The architecture of brands
You’ve probably heard the old saying ‘branding is what people say about you when you’ve left the room’. Or perhaps something along the lines of ‘branding is the message and not the logo’. Or if you’re lucky you might have even heard the story about the cow and the brand.
But what do people say about several brands owned by one bigger brand, when they’ve left the room? Does the opinion change? Does the message change?
‘Brand architecture’ isn’t just a buzz word thrown around the ping pong table of ideas in swanky agencies in converted loft spaces. It’s how connected brands are used and engaged with by consumers. It’s the process of how these brands are connected. This type of connected brand falls into three categories: ‘A Branded House’, ‘A House of Brands’ and ‘A Blended House’.
A Branded House
Typically this is often a company like Apple or Virgin who has diversified from one product or service to another while retaining the core name and brand design in all aspects.
The iPhone, the iMac and iTunes are evidence of this – different products with different uses all aligned under one umbrella with a consistent style, tone of voice and feeling.
This is similar to Virgin, which their Record Label, Cola, TV offering and Airline all following the set style laid down years ago.
Virgin, for example, is an overarching brand which is the main source of identification and initial brand association for audiences. If you’ve previously flown on their airlines, you’ll already have a gut feeling or an emotional tie-in with the brand and this, in turn, strengthens all of the other potential sub-brands that you haven’t already connected with, like a music festival or an expensive gym or maybe some tickets for space travel?
As this overarching brand grows, it becomes easier from a consumer point of view to add new products, often in different sectors, to the marketplace. On the flip side, it also becomes easier to hide away the unsuccessful ones – anyone for a Virgin Cola before a film at a Virgin Cinema? Thought not.
A House of Brands
This is pretty much self-explanatory. A collection of standalone ‘brands’ or products are owned by one large group, normally in a related industry or product offerings – like Proctor and Gamble (consumer goods), Coca-Cola (soft drinks and snacks) and Mars (chocolate and sweets).
In this model, the individual services and products are almost seen as standalone brands with limited identification to the parent brand. Dr Pepper and VITAMINWATER both have different feelings and styles associated with them and their message is different, but they’re both owned by Coca-Cola Group. They talk to people in different ways; Dr Pepper has a different tone of voice than that of VITAMINWATER; one is cool, edgy and unashamedly brash while the latter is more health conscious, subtle and sleek, but neither limit or impact on the brand of Coca-Cola.
A House of Brands approach can have limitations. In Coca-Cola’s example, they target products at a defined demographic with the aim of creating brand-loyal consumers. If they confuse their messaging or use an incorrect tone of voice, they could end up missing their audience altogether. Another issue is finance, as this approach requires a lot of investment due to the need to build a wide range of products each with their own messaging and style – not something the accountants at Coca-Cola Towers have ever worried about I’m sure.
The Blended House
Occasionally some brands are neither a ‘Branded House’ or ‘A House of Brands’ – they are ‘A Blended House’.
This is a mix of the two previous models and something that Google manages to get success from.
When Google started it was purely a search engine, but over time they added services such as email (Gmail), social media (Google+), cloud storage (Drive), browsers (Chrome), Calendar and Translate to their offering, all using an element of the Google name and style and messaging.
Later they added standalone brands like YouTube to their offering alongside Nest and Android to name two of which neither had the Google name connection. As Google grew into a larger brand across widely differing sectors their messaging became disjointed and lost, so the new parent brand Alphabet was created. Alphabet allows the company to grow in different areas without impacting on each other. Now Google-named products such as Google Maps, Google Ventures and Google X sit alongside Fiber, Calico and Nest in a ‘blended house brand’ approach.
There are lots of elements to be discussed before deciding the appropriate brand architecture for your business model; finance, messaging, product diversity to name a few.
Creating the right brand architecture isn’t easy or quick, but when created and adhered to correctly, it will help position who you are and what you do, what you stand for and how you are seen. It may also inform how people talk about you when you’re not in the room.
For a nice coffee (a blend, possibly), or a Dr Pepper, and a chat on your branding requirements get in touch with Narrative today.
This was written for the nice chaps over at Converge for their ‘Brand Issue’ – if you don’t know them go have a look and see what they’re about – it might just be worthwhile.