Monday, November 30, 2015
It has been repeatedly said that brands must be consistent in the execution of their identities and in their personalities and behaviors. That is, they must be predictable and reliable. This makes it easier to encode and decode brands and their primary associations in people's memories. It also makes brands more trustworthy. After all, who wants a brand that they cannot trust?
Here is the primary problem with this mantra - most people get bored easily. They get bored of the same work tasks, the same household chores, the same weekend routines, the same foods, the same recreational activities, the same brands, the same everything.
So how then does a brand balance the need for consistency with the need to hold someone's interest? Consider GEICO. Remember GEICO's gecko? What an appealing character he was. Charming? Yes. Entertaining? Yes. And, as importantly, a device to get you to pronounce GEICO correctly.
GEICO could have stayed with its gecko forever because he was working. But, they moved on. They moved on to other similarly amusing approaches to brand communication. No, it is not the gecko, but it is GEICO. Can they reinsert the gecko at any time in the future as often as they want? Sure, why not? Cameo appearances are fun. But, I think GEICO is on to something. Brands must evolve while maintaining their core character if they are to remain interesting and relevant.
The trick is to determine what must remain consistent so as to maintain brand recognition and not to disappoint customers while also mixing it up so that people do not get bored with and move on from your brand.
I hope you will be able to identify and balance the right mix of consistency and spontaneity/evolution for your brand so that people will recognize it but not get bored by it.
Lately, we have been asked to develop new identities for many companies, products and projects. I am in the middle of reviewing many final logo options for one client today. This makes me think again about what makes a strong brand identity. Here are my thoughts on what to consider when developing each major element of a brand's identity system.
- It needs to be short and simple, generally having no more than three syllables.
- It must be easy to pronounce and spell.
- It should be distinctive.
- It is a plus if the name communicates something about the brand or the benefits the brand delivers.
- It needs to be available to protect legally via trademark.
- Some intuitive version of the URL must also be available. If it is, acquire the URL (and some of its more likely variations) immediately.
- An icon that reinforces the name and that is memorable is highly desirable.
- The type of logo and type fonts chosen must match/reinforce the feeling one intends to convey about the brand. So must the color palette. For instance, one logo we are developing must communicate hope and people thriving. Another must convey longevity, gravitas and security. The third one needs to be contemporary and hip.
- Consider what competitors' identity systems are like, but don't force yourself into a box that makes your system look like everyone else's.
- Be sure you know the primary uses before developing the identity system. For instance, how does it look on a business card, in the signature line of an email message, on the side of a building or on a ball cap?
- Given the primary uses, consider what the general shape of the logo needs to be. Is it square, horizontal, vertical or something else?
- How will the logo look in black and white? There will be occasions when it cannot be presented in its full palette of colors.
- Is the system flexible enough to be used in the widest variety of situations without compromising its recognition and recall?
- Sometimes we include a tagline as a part of the identity system. Taglines are useful in clarifying the product categories or brand benefits, especially when the name itself does not serve that function.
- Taglines need to be succinct, memorable and elegant, using an economy of words.
- If it is to be a part of the identity system, the tagline needs to be locked with the name and icon in a specific spatial relationship.
- You might offer options for using the logo with and without the tagline. If you do this, be specific about the circumstances under which you would include it or not.
One could write a whole book on this subject (and several people have), however these are my concise, top-of-mind thoughts on the topic of brand logos.
Friday, November 27, 2015
Brands personify organizations and their products and services. Why is this important? Because only people (or personified brands) can connect emotionally with people.
To do this, brands must stand for something, have a shared set of values with their customers, be aware of their own motivations and possess carefully crafted, nuanced personalities.
Social science has shown that people primarily make decisions based on feelings and emotions. This is why the brand overlay to products and services is so important. Brands make emotional appeals and they connect emotionally with people.
So what do people want? They want to laugh and be entertained. Consider Southwest Airlines. They want to feel safe and secure. Consider Subaru. They want to feel understood and even loved. Consider Hallmark. They want to be pampered. Consider Starbucks. They want to be treated with respect. Consider Ritz-Carlton. They want to be stylish. Consider Armani. They want to display their status. Consider Mercedes-Benz. They want to do something good for the environment. Consider Patagonia. They want to love their dogs. Consider Pedigree.
What else do people want from brands? They want to be able to trust brands. They want brands to be predictable and reliable. They want to be able to count on them.
They want brands to be innovative, aesthetically appealing and easy to use. Consider Apple.
