Painting Inside the Lines: Creating a Powerful Divisional Brand

By Kristy Gulsvig

Leaders of divisions of large corporations often deal with conflicting forces: How does a division follow its own market-specific branding strategy while operating within the brand framework of a large and diverse corporation? It takes creativity to balance the goals of the division and its parent company but, armed with the proper information and clear objectives, a successful divisional brand strategy can be established.

Take a recent B2B client of ours: the division of a global conglomerate operating a masterbrand strategy. The division is a manufacturer and distributor focusing on highly specialized materials for industries with stringent regulations: aerospace, automotive, food & beverage, and chemicals, to name a few. The division’s manufacturing and engineering expertise is a huge draw for the buyers in those targeted markets. But the corporate brand name that the division had to go to market with didn’t carry much equity since the parent company’s strategic direction was focused elsewhere: serving the construction industry with a wide range of specialized materials.

How does a division reconcile the need to target communications with its own audience while staying true to a corporate masterbrand?

Every parent organization is different. Some exercise stringent controls over all divisions, prohibiting external branding at the divisional level. Software companies often operate with this kind of a structure; take IBM, for example, which operates tight control over its products and services to appear as a single, seamless brand. Others are much more lax, with a handful basic requirements – like the use of a standard logo and tagline – and complete freedom in other aspects of branding and marketing.

In our recent case, a particular client is stuck with a strict parent, making it especially important for us to understand how their customers relate to the parent brand and get a handle on their purchase drivers.

To find the answers we needed, we embarked on a research and discovery process to measure the existing brand equity of the parent company brand, the division itself, and the individual product brands. We included internal salespeople and a sample of customers across each of the division’s industry verticals and geographic regions. After careful consideration, we recommended retaining the parent company’s relevant strengths – global reach, economies of scale and a lengthy history – while translating the division-specific attributes into a select number of strong product sub-brands.

The result was a focused suite of four product brands with a strong value proposition that targeted the division’s specific markets, supported by the broader promise of the parent company. The best of both worlds, this solution meets the company’s stringent masterbrand guidelines while appealing to the division’s particular audience.

Again, every large organization is different, but there seems to be a trend toward the more cost-efficient architecture strategies.  Although this often plays well into a strong, holistic solution story for the corporate brand, it takes creativity to translate that corporate brand down to a divisional level.