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Brand Architecture

The Benefits Of Simplicity In Brand Architecture

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The Drive For Simplicity In Brand Architecture

Is Apple Music a brand? And, from a brand point of view, is Apple Music the same or different from Yahoo! Music? What about iTunes or the F150?

To answer these questions, I want to take you on a journey to the middle part of the brand architecture spectrum (the part that falls between Branded House as represented by Accenture with just the one brand and House of Brands, as represented by P&G with its many different brands). This middle part of the spectrum is where companies try to find the right balance between their company brands and sub/product brands. It can be a murky place where the lines between what is and is not a brand are not crystal clear.

In the world of cars, you can see the architecture progression from Mercedes which distinguishes its model ranges as B-Class, C-Class etc keeping the focus on the Mercedes brand to General Motors which has distinct brands like Cadillac and Chevrolet which, in turn, have another set of distinctive brands below them (Escalade, Camaro). Then there are companies who mix it up like Ford with its F150 trucks on one side and its Mustangs on the other.

Mercedes gets the advantage of only having one brand to support. It’s simple and efficient but it has to compromise on specificity and has to find aspects of its brand that are true for price points that range in its case from $35,000 to $250,000. Whereas the Chevrolet Camaro can be very specifically positioned and targeted but GM has to spread its marketing dollars to support its entire brand portfolio.

Although there’s no right or wrong place to be on the spectrum, the bias these days is towards fewer brands, less complexity and less cost. The question companies ask or should ask themselves is what is the simplest solution that works? Where can superfluous branding that adds both marketing and administrative cost without adding back enough value be eliminated? This kind of thinking drives companies towards the Mercedes end of the spectrum. But, however much companies embrace the need for simplicity and efficiency, the pure Company brand + pure descriptor model can be too limiting. Companies often want to keep a touch of branded distinctiveness between products.

Apple’s minimalist “i” strategy is a great example of a touch of branding—the “i” it adds in front of generic descriptors like iPhone an iTunes gives opportunity for differentiation and ownership. iPhone and iTunes are certainly more than pure descriptors. In fact, they pass the simple brand test: Do these names mean something without the company brand qualifier? Clearly they do—we know what an iPhone is without reference to Apple.

Even some pure alphanumerics like the F150 (which doesn’t need the Ford brand for meaning) pass the brand test too. On the other hand, “500” doesn’t mean anything without the Fiat brand in front of it. That just doesn’t have anything for you to grab hold of to distinguish it.

Which brings us back to Apple Music. In this case “Music” certainly is not a brand. (iMusic could have been.) On the other hand, I already have a different perception of Apple Music than I have of Apple itself. So, for me at least, the combination of Apple + Music is already emerging as a brand in its own right. Whereas I don’t get anything from Yahoo! Music—that’s a pure descriptor in my mind.

As I said, it’s murky but, in the end, whether something becomes a brand or not has more to do with familiarity and saliency than it has to do with the name itself. People don’t need all that much from a name to be able to latch onto it and have it stand for something distinctive. In the drive towards simplicity and efficiency, that’s good to know.

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1 Comment

Eric Wedemeyer on August 13th, 2015 said

Yes, it is murky. But it’s always risky to generalize from what Apple does (or Google or any other 800-pound gorilla). They can break all the rules and still come away smelling like a rose. Anyone else tries the same thing and it’s nothing but trouble.

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