The Practical Side of Brand Architecture: What Theory Doesn't Tell You

A recent uptick of enquires around specialist brand architecture projects has prompted me to reflect on the complexities these businesses face and how theoretical understanding impacts practical application.

The Theory Part

First, let’s define what we mean by Brand Architecture:

The process of defining the structural relationships and naming conventions between brands, products and services.

Understanding this definition is crucial because the field of branding can often be frustrating; it's rife with multiple terms for similar concepts and suffers from very poor definitions. With so much written on the theory—much of which I’ve contributed to myself—you’ll find a plethora of thoughts and theories on the topic if you simply Google it. The lack of absolute rights and wrongs creates a diverse body of opinion, which can be problematic as it feeds into the somewhat woolly nature of this subject matter.

My challenge is that much of it is relatively skin-deep theory and it gets side-tracked into discussion about executional outputs (logos) rather than the deeper-seated problems that successful Brand Architecture strategies can help solve. This is traditionally how many of the brand architecture projects present to us. They’re either talked about generally as a comms challenge, or more specifically as a sub-brand creation task which may well be part of the solution but tend to fall short of the real Brand Architecture problem.

It’s understandable because these challenges creep up slowly on businesses and the problem isn’t immediately visible, which means it’s easily misdiagnosed. However, if the underlying challenge isn’t identified, then you end up treating the symptoms, not the cause. This is why so many of these problems are treated in silos as design and logo creation projects, rather than seen as broader business challenges which have a real impact on the bottom line.


In Practice

In our experience the difference is in the doing. There’s a build-up of know-how gathered from years of applying knowledge and expertise to similar problems, and then driving this to a defined output that creates value for the organisation.

At its heart, decisions around Brand Architecture are strategic plays. It involves making an integrated set of choices that help address a gnarly business problem which contribute to a wider strategy around how the business is going to win. Some of these choices are difficult. For example: killing off one brand, consolidating two into one or implementing a new naming convention are not easy things to do; but they can deliver huge value in the long run.

In 20 years doing this, I’ve learned that it’s incredibly challenging working with a business that’s not fully invested in understanding they have a brand problem (and see it as a design issue). It’s not our job to convince the board that they need to spend money on brand to fix their problem. For us to work well together, they must acknowledge there’s a problem in the first place.

Because it’s hard enough as it is. These problems tend to be deep seated and opaque in how they present. We need to work hard to get people to come together and reach a consensus. And, even when there’s an acknowledgment that ‘we’ the business have a brand challenge, there’s often a diverse set of opinions from individuals (the ‘me’) on how they should be tackled. People have strong emotional ties to the brands they work for, and part of our practical task is to try and galvanise these opinions into a single direction that benefits everyone. This takes time and our years of experience dealing with similar challenges for multiple clients stand us in good stead. There’s no substitute for experience here - clients are reassured when we’re able to say that client X had a similar challenge, and this is how we dealt with it.

But ultimately, when you do get everyone onto the same page, it’s powerfully transformative. And very rewarding…this is why I like it because it involves taking people on a journey and helping them to see their business from a completely different perspective. It often helps people to see how brand contributes commercially, which is more valuable than thinking of it in the silo of logos and colours.

When you’re able to demonstrate that solutions will drive long term efficiencies and make money, then the diverse opinions tend to merge into a consensus that making these difficult choices in the short term, will pay off.

In conclusion, bridging the gap between theory and practice not only aligns with, but is a driving force behind our vision at Good - to make brands and branding better understood, respected and valued. We’re dedicated to closing this gap - helping our clients look deeper for the source of these Brand Architecture challenges, and building strategies that are aligned to long term business goals.