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Why Care About Brand Architecture

In any significant construction project like a hospital, office building or condominium the starting point is generally its architecture which is the art and science of how the building will be designed, the method and materials used to build and other specific physical attributes. In building a brand the last thing most company’s think about is its brand architecture beyond the single product or service they are positioning into the marketplace. Brand architecture only becomes important when the corporation (master brand) branches out into new products or services or acquires existing brands. Why design architecture with 10 rooms when at the beginning all you need is one room to fit one brand.

Brand architecture is the least exciting part of building a formidable brand. First, you need more than one brand to start thinking about brand architecture. But if you plan to build a business beyond one brand the brand architecture can be a game changer. Don’t end-up scrambling like Apple did when they moved from the Mac  brand to all the “i” branded products to finally the Apple TV and Apple Watch.

brand-architectureIn 1996, David Aaker, a prolific writer on the subject of brand strategy, developed the well-known three types of brand architecture approaches:  branded house, house of brands, and endorsed brands. While there are other terminologies such as umbrella brand, monolithic, master brand, free standing brands, and hybrid brands, the overall concepts are the same. In reality, most corporations don’t have a clearly defined brand architecture strategy in place until it’s too late or they did the brand strategy after the fact. There are many reasons why many brand houses aren’t perfect such as business consolidations of acquisitions, mergers and reorganizations, brand extensions and new business and market opportunities, spin–offs and new customer acquisitions. In most cases, the decisions are based on the business opportunities and not on the customer needs.  From the customer’s point of view most of these decisions make no sense, if not very confusing.

Branded House – All in One

A good example of a branded house approached would be Virgin and BMW. The BMW brand is focused on the monolithic brand – “ultimate driving machine,” regardless of model. Having a master brand is good and bad. Good because a brand has a unified image based on the brand essences that is consistent and can be effectively amplified to all customers. Bad because the brand message must be so high-level that it doesn’t reflect the personnel experience that the consumer is having with a unique sub brand. A Virgin Mobile experience isn’t the same experience as the Virgin Airlines experience or Virgin Money banking experience.   Renée Richardson Gosline, an assistant professor of marketing at MIT Sloan School of Management, cautions that “…consumers seek distinction, even within the brand. So, along with the egalitarian message that all BMWs are ‘ultimate driving machines,’ BMW has to make owners of different models each feel special as well, by building relationships with the owners of each model.”

Master brands that have a strong brand image in a specific  product category like personal care products can leverage the overall brand essences into additional related categories, where the variant/functionality itself becomes a sub-brand. L’Oréal Group is the world’s largest cosmetics company that started with a hair dye formula called Auréale in 1909. Today, L’Oréal has over 500 brands covering many categories from hair color, hair styling, body and skin care, cleansers, makeup and fragrances.

LOreal-Paris-Ever-Style-line-1

The world isn’t as big and confusing as it once was. Digital technology has eliminated geography and cultural differences, and expanded choices based on: quality, accessibility and price. Customers are becoming more enlightened; more demanding and more concerned with whom they do business with. As a result, corporations need to become more transparent and focus on the customer’s journey with their brands. Privacy legislation, antispam legislation and big data is forcing corporations (master brands) to rethink their brand architecture to leverage their customer base by including more differentiations and tailored relationships. There is also the consideration of terms of management and administration costs of multiple logos, websites, brochures and brand stories to communicate. There is a fine balance between efficiency and customer-centricity.

House of Brands – Each Brand is Unique

Procter & Gamble is an excellent example of a house of brands, which has over 180 product brands independent of each other, targeting different customers across multiple product categories from detergent to toothpaste. P&G as an identity brings little to the table as it concerns branding. Nobody understanding the P&G brand and really doesn’t care.  This is the most accommodating framework with no brand reliant on each another or any synergy between brands. If a brand fails or succeeds the other brands aren’t affected. The cost of managing a complex portfolio of brands must be overwhelming and each brand must struggle to get any attention from the parent company. A.G. Lafley, president and CEO of P&G, said the future would be “a much simpler, much less complex company of leading brands that’s easier to manage and operate.” I have trouble keeping track of my three kids; I can’t imagine keeping track of 180 brands!

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Endorsed Brands – In the Middle

In the middle of the brand architecture is the endorsed brand model where the parent brand has a halo effect by endorsing the sub brands. There are numerous examples of this strategy:  Think Courtyard By Marriott, Polo by Ralph Lauren, Microsoft Windows, Honda Motor Company, Sony and the list goes on. This framework allows the parent brand to have a vision that can evolve over time and take advantage of new trends or technology.

