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In pursuit of brand magic: considerations when starting a complex brand hierarchy review project:

I work with teams to resolve complex brand hierarchy challenges, these often occur when businesses grow or when change and business acquisition happens at speed, or indeed a business has grown in a siloed area with little interdependence.

Growth is great, but it often creates a challenge for brand structures and hierarchies within a business. In the world of brand there is principally 4 brand architectures' to choose from, but how do you decide whether to be one brand or many? What dictates if a brand stays or goes?

In this blog, I address some of the issues to consider when starting a complex brand hierarchy project in a large and complex organisation with many divisions and multiple stakeholders.

What is brand hierarchy?

Brand hierarchy refers to the organisation and arrangement of different products and brand offerings within a company, over time this often changes as businesses change direction, target new customers or develop new ranges. There isn't a universally agreed-upon set of specific brand hierarchy structures, but there are some common frameworks and I can provide you with a general overview of common brand hierarchy models that organisations may use:

Structure 1 - Branded House (Monolithic Branding):

In this structure, all products and services are prominently branded under the umbrella of the corporate brand. The corporate brand is the focal point, and individual products or sub-brands leverage the strength and reputation of the main brand driving critical share of voice and memorability like to the corporate brand.

Examples include Google, where products like Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Maps are all part of the overarching Google brand, or Virgin brands - which deliver across banking to media.

Structure 2 - House of Brands (Multibranding):

A defining feature of this structure is that the corporate brand is less visible to consumers, and multiple independent brands operate under the same corporate entity. Each product or brand must build share of voice and it has its own identity, marketing and each brand is managed separately from the corporate brand.

An example is Procter & Gamble (P&G), which owns various brands like Tide, Pampers, and Gillette, each with its own distinct identity.

Structure 3 - Endorsed Brands (Sub-Branding):

This structure combines elements of both the branded house and house of brands.

The corporate brand provides endorsement and credibility to individual products or sub-brands and thus works well where there are common traits across the portfolio but the product areas and target audience are different. it allows the corporate brand to build trust and deliver stature but for each subbrand to connect with specific market traits or audience needs.

Examples include Nestle's Nescafe or Marriott's Courtyard by Marriott. The corporate brand is present and still delivers stature and brand tone the product also has a strong brand element and distinctive personality to appeal to a specific segment.

Structure 4 - Hybrid Branding:

This structure is a flexible combination of different branding approaches based on the specific needs of each product or brand within the organisation, this structure usually evolves as a business grows in divergent categories. Companies may adopt a mix of branded house, house of brands, or endorsed brands depending on the market and product characteristics, it might be that a specific segment has unique characteristics that need addressing specifically separately from the corporate brand while other areas of the business still within the corporate brand structure.

Unilever is an example of a company that employs a hybrid approach, led by market and product segment needs it has strong standalone brands like Dove and Axe as well as a corporate endorsement on some products.

While I have covered the basics of four categories it's important to note that these structures are not rigid, and companies often adapt and evolve their brand hierarchy based on strategic considerations, market conditions, and the nature of their product portfolio.

The specific number of structures may vary, and organisations might employ variations and combinations to best suit their market and branding strategy.

When starting to consider or review the brand hierarchy in your business, there are several key considerations to keep in mind:

Check you have your brand foundations in place - Define your brand strategy and purpose:

  1. Do you know what the foundations of your brand are? Do you have your brand vision, mission, values, purpose and personality defined?

  2. Clearly define the overarching brand strategy and purpose that will guide the brand hierarchy project.

  3. Understand the goals, target audience, positioning, and desired brand perception at each level of the hierarchy.

  4. This strategic foundation will provide direction and inform decision-making throughout the project.

Ask yourself if you are targeting one or many audience segments? Do they have the same needs? Do all your products fit nicely under one brand or do you need to change the how you are targeting and communicating different products to different audiences.

Organisational Structure impacts brand frameworks:

  1. Understand the existing organisational structure

  2. Spend time defining how the organisational structure aligns with the current brand hierarchy and any possible changes that might be made.

  3. Identify the key stakeholders, decision-makers, and teams involved in the project.

Define roles and responsibilities to ensure effective collaboration and communication across departments or regions. Who needs to have a say in reviewing the brand hierarchy? Are these in-market experts that need to be considered? Does one brand work across multiple counties?

Research and Analysis - Ensure you have data to understand the brand framework opportunity:

  1. Get your data out!

  2. If you dont have the data you need to assess the strengths of different brand models then it is essential that you conduct thorough research and analysis

  3. Set up a research plan that covers internal interviews, customer research, sales data analysis, competitor analysis and competitor brand reviews

  4. Ensure you take the time to review and gain insights into the market, competitors, customer behaviour, and industry trends.

This information will help you make informed decisions regarding the brand hierarchy structure, brand architecture, and positioning of sub-brands or product lines.

Review Existing Brand Architecture against your business structure:

  1. Review the effectiveness of the existing brand structure - is it appealing to customers?

  2. Are there any holes or areas of weakness?

  3. Is there duplication of efforts or markets being missed due to poor brand positioning?

  4. Look to consider how alternative brand hierarchies might work to deliver to your business objectives over a set period say 5 years - looking to the future what would the business look like with different brand structures in place - which offers the most effective opportunity for growth? which dovetails with the corporate ambitions?

  5. What are the potential costs and risks of changing your brand hierarchy?

Consider factors such as brand visibility, portfolio management, customer perception, ease of brand extension, legal costs and costs of possibility starting new brands or establishing new identities and messaging. From this you can and determining the optimal brand architecture that suits your business needs and assess whether a monolithic, endorsed, or hybrid brand architecture approach is most suitable for your organisation's goals and context.

Ready to get your brand working for you?

Overall, reviewing your brand framework is never simple and often comes at a point of brand evolution and change - change is disruptive, and it presents an opportunity to step back and consider the best way forward. Keep in mind that brands. Just like businesses are fluid and evolving, and any framework needs to direct and not confine the trajectory of your business.

If you're interested in reviewing your brand hierarchy please get in touch or check out our case studies to learn more about the work we do with brands.

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