They look for adorable personalities. Consider GEICO’s gecko. And Progressive insurance uses its fictional character Flo.
And people admire brands that are based on the personalities of their leaders. People hold Tesla’s Elon Musk in high regard. Steve Jobs was a bigger than life personality behind the Apple brand, as was Bill Gates behind the Microsoft brand. Richard Branson embodies the Virgin brand. Consider Ben & Jerry’s Ben and Jerry. And Wendy’s Dave Thomas and KFC’s Colonel Sanders.
Going back further in time, consider Kellogg’s Frosted Flake’s Tony the Tiger or Rice Krispies’ Snap, Crackle and Pop.
I hope by now you are getting the picture that a brand must possess human qualities and interact with people with great humanity.
If you are treating your brand only as a name, logo or identity, your brand is falling far short of its potential. Your brand has to act like a human interacting with humans in ways that motivate them.
Perhaps you should think of your brand going out on a first date with one of its customers. How would you want it to behave? What should it do to be attractive to that customer? What would sweep that customer off of his or her feet? What would lead to love at first sight? What would lead to a second date?
Then think of your brand as a spouse in a long time married couple. What keeps the spark going? What keeps the relationship alive? What helps it grow deeper over the years?
These are the things you should be thinking about for your brand.
I wish you great success in making your brand appeal to humans. After all, to whom else are they supposed to appeal?
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Sometimes organizations have us perform brand management and marketing audits. The simplest audit includes internal interviews, brand research reviews, marketing plan reviews and website and collateral material reviews for the brand in question and competitive brands.
Most of the time the audits we perform are much more involved. They include assessment of the following areas:
- Brand research
- Brand value
- Brand equity measurement
- Consumer perceptions of the brand
- Competitor brand strategies and messaging
- Brand strategy
- Brand positioning
- Brand architecture
- Brand identity standards and system
- Brand advertising
- Social media presence
- Other marketing communications
- Brand/product fit
- Brand extensions
- Brand licensing
- Trademark, trade dress and other legal considerations
- Organization design
- Internal marketing functions and capabilities
- Marketing metrics and common measures
- Internal brand alignment
- Marketing employee competencies
- Agency partner competencies
The purpose of these audits is to determine the organization's brand management and marketing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. We present our findings together with implications and our recommendations.
For greater detail on this subject, see Brand Aid's Appendix A: Brand Audits.
Friday, November 20, 2015
While the marketing department should have the skill sets necessary to create the brand’s identity, communicate its promise, increase its awareness and generally promote the brand, it takes the entire organization to consistently deliver on the brand’s promise.
A brand’s promise is delivered through its product, but also though its services, including the services that are wrapped around the product. And the promise is delivered by something broader than its products and services - the entire customer experience of the brand from first awareness of the brand through brand purchase and usage. That is, the brand’s promise is either delivered or not at each point of contact the customer has with the brand.
This is why employee selection, training and management are critical to the brand’s success. This is why organization culture is critical to the brand’s success…and business metrics, systems and processes are critical to the brand’s success, as are investment and budgeting decisions. Everything must be aligned in support of delivering the brand’s promise. Otherwise, the brand is just making a hollow promise, which is much more likely to fail.
The marketer who has primary responsibility for the brand needs to be well respected throughout the organization. He or she needs to be an outstanding communicator and a highly skilled influencer as many actions that need to be taken on the brand’s behalf will exist outside of his or her formal authority. However, ultimately, the CEO should hold the brand’s vision, embody its values and carry its torch. This is the only way to ensure that the customer experience of the brand is correctly and consistently delivered each time he or she encounters the brand.
In my experience, CEOs like taking on the role of chief brand architect and advocate because the brand is a very useful vehicle through which they can deliver their vision for their organization’s success. CEOs can talk about the brand’s mission, vision and values. They can talk about its essence, promise and DNA. They can talk about its personality and how it should treat its customers. CEOs can even use the brand to talk about business models and competitive strategy.
In my ideal design of brand support, the CEO is the chief brand architect and advocate. He or she is assisted by a senior level marketer who is assigned overall responsibility for management of the brand. And together, they enlist the support of all employees as enthusiastic brand advocates.
Understanding of and delivery against the brand’s promise is an enterprise-wide activity. This is why it requires vision and support from the top and all-hands support throughout the enterprise. The marketer with primary responsibility for the brand has the heady task of being advisor to the king (CEO), but also the king’s designated “point person” in ensuring that the organization’s resources are aligned in support of the brand’s promise. While this is not an easy job, it is a very rewarding one.
