Product Strategy vs. Go-to-Market Strategy
February 4, 2020

Product Strategy vs. Go-to-Market Strategy

by Brian de Haaff

Have you heard of cognitive dissonance theory? In psychology, it refers to the tension that results when you attempt to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. We all balance ideas that are often quite different. This is especially true for product managers and product marketing managers. Building and launching brilliant products requires that you can understand and harmonize an internal focus (the build) with an external focus (the launch).

To do this well, you need to know the why behind the work — the product strategy and the go-to-market strategy.

Let’s start with simple definitions. The product strategy is foundational. It lays out what you will deliver to customers and how that will bring value. The go-to-market strategy is typically more finite. It captures how you will bring a specific new experience or series of new experiences to market.

Despite my musings on cognitive dissonance, these two strategies are actually complementary. The product strategy informs the go-to-market strategy, and both should support the overall business goals. But in organizations where product and marketing are misaligned on strategy, teams often experience conflict and misunderstandings. This can delay launches and dilute messaging, ultimately hurting customers.

Whether you work in product or marketing, it is essential to have a firm grasp of each strategy. This will help you collaborate more effectively and deliver new experiences that truly delight your customers.

Take a look at some of the major differences between the two strategies:

Why
The product strategy aligns the entire organization around a shared vision for how a new product or enhancement to an existing product will deliver value and help the company achieve its goals. It lays out major areas of investment and informs your product roadmap — a timeline that rallies the team around the true north of what you will build.

The go-to-market strategy aligns the rest of the organization around the activities that must be completed in order to deliver something new to your target audience. This can be a product launch, new feature, or expansion into a different market. It defines the approach you will take to translate technical functionality into messaging that will resonate with customers.

Who
Product leaders set the product strategy and the product team drives it. The strategic plan is presented to and reviewed by company executives before product managers begin working with the engineering team on implementation. Product managers are responsible for communicating timing and progress to internal teams, such as sales and support.

Senior product marketing leaders set the go-to-market strategy and coordinate with a cross-functional product team (made up of product, marketing, sales, and support) to implement the launch. Product marketing managers are responsible for communicating product benefits both internally to the company and externally to customers.

What
The product strategy typically includes the following components:

The go-to-market strategy typically includes the following components:

When
The product strategy is ongoing. It guides the entire product lifecycle and sets the long-term direction of the product, yet it is flexible enough to account for customers’ evolving needs. It is imperative that this strategy is defined early on since it governs all the work that the team will take on.

The go-to-market strategy is more finite. In addition to an annual go-to-market strategy, most companies also define specific strategies for a new launch. For planning purposes, the go-to-market strategy (and a timeline of the work to do) is defined well in advance of bringing a new product or experience to market.

Product and go-to-market strategies live separately but should be in balance — both are required to deliver real value to customers.

To put that strategy to work, you need real product and go-to-market roadmaps. Time to market matters and your strategy is only as good as how you implement it. So, capture that high-level direction, then lay out the plan for executing the work and create a timeline for when you will deliver.

Share your roadmap with other teams and communicate often. Use it as a guide for product team meetings. This will help you ensure that the product and go-to-market strategies are in sync. It is not possible to eliminate all of the tension between the build and the launch, but you can strive for less dissonance and more harmony along the way.

How do you think about these two important strategies?

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Brian de Haaff

About Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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