Whilst much has been written about when you should revisit your brand architecture and the things you should consider in doing so, often the conversations around how to structure brands seem to centre on hierarchical concerns. “What do we have?” “How do we need to group it?” “How many levels?” “Is it consistent?”
They’re great questions. There is certainly a case for seeing brand architectures in functional and logical terms. I contend though that a brand’s architecture really exists to make sense for customers, not the brand owner. And that sense is not just rational. Here’s a nice observation: “your brand architecture should uncover the specific emotions around which you might build your brand.” In other words, your brand should be collected and organised in ways that appeal to your buyers’ emotive needs and how they want to feel about you. So what are you doing, as you remodel how your brands co-exist, to ensure that the structure is working to maximise relationships?
Here are three things to consider:
Who do customers want to interact with? As I said earlier, brand owners often arrange their brands in ways that work for them and that suit their organisational resourcing. If they think about what the consumer wants at all, they do so in the context of what the brand itself feels comfortable delivering or who it feels comfortable being.
Different brand architecture structures put the emphasis of the relationship in very different places for consumers. A power brand, for example, pivots its appeal around a star and all the heritage, reassurance, familiarity, one point of call and/or kudos that such a single point of light delivers. A house of brands is made up of many brands but, ironically, is often just as singular in its approach to relationships – with consumers dealing with a brand in that house for a reason. Endorsement brands bring quality and standing to a brand for which consumers can need that level of reassurance.
A brand’s architecture really exists to make sense for customers, not the brand owner
In each case, brand managers must think through very carefully why they are choosing to position each brand as they do and how that will positively and competitively influence the perceptions of buyers. Not every brand can be the brightest star in its sector galaxy. Sometimes consumers want to work with a brand that feels very specific and/or a little less exhibitionist. In placing a brand in an architecture, does it make it as appealing as possible?
Is this as convenient as it should be? Brand architecture is often discussed in the context of access to market. By structuring their brand portfolios in different ways, brand owners can pursue distribution systems that mirror their architectures. Power brands, for example, can be offered within proprietary digital and physical environments; a house of brands enables brands to be offered in many different places at different price points, maximizing reach and perceived options.
But if a brand structure is to really work to its potential, then brand owners need to approach their architecture from the point of view of access for market – and that access may be different depending on where that market is and how consumers feel comfortable shopping. I’m not convinced that the one-system-fits-all approach of organising brand architectures globally is always right. Instead, brand owners may want to organise their brands around the habits of shoppers rather than vice versa – meaning they may want to present brands in ways that align with specific habits and cultural mores in some markets and in different ways in others.
The key consideration here is whether the brands have been structured and distributed in ways that those buying feel most comfortable with. In a digital environment, for example, consumers may not want to have to choose between lots of different brands in one place – preferring to have a focused platform with a single offer. Or they may want to see the brand in a context like Amazon. Or even a combination of the two. As distribution systems diversify and become more flexible and mobile, brands will need to be much more open-minded about how their offerings are structured.
What’s the strongest context? Different brand structures place individual brands in different contexts – from hero all the way through to contributor. Often brand owners structure their architectures simply to accommodate all their offerings but overlook the potential for value gain/loss in having the brands together in that structure.
I suggest you give careful consideration to this. What is the cumulative effect of structuring those brands in that way, and why is that an effective strategy in the light of what competitors are doing and consumers are demanding? Is your structure the clearest and strongest explanation overall that you can give of your presence in the market? Is that arrangement how you will achieve the greatest levels of likeability for all the brands?