If I was going to come up with a tagline for brand architecture, it would be something like “sell more things to more people.”
That’s how important I think it is. Brand architecture definition is an activity that generally takes place as a part of the process of branding, but the value and output of your architecture is not only felt operationally, but also on the demand generation side. Brand architecture is the system by which your products and services are organized and presented to the marketplace, and when done correctly it gives you the tools you need to sell the right product or service to the right prospect.
In this post we’ll talk about how brand architecture works into your branding process, and then works outwards into your sales and marketing strategy to make sure you’re saying the right things to the right audiences.
Where does brand architecture fit?
I think “branding” is a thrilling word. As a designer it invokes thoughts of sleek logo designs and business collateral, the kind of thing that gets featured in Brand New or another blog where everyone comments “nice colors, what’s that font?” But the reality is that the work of creating a brand that has practical applications to you and your customers is often just as much about the strategic alignment of your company and products as the look and feel, if not more so.
We’ve written before on different parts of defining your brand identity at a high level—defining your why, the brand wheel, the is/isn’t chart. These things are essential to your brand development and defining who you are as a company. If we were looking at the marketing funnel, the activities mentioned above would give you the tools you need for the language in the “awareness” part of your marketing efforts. Brand-level messaging supports lead generation by telling the market who you are in a clear and concise way.
Once prospects know who you are and what you stand for, it’s time to talk about the products you offer. This is where the segmentation shifts from “we sell these software products to insurance carriers” to “we sell this suite of software products to mid-tier home insurance carriers.” How these products, services, sub-brands, or subsidiary companies are defined in relationship to your overarching brand is your brand architecture. There are many different kinds of brand architecture; the three most common are the branded house (like FedEx), the house of brands (like Procter & Gamble), and the endorsed brand (like Marriott). We won’t delve into the differentiators too much in this post, but suffice it to say there are other categories as well.
How can it help me?
You’re a company that sells a lot of things to a lot of people. If you’re a sales-driven organization, you may be selling everything to everyone, which is great for making a quick buck but can quickly dilute the value of the brand. This may not be a problem in the short term, but if you’re selling shoes to, say, Nordstrom, and offering them the same products that you offer Walmart, Nordstrom may eventually see a disconnect between your shoes and the values of their brand.
If you are selling all of your products to everyone, there’s no way to tell what you stand for. Airhead Sports Group recently faced this challenge. They are a company that has grown through developing new products to meet customer needs, as well as through acquisition of a similarly sized and positioned company in the industry. As a result, they had a massive amount of product that was being sold across the market without clear consumer-to-product alignment. This created frustration on the customer side, because they would see the same products they bought from a higher-end retailer sold at a more affordable competitive retailer, and it created frustration internally for the marketing department, because they were often unsure who the end user would be.
We found that the solution for Airhead was to differentiate their brands to align with their customer segments. This meant that while all products within the Airhead Sports Group family of brands would still stand for quality family fun, one brand would focus on more premium products whereas another would focus on value products. This was valuable from a sales process perspective because it enabled the team to focus specific brands on specific customers, and it was valuable from a marketing standpoint because it clarified target audiences for each brand within the family.
One size doesn’t fit all
While the solution for Airhead was creating a hierarchy from a set of brands that were treated equally, the reverse may also be an appropriate solution in some scenarios. If you’re a large (or fairly large) company who has grown through acquisition throughout the years, both your internal organization and your product set may look very different based on what part of the company one interacts with.
Often when corporations acquire smaller companies, they don’t align (or do an incomplete job of aligning) the new company’s brand with their own, whether by making it an endorsed brand or shifting to a branded house model, and the experience can be inconsistent. This is obviously not applicable for a company operating as a house of brands, where all the brands within it are separate, but in all other cases the move from two independent companies to one united in some form or another is complicated and lengthy, and should be approached intentionally over a long period of time. That doesn’t mean the endorsed brand and branded house don’t work—but if the rebranding process is haphazard, they can also be used to cover up sloppy work. Don’t do that.
There are a couple reasons you could choose to utilize a branded house or endorsed brand system—maybe there is a large amount of brand equity in your parent brand and you want to increase the value of your subsidiaries, or maybe you want to make cross-selling easier between sub-brands. Either way, within each of these systems the target audiences for the sub-brands become less nuanced than they are within a house of brands because they are more closely aligned with the parent brand. The differentiation in target audiences here comes at the product level, rather than the brand level.
Make it work for you
No matter which solution you choose, make sure you consider your full breadth of consumer needs, as well as the products and services you can provide them. Brand architecture, when done well, should create alignment between those two categories and make it easy to identify the value you provide to each of your audiences. And it should make it easier to show it to them, too.
When she’s not creating award-winning designs, you can probably find her either running, reading or spending her weekends traveling around. She also tells us that she can be really sarcastic at times, but we're not sure if she's kidding. Or just being sarcastic.
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