Brand Architecture – Maximising Synergies from Complex Portfolios
Brand architecture may at first sight seem like the tediously dull end of the otherwise exciting area of new brand development with its creative naming, cutting edge logo design and glitzy launches. But look at the detail and you’ll see that this is the world of brand strategy where a television gains corporate kudos through including the word Sony, where Unilever gain shareholder value from adding a “U” endorsement to a hugely diverse range of products and Cadbury can launch a new Oreo Mint chocolate bar using a brand hierarchy that includes the Dairy Milk range assurance of quality.
Whether through merger and acquisition or entrepreneurial organic growth, it is a common issue for brand managers, CMOs and Marketing Directors, or even the company owners, to wake up one morning and think something along the lines of “My portfolio is a mess, we’re not maximising synergies and I need to impose some structure.” At this point you have to analyse the brand portfolio, looking at awareness levels, at perceptions, at markets, at product categories, at commonalities and at differences. The existing brand hierarchies and heritage, the role of the holding corporation, the opportunities and potential costs of change all have to be examined in detail. Throw in company structures, power politics, personalities and resistance to change. This isn’t dull… welcome to the fascinating world of the brand architects!
For some brands with positive consumer perceptions, the answers are relatively obvious: a powerful corporate name or one particularly powerful brand in the portfolio can offer the opportunity of an umbrella brand, family brand or an endorsement brand. Slap a Nestlé endorsement on a KitKat and both brands can gain. However, often the issues are far more complex than bolting on one name to leverage its assets. Nestlé which has a huge range of brands including baby food, coffee, chocolate and bottled water products, stops short of endorsing its Purina petfood ranges.
Sometimes brand portfolios seem to have been randomly acquired with little thought to real synergies. Google’s holding company Alphabet for example has a portfolio with little in common apart from the use of future technologies and the offer of an investment opportunity. If one or more of the brands in the portfolio have quality or perception issues, then that could backfire on the umbrella brand. Richard Branson may have wondered at times if Virgin Trains was a brand stretched too far. Often multi-national companies have brand names that are stronger in some parts of the world than others. The maxim “think globally, act locally” still has powerful resonance, even in a digital world where almost every brand has some sort of global access. Change can affect brand perceptions positively or negatively and brand architects, like business angels, should not rush into anything that will not improve overall corporate and brand performance.
While there are various standard approaches to strategy for brand architecture such as Corporate, Umbrella, Range Led, Product Led and Endorsement, there is no one-size-fits-all model for brand architects to follow. The decision to use an existing brand or corporation name against creating a new one is not just a tick box exercise backed up with some focus group research. The final solutions are often a creative mixture of art and science, tailor-made for the individual organisation’s requirements. The details are important too. How domains are renamed and restructured can provide SEO benefits or detriments. Brand hierarchies that look good on paper and research well with target markets have to confront the 15-character-long Twitter handle restriction when rebranding or face the potential ignominy of unneeded confusion or starting out fresh.
At Grain, we recently rebranded the National Federation of Property Professionals as the umbrella brand Propertymark with its range of member organisations including the National Association of Estate Agents and the Association of Residential Letting Agents now rebranded as NAEA Propertymark and ARLA Propertymark. This new brand architecture gives a much stronger consumer profile and creates brand synergies that previously were not fully exploited. The rebrand also involves a detailed change management process as the organisation refocuses on a broader remit, changing KPIs as well as the name. The term “umbrella brand” might imply this is a structure for a rainy day but the sun is shining on this new brand architecture and the glowing opportunities it brings and there’s nothing dull about that!