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Ten Reasons To Revisit Your Brand Architecture

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Brand Architecture Strategy

If you have ever named a boat, a pet or a child, you know how difficult it can be to choose the right name. Despite the importance of the decision, the process seems hit-and-miss and there seem to be few guidelines for getting it right. After agonizing over lists of alternatives, you reject all but one, with no sense of certainty. Later the name seems inevitable – how could you have considered any other name?

The Challenge of Naming

The naming challenge is compounded in a business environment, where anointing a company with a name is likely to be just the first of many labeling decisions. Products, business units, specific services, marketing programs, features, line extensions, apps, web sites and more all need monikers. Each decision has implications for future decisions, so it’s important to have a plan or ‘rules’ to guide your choices and avoid confusing customers.

Although critically important to brand health and company value, it can be difficult to create the rules for naming brand entities, and for specifying the relationships among them. Here is a partial list of the kinds of challenges faced:

  • When is it desirable to extend an existing brand and when is a new brand required?
  • How should a new brand be linked to the parent? Should the relationship be explicit or kept in the shadows?
  • Which is better, a descriptive name or a fanciful name?
  • When should a name be retired?
  • When should a feature be branded?
  • Should different brands from the same company have different web sites?

These types of decisions become more complex as the brand portfolio grows. That’s why it’s important to have a plan for efficiently presenting your brand.  

Brand Architecture: The Face of Your Brand

The purpose of brand architecture is to establishing the ‘rules’ that ensure brand names fit together in one coherent offering. A well-constructed brand architecture helps a company optimize its marketing efficiency and performance. 

Everyone has heard of the ‘branded house’ and ‘house of brands’ strategies. In practice, these are just two of many possible models. Most brands use a hybrid approach. Some companies get in trouble by trying to support too many brands, logos, and features. Conversely, some companies suffer from the opposite problem, by offering too few brands; when one brand must bear all the burden, meaning can become diluted and growth is limited.

Here are three questions to help determine whether you have optimized your brand architecture:  

  • Is there enough ‘daylight’ between your portfolio brands? Does each stand for something unique?
  • Is the role of each brand in the portfolio and its relationship to the other brands clear?
  • Is it clear which brands are ‘strategic,’ and therefore worthy of investment, and which are lower priority?

If the answer to any question is ‘no,’ it may be time to take a closer look at your brand architecture.

Issues in Brand Architecture

Every company should revisit its brand architecture periodically to prune the dead branches and ensure the remaining ones still bear relevant fruit. More commonly, brand architecture explorations are triggered by a business event or marketing need. Here are some of the most common situations that call for a closer examination of architecture.

1. New! Improved! (New product or line extension)

Even Apple has to think carefully when naming its new products and models to avoid proliferation, yet maximize the opportunity of each technological innovation. Rather than continue naming its products using the Apple IIe convention, Apple opted for MacIntosh and MacBook. More recently, its iPod, iTunes, iPhone, and iPad introductions have followed a different convention altogether to create distance from its computer business. This turned out to be exactly the right approach as these innovative devices have eclipsed the core computer brand in size and profitability.

2. The Spandex Rule of Branding. (Diluted meaning due to brand stretch)

Scott Bedbury famously coined the “Spandex Rule of Branding” which specifies that just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Branding experts from David Aaker to Al Reis have repeatedly warned of the dangers of over stretching brand meaning and dilution of equity, yet line extensions continue to dominate new product introductions according to IRISymphony. Special K is a brand that seems to be in danger of too much stretch, as it now appears on everything from cereal bars and salty snacks to protein shakes and water. 

3. Just Gotta Be Me! (Reach new markets)

Sometimes it’s best to create distance between the company name and the product name, especially when trying to reach new customers with new products or benefits. Disney needed Touchstone and Miramax to maximize its potential with older movie audiences who weren’t interested in its G-rated, family fare.

4. Lake Woebegone (Too many brands)

Some companies suffer from too much brand proliferation, and lack of ‘daylight’ between brands.  The hotel industry seems to be especially awash in brands, with new brands and subbrands popping up all the time to address ever shrinking slivers of the traveling population. When budgets are under pressure (and when aren’t they?), marketing support gets spread ever more thinly when ‘all the children are above average’ in importance. 

5. New Management. (Acquisition or merger)

When two entities combine, it often creates redundancies, and one (or both) names need to be dropped Sprint dropped Nextel from its name in 2007, a few years after the acquisition in order to bring greater focus to its new “Sprint Ahead” campaign. In 2005, AT&T decided to sell wireless only under its own name, dropping the more popular Cingular name. In other cases, such as the Whirlpool-Maytag merger, the strength of the acquired names makes it desirable to maintain more brands to address discrete audiences and maximize retail floor space and market coverage.

6. Tell Me Again What You Do? (Name misalignment)

When a name signals the wrong message to customers, it’s time to take action. Last week, Sara Lee Corporation split into two companies. The food business was renamed Hillshire Brands and the coffee business was spun off. Likewise, last month Kraft split its snacks division into a new entity, Mondelez, to compete more effectively with snack food giant, Frito-Lay.

7. One Brand to Rule Them All. (Distinguish masterbrand from product brands)

Complications arise when the corporate name and the product name are one in the same. Last month, Kellogg’s embarked on a major portfolio overhaul, in an effort to create distance between its corporate brand, cereal brands, and other food businesses. The effort resulted in incorporating the “masterbrand” into all Kellogg’s marketing campaigns, consolidating 42 company websites around the world to one, and a new tagline, “Let’s Make Today Great.”

8. Your Father’s Oldsmobile. (Lost relevance)

Products have lifecycles and some brands deserve to die. Retiring a brand can be an emotional decision, but it is sometimes necessary to free up resources for new, more promising brands.

9. Upstart Kids and Sibling Rivalry. (Subbrands challenging other brands for position)

Too much success can present problems, too. We recently had a client that was in danger of becoming known by the fundraising program it had launched to address a specific audience. The program had a catchier name and more momentum behind it than the name of the organization itself. This prompted soul-searching to determine whether or not to change the name of the organization before it became completely irrelevant or back away from the wildly successful program. 

10. Brand Energy Vampires (Too many branded features)

Feature-rich brands often suffer from having to maintain more brand names than they can afford.  If you’ve ever seen an ad or logo that included a company name, brand name, subbrand or partner name and a flavor all jammed into one, you know what I mean. Less truly is more, and not every feature deserves its own “TM” unless you have the next Heavenly Bed or Ford Sync. 

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Carol Phillips, Founder, Brand Amplitude

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