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Brand Architecture: Unlocking value, or organizing chaos?

By Alan Brew

Companies get complicated as they grow.

Logos and brand names proliferate as new business divisions are created and new products and services added.

With acquisitions there come even more products, more brands, more names.

No one in the organization is sure how effective these brands are, how they fit together, what brands should be supported and what should be retired. So the proliferation continues. Weak brands continue to soak up marketing dollars at the expense of stronger brands while the corporate brand – unloved and uncertain of its role – is often marginalized to an appearance on the annual report or the CEO’s business card.

So, how does a company get to grips with this kind of debilitating and expensive complexity?

The trigger can often be a CEO’s frustration of having to constantly explain what the company actually does. As the CEO of a large international energy company said in exasperation, “I am tired of explaining I am not the CEO of a local utility.”

This is when a branding agency is called in. At this critical point you have to be really sure about what the problem is and what you want to achieve – is there a brand architecture problem or a brand portfolio issue?

Simplicity is at the heart of brand architecture. But all too often it is reduced to nothing more than an elaborate exercise in organized complexity. It becomes a quest for tidiness in which logos, names and endorsements are neatly arranged.  Thus, the unnecessary is merely accommodated and the necessary is stifled.

What a business really needs is not just visual logic (although that is important at the right point), but the most effective and powerful way it can go to market with its brands, products and services.

It all comes down to a question of context and balance. Corporate executives can be oblivious to the potency and needs of a strong corporate brand, and in the vacuum product marketers continue to create brands they can manage and control.

A healthy corporate brand is essential in the first place. It helps to define how the enterprise makes strategic sense as a whole (a key investor message) and also makes an important customer promise of reliability and innovation that underpins the performance of individual business units and product groups. But they must also have the flexibility and tools to compete in their competitive market environments.

This kind symbiotic relationship requires a dynamic, flexible go-to-market framework. The focus must be competitive effectiveness and the measure has to be growth and value. And do make sure your branding consultant understands the difference between B2B and B2C.