So, I am arguing that the CEO should be chief brand architect and advocate but that it is also important to assign a senior marketer the task of managing the brand on a daily basis. And finally, I am arguing that all employees be enlisted in support of the brand’s promise.
If this feels very different from the way you support your organization’s brand, consider how you can move your organization toward a top to bottom approach to brand advocacy.
Thursday, November 19, 2015
I have read more than 300 brand management and marketing books throughout my career. A few are excellent while many just repeat what books before them have said. Here are my favorite brand management and marketing books:
- Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Reis and Jack Trout - A brand needs to own one thing in the mind of the consumer.
- Differentiate or Die: Survival in Our Era of Killer Competition by Jack Trout - This book focuses on differentiation, a central aspect of branding. I have a lot of respect for Jack Trout's thinking.
- Eating the Big Fish: How Challenger Brands Can Compete Against Brand Leaders by Adam Morgan - Most brands are not category leaders. This book is for those brands. It has many great ideas for competing effectively.
- Brand Aid: A Quick Reference Guide to Solving Your Branding Problems and Strengthening Your Market Position, second edition by me (Brad VanAuken) - A practical, comprehensive guide to brand management and marketing
- Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy - While the book was first published in 1983, it is still a "must read" if you are responsible for advertising.
- Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne - This is a seminal book about strategy and innovation.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, revised edition by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. - Marketers need to know how to influence people. This book is all about influence and persuasion.
- The New Rules of Marketing & PR: How to Use Social Media, Online Video, Mobile, Applications, Blogs, News Releases & Viral Marketing to Reach Buyers Directly, 5th edition by David Meerman Scott - A very practical book for online marketing strategies and tactics.
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters - A great business strategy book with implications for branding.
If you haven't read all of these books, I recommend that you do. Happy reading!
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
"Well, that's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."
For your brand to effectively tout a self-expressive benefit, you must first understand the different paths people take to self-esteem. These are the messages people want to express about themselves. Here are some of the more common paths to self-esteem:
- I am competent in my job or profession.
- I am a good mother.
- I am a good husband or wife.
- I am attractive, handsome or beautiful.
- I am a good person.
- I am a likable person.
- I am a good friend.
- I am making a positive difference in the world.
- I have high social status.
- I am sophisticated.
- I am smart.
- I am rich.
- I am powerful.
- I am a person to be reckoned with.
- I am unique/different from everyone else.
- I am my own person.
- I am creative.
- I am stylish.
- I am well educated.
- I am well read.
- I am well traveled.
- I am better than you.
Many people have studied fear in advertising over the years. One of the more compelling models of how fear works in advertising is called the Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM). This model has three parts:
- Perceived susceptibility to the threat
- Perceived severity of the consequences
- Perceived effectiveness of the recommended response
For fear messages to work, one must believe all three parts to be high. If just one of the three parts is low, a behavioral change will not occur. That is, the recommended action will not be taken. It is that simple. So, you must ensure that all three parts are perceived to be high for the intended target audience to take action based on the message.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
Today, I thought I would share a variety of online advertising archives with you:
- http://adsoftheworld.com Ads of the World (TM) / Creative Advertising Archive & Community
- http://www.bestadsontv.com Best Ads on TV
- http://www.vintageadbrowser.com Vintage Ad Browser
- http://www.advertisingarchives.co.uk/en/page/show_home_page.html European Advertising Archive featuring British and American Ads
- http://www.ispot.tv/browse Browse TV Commercials
- http://adland.tv/Commercials Adland's Commercial Archive
- http://www.advertolog.com Subscribe to the World's Biggest Advertising Archive
- http://www.usatvads.com America's Oldest and Largest TV Commercial Archive
- https://archive.org/details/classic_tv_commercials Classic TV Commercials
- http://www.coloribus.com Coloribus Advertising Archive
- http://www.adflip.com Adflip: The World's Largest Archive of Classic Print Ads
- http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/adaccess/ Ad Access at Duke University Libraries
Monday, November 16, 2015
Brands can promise anything. Sometimes, they promise functional benefits. Sometimes they promise a specific experience. Sometimes they promise self-expression. Sometimes they evoke a specific emotion. So why not give people exactly what they want. Which begs the question, "What do people want?"
Here are some of the things that people long for:
- They want to feel safe.
- They want to feel financially secure.
- They want a place they can call home.
- They want to feel loved.
- They want to enjoy the company of friends.
- They want to be free to pursue their passions.
- They want to express themselves creatively.
- They want to feel smart.
- They want to achieve great things.
- They want to be respected.
