadmap for where, when, and how to launch. "We don't live in a world of just hammers and nails in the toolbox. There isn't just one easy way to launch a product or big idea in the market," says Shackleton.
Turning your launch assessment into a winning strategy requires the completion of four key steps, each with its own practices that lead to the right culture and approach for every launch.
1. Get everyone on the same page.
Pointing your GTM arrows in too many directions always ends in heartache, not to mention wasted time, money and limited returns. There needs to be a tough 'the buck stops here' when finding common ground, including a final decision-maker. Executives can depend on their strategic communications executive to keep everyone's egos in check while working with each member of the executive team on defining common ground on success goals.
"A mention in the Wall Street Journal may give you bragging rights to your mom but it isn't necessarily the right success formula for your launch", says Shackleton. "Who does your target audience trust, follow and read?" When you come to the table with launch ideas, be prepared to support your perspectives. A market-first answer is what a strategic communications professional will look for when striving to understand the best opportunities to outperform the competition and gain mind share.
2. Drive success through the right measurements.
The best dashboard won't be focused on ego metrics; it will measure and capture key points of market influence. To many executives, moving from defining success to articulating exactly what that success actually looks like is frustratingly intangible and conceptual. Like Drucker said, if you can't measure it, you can't manage it and you can't improve it.
"Tracking positive and high quality media coverage and positive social engagement for major product launches is key," says Shackleton. An effective dashboard provides a mix of actionable insight that help to determine if the right tone, reach and the right relationships with people who hold the most influence in the market are being achieved. More importantly, with real-time monitoring of social engagement, you can be nimble and change course quickly if needed.
3. Orchestrate the right mix for your strategic advantage.
There are several more influential outlets in the market then there were ten years ago. Social channels have changed the landscape, putting power into the hands of the masses and with individual influencers. Large companies like Amazon have mostly moved away from press releases and have replaced traditional channels with sophisticated social media strategies.
"Don't look at your strategic communications toolkit as just old-school press releases and traditional media events," says Shackleton. It's not just about where to put your announcement; how you get your story across has changed. Social networks are just that - social. It's not a megaphone or ad. It lives and breathes and requires two-way engagement. Getting your audience to listen is especially difficult because your announcement will be competing for attention. Your strategic communications lead will find the best approach to start and continue conversations with your audience that tie directly to the dashboard targets and weed through a noisy market.
4. Engage on the strategic vision well past the launch date.
A divide-and-conquer approach to media tours, analyst interviews, keynote presentations, and meetings with key customers by the launch team does not leave room for much else. As time moves on and everyone is focused on their piece of the strategy, new opportunities tend to unveil themselves and cause potential digression. As tempting as it may seem, it is critical to stick with the strategy.
"Strategic communications executives know how to provide enough information to check in and talk about progress. This the art, not the science," says Shackleton. The focus should always be on the impact you're making, and moving ahead. The regular check-ins keep everyone on the same path to ensure targets are met and the launch is successful.
The best strategic communications professionals I have worked with are always mindful that market-facing executives carry the biggest portion of risk. The right level of assessment and strategy is critical to transforming executives into effective spokespeople who can carry a launch over the finish line - and beyond.