Defining your Brand Architecture

The new sub brand launch is due next quarter and you’ve run out of names, colours and icons. If only there was a simpler way...

One of the most common issues we’re hired to look at is the resolution of ‘brand confusion’. The circumstances that lead to it, look a little bit like this:

  • Established B2B business
  • Legacy identity/logo that’s been neglected or protected
  • A group of ‘sub-brands’ that have inconsistent names and struggle to fit into the portfolio
  • Disconnect from the main brand and confusion reigns across the board (especially with customers)

This is understandable. In many of these sectors, the subject matter can be quite dry and technical. The NPD pipeline creates an opportunity for creativity lacking elsewhere in the business.

But this can make things worse, creating more confusion rather than improving understanding.

As objective consultants, it’s our job to come in and ask the intelligent, naive questions: seeing things for what they are. And this is often when the process of re-evaluating starts. Why do you organise your products this way? Why do you need this brand structure etc?

These B2B brands tend to have quite small audiences. They can be huge businesses, but in real terms, their customer base may only be in the hundreds or thousands. That’s small. So it means that when you segment your base, the groups and numbers become even smaller. The obvious question is why do these small groups need a brand articulation that’s different from the parent brand?

This lies at the heart of the issue. Most organisations don’t decide which brand architecture system to adopt. It happens to them. Whether through acquisition, or ‘uncontrolled’ NPD. Before long things become too complicated for them, let alone their customer base. That’s when a bit of constructive brand architecture strategy makes a lot of commercial sense.

The busy ‘stand-alone’ and ‘endorsed’ brand structures of B2C organisations like Unilever and Virgin are seductive to marketeers. It’s because of the creativity and appeal of the brands within their stables. The sheer breadth of their brands, appealing to millions of customers and spanning many categories, make these the most appropriate brand structures. But they’re expensive to operate. Carving out awareness for each brand in the stable is not a cheap task. And these B2C budgets don’t (need to) extend to B2B.

For many B2B brands operating in focussed categories with smaller customer bases, the ‘corporate’ brand structure is more appropriate. We often point out to clients that any equity the brand does have is likely to lie in the parent brand, not the sub-brands. And when you speak to the customers, in our experience, they’ll tell you the same thing. They’re buying the product from the main company and often fail to recall the name and detail of the sub-brand. It becomes more a description of the product. We’ve learned from that.

The reality is that these sub-brands are no such thing. They’re products. And the noise they’re making in the marketing comms is adding to the confusion. It’s sometimes difficult being the bearer of this harsh news to clients. Telling them that the time, money and effort they’ve spent creating shiny, new sub-brands was done at the expense of the parent brand. And that they’re unlikely to have the budget required to build this brand in their audiences’ minds. Yet, when they see the logic in the situation, it’s not long before they appreciate the virtue and simplicity of tying everything back to the parent brand.

Now the NPD and sub-brand energy can be directed into creating a sensible product naming structure (either descriptive or alphanumeric) that streamlines the navigation process and complements the main brand.

Much of the work we do here isn’t about radically changing the parent brand (which is a fear from the senior client and part of the reason these sub-brands are created in the first place), it’s about evolving it for the better. Respecting its heritage, tradition, founder (i.e. its equity) and making it fit for purpose today. Brands and the act of branding is an iterative process that can’t be completed once and crossed off a list for good. Continual evolution is required for relevance today and tomorrow.

At Good we get a kick out of helping B2B businesses rediscover the latent equity that lives in their corporate brands. And the answer almost always lies in making things simpler, not more complicated.

Brand architecture was one of the topics of our podcast, The Good Round Up. Have a listen to get more of our take on this topic.