Brand Architecture is a key strategic tool to organize a business so that audiences will understand what you offer and how they can engage.
The rules for organizing brands today are evolving. There are important forces that have changed how external audiences engage with brands. Probably the most important is technology and how it has enabled people to know more, purchase more efficiently, and decide more quickly. The consequence is that a company and its products and services need to be communicated with a new simplicity so that all key audiences easily understand the business you are in, how they can find what they need, and at the same time understand the breadth of value your company brings. This is the goal of building a strong brand architecture.
Why it is an Imperative?
Muddled Offerings. The most common branding issue we see today is that corporations have a very muddled array of products and services that are not well organized and therefore difficult to figure out. This is caused by a variety of circumstances:
- Consolidation through acquisition, merger or organic reorganization
- Evolution of a business into new areas that are either completely new or adjacent to existing capabilities
- Expansion into higher margin businesses from a legacy offering
- Spin-offs that require new levels of explanation.
Need for New Understanding. The shakeout from the economic trough we experienced, while difficult for most businesses, has presented the opportunity to look at the resulting business through a new lens and to sharpen focus to generate new levels of interest and generate higher revenues. Further, this sharpening can have enormous benefit for the financial community, helping them not only understand the business better, but also have more confidence in a company as it moves forward.
Galvanize and Engage Employees. In addition to the obvious outward value of a clear and easy-to-understand brand architecture, in many cases the employee base doesn’t always understand the breadth of what their own company offers, how the parts are interrelated, and the opportunities to expand customer relationships. Just imagine the power if every employee more fully understood your business and could be a true brand ambassador.
So focusing on a clearer and more understandable framework is an essential task in the new economy. The good news is that there is a disciplined process to determine the best way to organize and communicate a business’s offerings to more easily engage with key audiences.
Organizational Architecture Should Not Drive Brand Architecture.
Brand architectures should be designed for external (outside) audiences to “explain” a company’s business so that they can understand and engage. The easier it is for an external audience to understand, the greater the chances they will respond, whether it is a customer audience, a business or trade editor, or a financial analyst.
Companies are often organized for reasons that may not make sense to external audiences. The drivers of internal organization can include:
- Legal requirements
- Tax circumstances
- Financial reporting
- Legacy business history
- Acquisition complexity
- Leadership opportunities
But often these organizational decisions are not the way outside audiences see a company’s business. From their standpoint, they want to engage to find a specific product or service, and really don’t care how the company is organized. The consequence is that a company needs to have a “brand” architecture constructed from the outside in. While this sounds relatively obvious, getting internal leaders to agree is usually a significant challenge.
Below are some helpful ideas about how to engage the leaders to successfully develop an appropriate brand architecture.
What kind of Brand Architecture?
A Brand Architecture is a systematic means of focusing and organizing your brand assets to ensure that target audiences understand the breadth and depth of value you offer them.
There are several basic types of brand architectures that, in a pure or hybrid form, are the underpinnings of clarity. Each is developed by determining the best way to express the business vision through the lines of business.
A Masterbrand Architecture is a monolithic structure where, from a branding standpoint, all business units, subsidiaries and divisions share the same brand. The “Masterbrand “ is also sometimes referred to as the “Corporate, Umbrella, Parent or Mono” brand. Good examples of this strategy are FedEx and GE. In general, everything carries the FedEx and GE Masterbrand and sub-units are defined by descriptive language.
An Endorsement Brand Architecture uses a common endorsement for all of the operating units, and the parent brand functions in a subordinate manner to each operating unit brand. For example, United Technologies operates as a parent brand as it faces Wall Street, but each operating unit is identified by its own brand with an endorsement. The Sikorsky business is branded Sikorsky, “A United Technologies Company,” but uses the iconic “gear wheel” symbol, as does Hamilton Sundstrand, etc. To make matters more complex, sometimes the sub-brands of United Technologies use a legacy identity when facing specific customer audiences.
A Portfolio Brand Architecture, sometimes called a “Free-Standing Brand Architecture”, keeps separate identities for many or all of its brands. Particularly if there is sufficient marketing support for individual brands and it is believed the parent does not provide any brand equity that would benefit the individual brands, a portfolio architecture is appropriate. Procter & Gamble manages a portfolio brand architecture. General Motors also manages a portfolio of brands with little overt brand equity supplied by the parent.