- They want to be recognized for their accomplishments.
- They want to play.
- They want to laugh.
- They want to dance.
- They want to be told a good story.
- They want to be entertained.
- They want to enjoy the beauty of nature.
- They want to savor the taste of good food.
- They want to feel the sensation of the warm sun or a gentle breeze.
- They want to feel the rush of adrenaline.
These are just some of the things that people long for. You would do well to integrate one or more of these into what your brand delivers.
Saturday, November 14, 2015
Brands are all about differentiation. Whether one talks about a brand promising a relevant differentiated benefit or a brand's unique value proposition, it is all about differentiation.
But, how is the brand differentiating itself? Is it touting unique attributes or features?
- This is the only fully electric car with a four hundred mile range on a single charge.
- This is the only high school in the metropolitan area that is ranked among the top 100 schools in the US.
- This is the only television channel dedicated to showing only classic movies.
Or perhaps your brand talks about functional benefits.
- This is the only golf shoe guaranteed to keep your feet dry in wet conditions.
- This is the only hiking boot that is guaranteed to last for your lifetime.
- This is the only spot remover guaranteed to remove tough mustard stains.
Or perhaps it talks about emotional or experiential benefits:
- Enjoy the freedom of the open road with our motorcycle.
- Feel the euphoria that comes with our rave.
- Savor the gooey sweetness of our candy bar.
Or perhaps it is a self-expressive benefit.
- Everyone will know you have arrived when you drive our car.
- Attending our university screams "He's a genius."
- Everyone will know that you care about the environment if you use our products.
Or perhaps your brand shares strong values with its customers:
- We believe in conservative values.
- We really care about the environment.
- We love dogs.
Notice how the quality of the messages change as one moves from attributes and features to functional benefits to emotional and experiential benefits to self-expressive benefits to shared values. Which do you think are the most compelling? Which do you think evoke the strongest positive emotions? Which create the strongest emotional connections? Which create the most passion? Which result in the most loyalty? Which are most likely to create brand advocates?
As a marketer, when you listen to a brand's message, determine what its unique value proposition is and further, figure out whether it is focusing on attributes, benefits or values. Finally, compare that to how powerful or compelling the message seems to be.
Friday, November 13, 2015
Do you ever step back to ask the question, "Why do brands matter?" As a marketer, or especially a brand manager, you should. After all, what justifies your job position and your brand marketing budget? Why should organizations value brands and the their managers?
I will provide you with some reasons:
- Without a brand, your organization would not have a recognizable identity.
- Without brands, people would have a much more difficult time telling the difference between your products and those of your competitors.
- Brands take on human qualities allowing your organization and its products and services to make emotional connections with your customers.
- You can link purchase-motivating benefits and values to your brand.
- People are more apt to be loyal to branded products than they are to unbranded products.
- Brands make it easier for you to charge a price premium.
- People like working for strong brands. Strong brands attract top talent.
- People need a simple way to talk about your products and services with others. They need a label and an identity.
- Brands can make people feel good. They are likable and they are capable of entertaining people.
- Your brand can serve as the focal point for a compelling story.
- People are more apt to forgive brands with which they are emotionally connected if the organization or its products and services fail them.
- By standing for a broad value or benefit, your brand can help your organization outlive its current products and services by allowing for seamless entry into new product and service categories that reinforce the broad value or benefit that your brand owns.
- Leadership teams, employees and customers are able to rally around and support brands.
- Brands focus customer awareness.
- Marketing is not as tangible as products nor as obvious in its impact as sales so it is underfunded because executives really don’t know if it is working or not.
- Some industries do not spend much on marketing. They rely on sales. They have not experienced or seen the impact of strong brands so they cannot justify spending beyond what everyone else in their category is spending.
- Marketers have not made a strong case for why they need more money. One of my bosses once told me that a marketing plan is a promise for a certain increase in sales in return for a certain investment in marketing. Many marketers are loathe to promise a certain increase in sales because they don’t know if their plan will achieve that.
- Sometimes a business is in such desperate financial straights that it cannot afford investment in anything that has a longer-term impact, including marketing.
- Financial markets and quarterly earnings reports force executives to make shorter-term decisions to “make their numbers” for the quarter. This may require underfunding activities that they know should be funded but whose impact is longer-term.
- For some executives, typically those who have an operations focus but sometimes also those who have a financial focus, marketing is too much of a black box, “smoke and mirrors” or otherwise unfathomable in how it works or whether it is effective.
