• Transform magazine
  • May 24, 2017

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Opinion: The benefits of brand architecture

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How can brands best manage their brand architectures to ensure commercial gain and as stronger brand? Anthony Cox discusses the value of a clear brand architecture

As brands seek to grow, they encounter new and complex challenges. Whatever their growth strategy, whether it’s introducing a stable of sub-brands, innovating to create new opportunities for revenue, or the complexities brought on by mergers and acquisitions, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for brands to keep their houses in order.

Brand architecture is a visual and verbal framework that aids navigation and storytelling. It builds the right associations, and communicates the relationships between different parts of a brand’s offer, like a neural network for memory.

Brand architecture is a tool for making a portfolio of brands more efficient and more effective. It’s one of the most powerful tools at a marketer’s disposal, but is often overlooked, undervalued and misunderstood.
Clearly defined brand architecture applies focus, clarifying a brand’s purpose by telling a richer, deeper, more meaningful story, with a distinct personality. But it also allows flexibility, and makes it easier for brands to stretch into new areas of opportunity and commercial possibilities.

Brand architecture should link business strategy to brands. It should be rooted in an understanding of how, how much and where you want to grow.

Take Sky and its brand Now TV as an example. With the launch of the UK’s first ever contract-free TV, broadband and calls package bundle, they’ve created Now TV to stretch into a new area of opportunity that may have been confusing or counterintuitive for Sky to enter. Now TV does for Sky what Sky couldn’t do itself.

When brand architecture is used effectively, brands can have their cake and eat it.

For today’s brands, innovation is a drug. The desire to innovate is causing more and more companies to move into new and untested areas. But innovation fails when it doesn’t tell a story. It shouldn’t happen for the sake of it. When done effectively, brand architecture shows you where and how to innovate, how to balance your innovation pipeline and how to build on success.

Lego Ideas (formerly Lego Cuusoo) is Lego’s forum for crowdsourcing ideas for potential new Lego products. Budding creators can use the platform to gather support from the Lego community, get input from the brand, and eventually (should they gain enough votes) see their designs turned into fully-fledged kits further down the line.

By sourcing insight directly from its audience, Lego is able to pinpoint exactly where it needs to innovate in order to meet the needs of consumers. Perhaps more importantly, the brand is telling an innovation story that puts a focus on creativity and community, inspiring its consumer base and bringing them along on Lego’s journey.

Too often brands present their organisational structure as their brand architecture, rather than creating a framework that’s driven by the needs of the customers that they serve, derived from insight.

Brand architecture helps people to navigate their way to the part of your offer that is most interesting to them. Without this, brands risk making unrealistic demands of their audiences in terms of their levels of interest, intelligence and imagination.

When mapping brand architecture it’s important to ask whether your products and services meet distinct needs or audiences. From there, it’s easier to articulate and map the key needs from each. Brands must first understand what people want and how they think before they can clearly understand what to offer them and how to offer it.

Effective brand architecture prioritises commercial ambition for the future over fondness for the past. It should be built on value, not sentiment. While it can be difficult to let go of brands, sub-brands, product names and other trademarks, rationalising these often makes things easier for customers to navigate and more cost-effective for organisations to manage.

In 2004, Citi dispensed with a host of brands it had nurtured over centuries, migrating to a single brand with a single voice. But why would Citi discard some of the most respected financial brands in the world? Brands like Smith Barney, Salomon Brothers and Travelers Group.
The simple answer is efficiency. Citi’s complex network of brands and trademarks was costing money to protect and manage; it was effectively robbing itself of room to grow. Freed of the burden of these brands’ heritage, Citi emerged leaner, more focused and ready to face the future.

Good brand architecture is critical to helping consumers navigate a brand’s offer, giving them the information they need to make the right decision when investing in your products or services. But it’s not just about directing audiences to the parts of your offer that will most please them. It’s also about directing them to the parts of your offer that will deliver the biggest benefit to your business, the high-margin products and services.

In 2015, Phillippe Varin, CEO of Groupe PSA (owner of Citroën & Peugeot) said, “Citroën and Peugeot are too close,” and outlined a plan to position Citroën “lower” than Peugeot. Citroën’s DS sub-brand, which was brought out of retirement in 2009, was then positioned above both Citroën and Peugeot as a standalone brand, as a potential Audi rival.

By clearly delineating the territory that each brand occupies, Groupe PSA made its offer simpler and more intuitive for customers, avoiding unnecessary competition between its own brands. With DS, it is able to create a premium offering that draws upon its rich heritage, pushing into new areas without overstretching the Peugeot or Citroën brands.

Anthony Cox is head of strategy at Dragon Rouge