An Ingredient Brand Architecture uses a principle brand (e.g., Intel or NutraSweet) as a common element in supporting and qualifying other brands. The premise is that if the ingredient is good, the brand it amplifies is better than without it. In the case of purchasing a PC, there is research that indicates that consumers look first for the “ingredient”, the (Intel) processor, before the brand it is within.
How do you decide which type of architecture is best? If you remember the golden rule (from the “outside in”), that should be the starting point. You start by determining which are the most important audiences. For most companies it is customers. But for others, it is financial & industry analysts, key trade media, and even governments. Therefore, the first task is to determine audience priority. The next step is to determine what each discrete audience needs to “hear” or understand in order to engage with your brand. You must look at your company from their point-of-view. This often requires outside help and research so that you can have an objective view of the marketplaces you serve. Almost every company we work with has a belief about how external audiences view them, and this view is naturally biased and often incorrect. Having objective insights also helps put in perspective internal beliefs that have built up over the years.
How do you engage the line of business and other leaders? Evolving to an external facing brand architecture is a process. It not only requires audience research, but also leadership team involvement so everyone understands their role in how the company speaks outwardly. Today, when companies have many different lines of business and products and services, it becomes imperative for the key stakeholders to work together to arrive at a brand architecture that serves both their individual need, but more importantly the corporate vision.
Where we have seen the most resistance is in situations where the broad leadership is not deeply involved. Because how a company portrays itself is so critical to the future, developing a strong, outward-facing brand architecture is a strategic mandate. Get the leadership involved and keep them involved.
Who should manage the process? Development of brand architecture is a strategic initiative and should be managed by the most senior corporate leader who can rise above line-of-business interests. In some cases it is the CEO, but more often it is the Chief Strategy Officer or Chief Marketing Officer. Among other values, strong brand architectures usually signal a new future while creating clarity. Thus, if a specific line-of-business leader is tasked with the initiative, the solution often becomes weighted in favor of that business unit, and not reflective of where the long-term business is headed.
Brand architecture can be a powerful tool to help a company accelerate its growth. Investing the time and effort to optimize a company’s brand architecture can deliver higher near and long-term revenues and profits.
For deeper insights, contact:
John K. Grace
President & Managing Partner
April 26, 2018 Comments Off on Why Brand Architecture is a Critical Strategic Imperative
Build a great differentiated brand or drown in a sea of sameness. Today having a strong investment management brand is not a nice to have, it’s an imperative.
For years building an investment management brand was left to the big mutual fund players and others vying for retail clients. Then, with the global financial crisis and the massive outflows across segments, firms of all shapes and sizes rushed into the market with what they thought was “branding”. Today, just about every investment management firm has a name, logo, website and a trusty pitch book—likely all blue and peppered with navigational images and icons. Many thought, therefore, that they had built a brand and that this, combined with good, consistent performance was enough to get them noticed, win business and develop loyal clients. Once upon a time that may have worked, but not today.
With the increased complexity of the financial markets, expansion globally where firms may be virtually unknown, commoditization and a growing preference for specialty managers—many are taking serious stock of their brands.
The Value of Truly Building an Investment Management Brand
Brand strength is the second most important attribute in selecting an investment management firm after performance. As the lines between retail, intermediary and institutional buyers blur, more stringent disclosure requirements are imposed and with the move to more global distribution, brand and reputation are increasingly more important drivers in clients’ decision to invest. As the following chart shows, according to intermediaries, brand strength and reputation ranked as the second highest factor when considering a firm.
Key Drivers of Asset Growth
The field is crowded, noisy and confusing. Today hundreds of investment management firms with countless strategies and vehicles are battling it out for assets. Add to that the lack of distinction between firms, it’s nearly impossible for potential investors to see through and understand what a firm does and does better than its competitors. Net, it takes a lot to win and retain loyal clients.
Key promises sound the same. Without doing the work to create meaningful differentiation, most firms push out promises that sound the identical, creating a virtual sea of sameness. Here are some commonly used messages that permeate the market and have no specific insight into the manager:
So, to get noticed in an over-crowded marketplace a firm must build a brand that means something and ultimately matters to its clients. To do this, the story it tells must be clear, differentiated and memorable.
