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What Is Brand Architecture?

What Is Brand Architecture?One of the corporate branding disciplines that we receive the highest number of inquiries about is brand architecture. We find that for many clients however, it’s hard to grasp what brand architecture really means. Some organizations think of it as market segmentation, others think of it in terms of rationalizing portfolios or acquisition strategy. These are all important concerns, but we think about it at a higher level. Brand architecture explains the degree of relationship that should exist between the corporate brand and its various product and service brands. Should they go with a monolithic Master Brand strategy, corral multiple brands into a “house of brands,” or some combination of the two? What is the strategic rationale for an approach? Without clarity on these issues, your brand promise can become unclear, which creates confusion and can even reflect a lack of confidence.

What is Brand Architecture?

Let’s First Understand The Root of Brand Complexity

Anything that is ever created, whether it’s an app, a product or a service, wants a brand. And why not? Every creator wants to draw attention to his or her creation. By this philosophy, however, one company could easily have numerous brands. Companies often revert to micro-market segmentation as a surrogate for brand architecture. Google, for instance, has set an unusual precedent. The tech giant has many independently moving parts (read: brands) within its organization, but the sum total of those parts doesn’t necessarily create a comprehensive sense of what is “Google.” This is the most common problem we see with brand architecture.

The 3 Questions That Lead to a Strong Brand Architecture

What you call your product and how you identify it is only a tiny percent of the brand experience. Brand meaning and value is based on the promise each product fulfills and how it delivers that promise. Creating a strong and sustainable brand architecture requires answering these three questions:

  1. Do your various different offerings add up to fulfill a promise?
  2. What does each offer say about you as a provider?
  3. How does each one of those offerings help you build your audience, or deliver on your promise?

In our experience, when a new brand is created, there’s not much consideration for the greater whole until it’s too late. A number of tech companies have spent years and millions of dollars cleaning up their brand messes. For example, we saw Sony lose its position as a premium brand partly because its many sub-brands fragmented product teams and distracted consumers from Sony’s core promise. We look at Amazon’s recent purchase of WholeFoods and wonder how strongly Amazon will want to associate their technology and commerce brand with a brick and mortar grocer. Any obvious association is likely to change perceptions of both brands.

Relatively few companies make the hard decisions that we think are necessary to grow their brands responsibly. By doing so, companies can avoid wasted investments and confusion among their audiences.

Contact us to learn more about creating successful brand architectures.

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Focus First on Your Brand Message, Not Appearance

Focus First on Your Brand’s Message, Not AppearanceSeveral years ago I took a Harvard Business School course on business thinking for design leaders. Toward the end of the course, one professor told us that what we do as brand strategists and designers frightens some CEOs. Why? Because what we do, while vitally important to their success, is not always directly quantifiable. It’s hard to measure emotional connection with a number.

This unsurety and discomfort can cause business leaders to judge brand expression solely on its aesthetics, rather than on the idea the expression is meant to represent. Ironically, this can increase CEOs’ discomfort; what sits before them does not appear to be immediately satisfying. Without a clear understanding and appreciation for the meaning behind the brand expression, executives will miss out on the value brand thinking can create for their organizations.READ MORE

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Brand Positioning: What to Convey vs. What to Say

Jean-Claude Van Damme does the splitsWhen it comes to positioning and messaging, there’s a fundamental distinction between “the idea” and “the message.”

We sometimes work with clients who come to us for positioning help, but then ask us to tell them what to say as their message. This typically happens after we’ve worked together to drill down what their complex organization does into a single, compelling idea. We’ve helped them articulate who they are, what they do and why they matter to their critical audiences, and it’s at this point where they run into trouble. We hear comments such as, “this positioning statement doesn’t just roll off the tongue.” Our clients are hoping they can take the positioning statement we’ve given them and simply drop it as messaging language into communication material. It doesn’t work like that.

Positioning vs. Copy
The position of your company sets you apart from everyone else. Used strategically, positioning should be the foundation for the messaging and communication that comes next, such as taglines and tactical advertising slogans. Positioning is internal and timeless—it is what you want to convey holistically, not what you literally say in each communication piece.

The message you then put forth should reflect your position and target the key opportunities and audiences you want to address. If every message comes from a common conceptual foundation and engages with its target audience in relevant ways, the effect of the brand will be greater than just the sum of its parts.

A good example of this is when Volvo Trucks wanted to highlight the precision and dynamics of Volvo Dynamic Steering in 2013. Volvo produced a memorable commercial featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two moving semitrailer trucks. Volvo is famously positioned around safety; the ad effectively conveyed both the company’s positioning and the key point they wanted their customers to understand using inspired, memorable imagery.

Tips for a successful positioning/messaging relationship

  • Treat your positioning as your galvanizing idea. Once you’ve identified what you want to convey, you can take creative latitude to express it based on specific communication needs.
  • Don’t use positioning as your communication boilerplate. You should always be thinking of what you want your audience to understand, instead of simply looking for language you can plug in.

When used effectively, positioning and messaging takeaways are the litmus test for brand communications. They help guide communications—they are the key ideas, not the literal words.

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Winners in 2013

Managing Director Ken Pasternak

When we look back at the client relationships we’ve enjoyed over this last year, there’s one word that sums up our experience: Inspiration.

Our clients have shown both resilience and initiative in a time of uncertainty and recovery. In coming to us for help, they’ve shown they are committed to a renewed identity, a stronger position, or a clearer message to communicate to their audiences. We have been thrilled to assist these groups through this process.

There are several examples from this past year of clients doing extraordinary work to further their missions, and build their brands in the process. Our higher education clients, such as Georgetown and Caltech, set examples everyday of their innovation and thought leadership. UC San Francisco and Highmark, our clients in the healthcare field, are working to improve the quality of care and increase patient satisfaction. And in the technology sector, VMware is technology that makes any service ubiquitous, efficient and within reach.

It is easy for an organization to tolerate fuzzy thinking, let costs rise and lose sight of their mission. We’re proud of the committed work our clients do remain at the vanguard of higher education, healthcare and technology, and we see many good things ahead for them. We are inspired as we go into 2014.

Highlights from our clients’ 2013:

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