- The marketing executive is not much of a salesperson. That is, he or she is not good at selling the importance of his or her function. He or she is not persuasive.
- Executives are savvy about brand equity and realize that it is a pool that grows or is depleted over time. Sometimes, the executives make the conscious decision to deplete it for the sake of “making the numbers,” hoping that the company will be in a better position later to build it back up.
- The marketing spend has been ineffective. The marketing has neither worked to boost sales nor to build brand equity and loyalty. It is a logical choice to decrease funding because it has not been a good investment.
- Huge resources have been diverted to the big company project that promises to transform the company. It can be development of the “next big thing” or a major acquisition.
- The executive team does not have confidence in the marketing person or department. Something in the past has turned them off to that person or department.
- Marketing is both an art and a science and it has both a short-term and a long-term impact. Unless the marketer can adequately explain this, executives will just not know what they are getting for their money.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
There are certain techniques that advertisers, politicians, salespeople, speechwriters, preachers, and others have long known to be effective in persuading people. Social psychologists have studied many of them in great detail.
Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, in their book, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion, outline four basic strategies to effectively influence others: 1) defining/structuring how an issue is discussed, which includes setting the agenda and creating the frame of reference, 2) establishing credibility (authority, likability, and trustworthiness), 3) vividly focusing the audience’s attention on the key point the communicator intends to make, and 4) arousing emotions in a way that can only be satisfactorily addressed by taking the communicator’s desired course of action.
In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D., focuses on six principles of persuasion: 1) reciprocation (people try to repay favors out of a sense of obligation); 2) commitment and consistency (people behave in ways that support an earlier action or decision); 3) social proof (seeing other people doing something makes it more acceptable and appealing); 4) liking (people are more likely to say yes to people and brands that they know, like, and trust); 5) authority (people are inclined to yield to authority); and 6) scarcity (people are more motivated by the thought of losing
something than by the thought of gaining something).
Cialdini also indicates that many approaches lead to “liking”: physical attractiveness (which studies have shown to be a function of body/facial symmetry), similarity (people feel comfortable with you and can relate to you), compliments, familiarity (through contact and cooperation), and direct or indirect association with other likable entities.
Both books are quite interesting and well worth reading, if only to help you better understand how third parties attempt to persuade you on a daily basis.
Other considerations in creating highly persuasive communication:
- Always design the message to play off of the audience’s preexisting beliefs, values, and prejudices.
- To be effective, your point of departure must be from a place of agreement.
- Try to define the issue in a way that your brand can’t help but “win.” This is why it is so important to choose the optimal “frame of reference” in brand positioning.
- Sometimes, just asking the right questions can reorient people’s thinking about a topic in your favor.
- Comparisons/contrasts alter perceptions of the items being compared/contrasted. For example, when I moved to Rochester, my realtor first showed me a number of overpriced houses that required much work. When we got to the houses that she wanted me to buy, they seemed even more appealing than they might have otherwise if she hadn’t first shown me the other houses. This concept is also used in establishing reference pricing. Create reference prices that make your price seem more reasonable or even a “bargain.”
- Be careful when labeling, categorizing, or describing competing brands or approaches in ways that cast them in a negative light. While it is an effective technique (that is, it usually works), in the long run, it may cast a less
- favorable light on your brand.
- Making people feel as though they are a part of a group (assigning brand labels, brand-as-a-badge) helps sell products and brands.
- Fear and guilt sell. (Example: “When you care enough to send the very best.”)
- Paint vivid pictures of desired or dreaded end states with words or images, or both.
- Let people touch, try, use, and otherwise interact with your product or brand before they buy it. Once they have done so, they are much more likely to want to purchase it. This works for a wide variety of situations: from automobile test-drives and in-home free-trial uses of products, to overnight stays on the campus of a college that you are considering attending (assuming the experience is positive).
- Neurolinguistic programming (NLP) is a well-studied technique that increases persuasion. Through NLP, you can establish a strong rapport with the audience by mirroring the mannerisms and expressions of the audience, which allows you to more easily lead them in the direction of your choice.
- “Largest,” “fastest growing,” “most popular,” “highest rated,” and other similar claims provide strong third-party endorsements for a product or brand. (Alternatively, they may be perceived to be puffery by a jaded audience unless you back them up with credible proof points.)
- Repetition increases the effectiveness of communication.
Excerpted from Brand Aid, second edition, available here.