 

Brand Baggage

It is fair to say that brand architecture strategy has been driven by past management decisions of the brand portfolio and specific brand assets. It is also based on the nature of relationships between the brands as it concerns resources, investments and marketing positioning. Rajagopal and Romula Sanchez in their white paper suggest that “Brand architecture is not a static framework.” As marketplaces and competitive environments change, brand dynamics transforms and brand life cycles evolve. Master brands must continually revaluate the brand portfolios and the architecture requirements. As master brands respond and react to the many challenges and opportunities they create “brand baggage” where shifts of resources move from one brand to another creating strong and weak brands. An inflexible architectural structure can also create a barrier to innovate and limit the ability to move into new products or services.

It is fair to say that a great deal of brands reside in a mixture of all of the above.  Coca-Cola Company is best known for its beverage with the same name that has a line of other variant Coca-Cola brands. But it also has unrelated brands such as Sprite, Fanta and Minute Maid each with a unique look and feel. The Gap Company, which is made up of Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta and INTERMIX , takes a different approach to being a parent company. Gap leverages their multiple brands to offer customers many choices under one umbrella to reach a variety of customers.  Their online strategy is to make sure customers goes to a sister brand before they go to any competitor’s websites.

CocaColaProducts

The ultimate master brand goal is to satisfy shareholders by continually growing customers and generating more sales and profits. That is a very self-servicing and inward approach to brand architecture.

The perfect world would be to build a brand architecture starting from a customer-oriented brand vision where one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. Companies need to carefully understand their customer’s journey and provide products and services along the way, may it be going down the food isle shopping for breakfast, lunch and dinner or starting a journey from a wedding, to a new home, to the first child, to acquiring a university degree.

 

Brand Architecture is a Balancing Act

A single brand model into today’s fast paced and changing world can be a liability. The ability for a brand to speak to and service a multitude of customers is becoming almost impossible. A master brand positioning must be so basic it would mean nothing to most target groups.  Therefore, many brands are tweaking their strategy and brand architecture to allow products and services within the brand structure the flexibility to speak directly to its customers in a meaningful way. But it is a balancing act. Too many brands will create confusion and loss of meaning.

The future is about utilizing big data and building relationships between brands and customers throughout their life cycle. Helping them navigate the human journey with solutions from one phase to the next, and from one brand to the next. P&G showcased a number of brands in its “Thank you Mom” Olympic campaign either to save money or to start bringing their brands together. Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) reward program (of which I am a happy member) brings together all of their nine hotel properties under one umbrella. From a customer’s point of view this provides me with more options and choices. And the confidence that my experience will be similar from hotel chain to hotel chain.

SPG Hotels

Brand architecture can be complex and driven by business needs but if you can focus on the customer’s journey and provide them solutions along the way you can be a formidable master brand and sub brands, all together.

 

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Is Your Brand Ready for Content Marketing?

The hottest new brand trend is brand publishing, or also referred to in a less aggressive way as content marketing. Some marketing experts are declaring this is the next marketing breakthrough – to become a brand journalist, replacing the fragile main-stream media outlets. I hesitate to think that brands would be very good at replacing media in trying to portray a balanced point-of-view (even media outlets struggle with this equality). But what brands can do well is be subject experts. They have a rich understanding of their customers’ wants and needs, and often have the resources and desire to explore content that media won’t cover. The challenge is keeping focus on helping the customers and resisting the desire to sell at all opportunities.

Don Peppers and Martha Rogers authors of the 1993 best-seller The One-to-One Future predicated the internet would allow brands to build personal relationships with consumers at scale. Marketing guru Seth Godin took this idea a step forward and said brands need to move from interruption marketing to “permission marketing,” defined as anticipated, personal, and relevant. Interesting that Seth Godin’s book Permission Marketing was published over 16 years ago. In 2008, Seth Godin said that content marketing is the only marketing left. More recently he said “Real content marketing isn’t repurposed advertising, it is making something worth talking about.”

The Business Case for Content

Here are some good reasons why you should consider becoming a brand publisher:

  • A Roper (2011) survey found that 74% consumers say they prefer to get information about a company in a collection of articles, rather than an ad. They also found that 65% said that custom media helps them make better purchase decisions.
  • A study done by AdKeeper and 24/7 Real Media indicate that the average industry click through rate is less than 0.09 for online advertising. Not very good for advertisers.
  • HubSpot, experts in online inbound applications, learnt through their lead generation data of over 4,000 companies, that those companies who blogged 15 times per month get 5 times more traffic than companies that don’t blog.
  • Custom Content Council (2011) says 72% of marketers think branded content is more effective than advertising in a magazine; 69% say it is superior to direct mail and PR.
  • In a study done by AOL and Nielsen (2012), they discovered people spend more than 50% of their time online with content and an additional 30% of their time on social channels where content can be shared.
  • In a study done by Marketing Sherpa (2013), they concluded that content creation ranked as the single most effective SEO tactic by 53%.
  • Demand Metric global marketing research found that for every dollar spent, content marketing generates approximately 3 times as many leads as traditional marketing.

What is Content?

