Much understandable hand wringing takes place over the question of if or how to couple brands in a portfolio or architecture, that protects or builds individual brand equity, while lifting the aggregate brand value of the portfolio as a whole. We want to turn boats into yachts and drive a tide that lifts them all.
A critical assumption about the relationships between brands or between brands and certain kinds of endorsable items (e.g., services, products, business units) is that those relationships have the capacity to impact — for better or worse — the meaning, equity, and awareness of the things they tie together. I like the aeronautical analogy of ‘lift’ and ‘drag’ to describe these dynamics.
This is important in any — perhaps all — brand scenarios, but the one I want to focus on is the ‘master brand dominant’ model, in which an equitable corporate brand serves as ‘the’ endorsing element, the primary intangible asset that confers value to whatever it touches and which can be impacted in return, again, for better or worse.
The key questions we need to ask are:
(1) What kinds of items merit proximity or lock up to our primary brand asset — call it the ‘Acme’ corporate logo?
(2) Which do not, and
(3) What criteria apply to guide us in those decisions?
Answers to the above questions are predicated on answers to these questions…
Which items will benefit — will inherit equity — from the imprimatur of a value-laden corporate endorsement? And, even if they do, could they yet dilute the equity of the ‘endorser brand’? Or will they repay the compliment and retroactively transform ‘Acme’ in ways that serve a strategy?
These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked when we begin to link brands and create the ‘larger assemblies’ we call brand architectures. And, not only must we ask in each individual case, what confers (or hinders) a transfer of positive equity, but how many brands or brand-able items overall should we associate with or link to it lest we dilute it?
Even where any given (individual) pairing is mutually beneficial (bilaterally value-enhancing), at what point does the total number of such pairs begin to devalue the primary asset, which was the root of all value-conferring power, to begin with? What limits should we establish to protect our most valuable brand asset?
Generally speaking, where (1) the recognized value of brand is high; (2) there is a large number of sub-brands or brand-able items, vying to link with and leverage it, and; (3) the strategic intention of The Corporation to concentrate equity in a single, focused brand, this range/volume will necessarily be small, and the rules to ensure defensive exclusivity, stringent.
In Part II, I’ll dissect an interesting specimen of a hybrid brand architecture: The Marriott hospitality portfolio, to illustrate some of the principles, more theoretically presented here.