Wednesday, November 11, 2015
In my fifteen years as a brand strategy consultant, I have interacted with the managers of several hundred different brands. This is often in a client/consultant relationship. At other times, it is in the context of an educational workshop or conference. Either way, I have been made aware of many brand problems. Here are the brand problems that organizations seem to encounter most often:
- The competition has gotten intense and we have not kept up. Our products are no better than anyone else's and our brand no longer delivers a unique value proposition.
- We have grown through multiple mergers and acquisitions and now have a very large and messy portfolio of brands that is confusing to our customers and expensive to maintain.
- Our new owner is changing the strategic direction of our business. Our current brand position will no longer work for the business' new direction.
- Our new CEO has a new vision for the business and needs to change the brand to match that new vision.
- We are launching a new product, service or business and it requires a brand strategy and identity.
- We are expanding our brand to include new product or service categories or new customer segments and the old brand strategy or identity will no longer work.
- A disruptive technology has made our business obsolete. We need to change our business model and our brand.
- Our new marketing vice president or CMO wants to refresh the brand based on his or her vision for the brand.
Tuesday, November 10, 2015
TODAY, HAVING an online presence is mandatory for any brand. If people want to find out more about your brand, it is very likely that their first step is to search for it using Google or another search engine. They may search from their laptop or tablet computer, but increasingly they may perform this search from their smartphone.
Key considerations in online brand building:
- When building brands online, content is king. If your brand is not associated with continuous stream of useful or entertaining content, it will be taken far less seriously.
- The online medium invites feedback and engagement. Build this into your brand’s online experience.
- Visuals (including videos) are becoming increasingly important to any online brand experience.
- An important benefit of the online medium is that it makes it possible for your brand’s messages to go viral. There are specific strategies and tools to help you initiate and accelerate this viral process.
- As with any other brand activity, you must start by defining your target audiences.
- Furthermore, your brand must have a unique value proposition and you must be very clear about your brand’s promise.
- The Brand Website
- The Importance of Content
- The Power of Blogs
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- Online Advertising
- Using Social Media
- Web Analytics
- E-Mail Marketing
- Online Public Relations
- Mobile Apps
- QR Codes
Click here to purchase a copy of Brand Aid, second edition.
A very useful book focused on online marketing is David Meerman Scott's The New Rules of Marketing & PR, 5th edition, available here. Another useful book is Ann Handley's Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content, available here.
Friday, November 6, 2015
Question: "What I need to do is help educate others (and myself) on the latest thinking on a branded house vs. a house of brands or a combination of both.
As we are looking to expand our membership and our business offerings, I need to be prepared to discuss and recommend what might be the right approach."
Most organizations operate as branded houses to some degree. That is, most organizations use their organization brand at least to some degree when communicating about the organization’s products and services. The organization may have many sub-brands or the organization brand may endorse certain other brands or some combination of the two, but usually the organization brand is somewhere in the mix.
In this scenario, the organization brand should stand for something and it should present itself as a brand, not a financial holding company. For instance, if the original organization brand has “Holding Company,” “Financial Assets” or something similar as part of its name, that does not help the organization brand feel like much of a real brand, but rather as a conglomerate that acquires other brands.
At a minimum, the organization brand should stand for quality or innovation or responsiveness or some other admirable quality. However, it would do well to stand for something more than that too – perhaps the fulfillment of a particular customer need, leadership in a particular category or adherence to a particular set of admirable values.
Many organizations are more complicated than this in their architectures. In addition to an organization brand and many sub-brands and endorsed brands, they may also have some stand-alone brands. Very complicated organizations may have multiple levels of branding. Large and complex universities often have four or more levels of branding. Having said this, we strive to help our clients simplify their architectures so that they have no more than two levels of branding, as that is all a typical person can remember.
Ideally, sub-brands are chosen primarily to make the parent (or organization) brand more relevant to a particular customer need segment or product or service category. But the sub-brand and parent brands are linked in a way that the assurance comes from the parent brand and the credit primarily goes back to the parent brand.
Houses of Brands
In contrast to this, some organizations are houses of brands. Unilever, P&G and other traditional consumer packaged goods companies fall into this category. Organizations that follow this path are marketing-driven organizations in which each separate brand is supported by an expert marketing staff and a substantial marketing budget. The advantage of this is the creation of numerous strong independent brands. The downside of this is the significant resources required to support such an approach. Few organizations have the marketing talent and financial resources required to make this type of approach successful.
The key in deciding between these two approaches is a realistic assessment of your organization’s capacity and will to support a house of brands. Regardless of the approach you take, in brand architecture, simpler is always better, not only for cost savings reasons but also because it simplifies customer decisions.
I wish you great success in your brand architecture discussions.