Content comes in many different formats, shapes and sizes. There is visual brand content such as videos, short video clips (Vine-like), imagery, selfies, charts, graphs and infographics. There is the written brand content such as PowerPoints, blogs, digital magazines, e-mails, text messages, articles, white papers, stories, tips, reviews, and the 140 character tweet. Last but not least, there is the audio brand content such as music, podcasts and audio clips. Depending on your audience visuals and video content can enhance your content viewership. According toSkyword articles containing relevant images gain on average 94% more total views than articles without images. Get the picture!

Content marketing is about engaging prospects and consumers with informative or entertaining content they’ll want to use or consume for its own sake, rather than pushing or interrupting them with direct sales or promotional messages.

Do Consumers Need More Content?

Every day there is about two million blog posts written, 500 million tweets shared, 1 billion pieces of content shared on Facebook including 250 million photos, 294 billion emails sent, 864,000 hours of video uploaded to YouTube, 70 million images posted to Instagram, and 18.7 million hours of streamed music on Pandora.  And oh by the way 50 million visits to PornHub, where over 216 million X-rated videos are viewed on a 24 hour period. Crazy cyber-consumption in one day.

So do we need more content? There is an unlimited appetite for great content. The trick is producing relevant, compelling and engaging content consistently, every day. Make sure you have the right channels to distribute and amplify your content to ensure you reach your audience. If you hit a home run they will reward you by ensuring everyone they know sees your content.

Best in Class

Today, there are many channels to allow brands to build time-sensitive, pertinent and quality information or solutions. Publishing is all about the scale of creation and distribution. Do you want to be a New York Times or the local weekly journal or just a trade magazine or a community newsletter? Brands that succeed do more than provide customers with what they are looking for. They make them want it! You have to build the right level of infrastructure to support the right level of content for your business and customer needs.

Red Bull is a great example of a brand that when above and beyond selling a beverage and became a publishing media outlet. James O’Brien of Mashable’ssays “Red Bull is a publishing empire that also happens to sell a beverage.” As a matter of fact, Red Bull’s publishing is another revenue stream for the company. Their content is all about adventure, extreme sports and fast-paced fun. No surprise their content focus mirrors the essence of their brand. Today, Red Bull has over 4.4 million YouTube followers, 43 million ‘likes’ on Facebook and 2 million followers on Twitter. Then of course there is the Red Bull TV which has over 156 shows, 85 live events and 1,118 episodes and countless viewers.

So Red Bull is the extreme example, which isn’t realistic for most brands. B2B companies like General Electric, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, and Deloitte have mastered the role of content with a library full of valuable information that is educational, informative, and relevant to their brand and target audiences. Hubspot has a great article that showcases 10 Exceptional B2B Content Marketing Examples.

How to Become a Content Publisher

Not unlike an advertising campaign or publishing a magazine, you need to start with a strategy that clearly defines goals and objectives, key target audiences, key messages, theme, budget and success measurements. Take baby steps, first look at converting existing printed material with some editing to compliment the right channels. Mark Ragan, CEO of Ragan Communications states “Brands need to master telling their stories indirectly. It’s about the brand, but the focus is always about the audience.” Building an editorial department of journalists that understand your brand isn’t a small task. But once you start publishing you have to continue to feed the beast day-in and day-out with quality content. Be realistic about how you will maintain the investment in resources and time to reach your goals.

Home Depot is a good example of creating useful educational content for the do-it-yourselfer by providing tips and advice without blatantly selling their products. They have 1,067 timeless, how-to videos posted on their YouTube channel.

How to Measure Success

Here some simple questions and tips to determine the success of your content publishing:

  • Have you turned your content into a valuable asset that supports your business objective?  Check out the 100 page YouTube & Google Playbook on how to build great content.
  • Are you able to publish new content consistently – daily or weekly? Build a calendar with the 3H content rules: Hygiene, Hub and Hero
  • Are you producing meaningful and useful content for all customers? Utilize various measurement tools and determine who’s consuming your content (followers & subscribers), and what are they doing with it (likes, sharing, retweeting, favorites, links, comments, etc.).
  • Is the content building on your brand’s vision and voice? Are you learning what content works or doesn’t work? Look at the content that is the most successful and determine why. Check out Buzzsumo to see what are the hot topics and if you can capitalize on any trends.
  • Are your metrics continually improving? Compare yourself against your competition and best in class. Do you have a loyal and growing following? Track your Klout score.

To succeed in a cluttered branded world, you need an army – or better yet, you need to support an army of followers. If you can give them content to solve their problems, inspire their dreams or provide them with a smile, they will reward you by sharing your wisdom. You must always provide extra value to guarantee engagement. Genuine content will always outperform glitz and selling content. Share your expertise and passion, it will be appreciated.

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Four Questions to Get to the “Why” of a Brand.

Have you ever wondered why you have a deeper relationship with some brands and don’t with others? Why do some brands become more emotionally connected to their customers? Why do people line-up for an Apple brand and not for a Microsoft brand? Where does the passion start – with a brand or with a customer?