Managing Brand Complexity: Staying Ahead of the Curve
Large companies—like GE, Google, Samsung and others—know this law of branding firsthand: As you grow in size, you will grow in complexity. Acquisitions, organic growth, market segmentation and product and service extensions all add complexity to brand portfolios. How should large successful brands such as these manage brand complexity?
Growing companies realize they need to support the strength and cohesiveness of their corporate identities, while also accommodating the needs of their individual brands and sub-brands. We call this “brand balance.” This balance gets harder to control as you grow; there is a very real complexity curve that gets steeper with a company’s size. To remain successful as you grow, it is important to learn how to stay ahead of this complexity curve.
Maintaining the “Brand Balance”
There are four steps we recommend you take in order to successfully manage the complexity and balance of your organization’s brand:
- Do an audit. Periodically audit your portfolio to understand the scope of your sub-brands, products and services. Identify any redundant, neglected or independent brands.
- Research. To understand the alignment of your market’s needs and perspectives with the business you want to be in, look into your audience’s awareness of your brand and the associations tied to your corporate identity.
- Re-examine. Review your brand architecture by asking these questions: “Is each sub-brand fulfilling our brand promise? Is it meeting the needs of our audiences and successfully contributing to our growth? Is it upsetting our brand balance?”
- Re-balance. Now that you have examined each sub-brand and how it relates to others, are there any you should modify or phase out? Brand balance can often be re-established by creating stronger connections between sub-brands and the identity they support.
One of our clients, the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies, had grown very complex as a result of many historical successes. With a number of different programs ranging from liberal studies to more intensive, career-focused professional studies, it was becoming harder for potential students and the university community to understand what all these programs added up to. The school came to us for a systemic way of thinking through its portfolio and for creating greater brand balance. To help get the school ahead of its complexity curve, we identified an organizing principle—a combination of “innovation and practice”—that enables all programs to connect to a singular expression of identity.
Decisions that help balance brand complexity can help you manage your business complexity. Establishing greater clarity about who you are and what you do can help guide your business along a smart—and manageable—growth curve.