Investment Management Firms Face Unique and Formidable Challenges
Simply put, investment management brands are different—from their products and services to their diverse audiences—and operate by a different set of brand rules.
How do you brand thinking, advice and insight —all intangibles?
With consumer goods or manufacturing, customers can “experience” a product, they can taste it, wear it or drive it, and this offers more opportunities for differentiation. However, with an intangible based brand, creating an experience and ultimately building a brand is much more difficult. In investment management, the proposition rests largely on the thinking, insight and expertise of the managers and they are therefore chiefly responsible for conveying the brand to investors. It is important to identify and cultivate a brand idea that captures the essence of the “intangible”, is at the core of what the firm stands for, and that all can rally around.
How do you build an authentic brand experience when your audience is layered —sometimes its B2C, sometimes its B2B, sometimes it’s both and both at the same time?
Investment management brands are neither consumer brands or B2B brands, they’re different. Their primary audiences are a mix of professional buyers—financial advisors, plan sponsors, institutional consultants—and consumers with very different needs and expectations. They must be perceived as offering the deep insight and information required by professionals and at the same time instill a sense of trust and confidence with end investors. Adding to the challenge, is that all of this needs to be conveyed through a complex distribution system. Deep knowledge of the markets and investment products—from traditional to non-traditional—and a solid understanding of the nuances of various distribution channels is key to mapping out relevant propositions and communications.
Investment Management Layered Distribution
How do you build an investment brand when what investors are buying is a promise that their assets will grow and outperform, when the future lacks certainty and that promise is based upon past performance?
Customers and intermediaries alike are ultimately expecting that their assets will grow and they are being asked to believe that they will based on past performance and information. The problem is that the future is uncertain, promises are just that, and history doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. Therefore, clients need reasons other than history to believe that a firm will deliver. It ultimately comes down to trust. Crafting a brand of reliability, openness and confidence are keys to gaining that trust.
How do you build trust, because that’s what it takes, in an industry that is largely considered not trustworthy?
With the financial crisis came significant investor skepticism and lack of trust in financial institutions. It was a logical outgrowth. Rebuilding trust starts with uncovering the firm’s authentic identity and value and from there a compelling brand can be constructed.
The Keys to Building a Powerful Investment Management Brand
Developing an investment management brand takes not only an understanding of the complexities of the industry—intermingled audiences, complex distribution and nuanced products—but also the knowledge and expertise of brand-building.
Identify a core, unifying brand idea that embodies the purpose of the brand and the ultimate benefits to all that it engages. Brands are essentially about a firm’s identity, driven by purpose and meaning, and the connection that people make to that purpose and meaning. So, getting to the essence of a firm, who it is, what it believes, how it’s better or different than others and telling a credible, compelling story is how great brands are created.
Understand what each target audience needs to hear to engage. Because audiences are often layered and over-lapping, spend time developing a brand messaging strategy that communicates effectively to each important audience and at the same time builds common equity for the benefit of each product or service.
Tell a meaningful and differentiated story. For years, investment management firms stayed in a very narrow range of brand building—lackluster messages focused largely on performance, rock-star teams, and complex, at times mysterious, descriptions of who they are and what they provide. It became a maze of mirror images making it difficult to distinguish one firm from the next. So, the new rubric is about telling a true and meaningful “story” that is the surest route to clarity and differentiation.
Be consistent in all communications and behaviors. Again, investment management firms must appeal to a variety of different audiences. Add to this that each distribution channel has a distinct process and preferred system of communication. This condition offers ample opportunity for messaging to break down and ultimately dilute brand awareness and appreciation. To develop investor confidence and build brand equity, careful attention must be paid to consistency in communication and alignment with the brand messaging strategy.
Invest in building the brand. For a time, with good performance, generally content investors, reasonable compliance constraints and an intermediated sales process, many firms were reticent to develop a powerful brand. In fact, their strategy was to “stay under the radar”. Then the markets melted down in 2008 creating a fog of mistrust of the industry. This changed the game almost overnight with clients looking for reasons to believe beyond performance. This is where investing in a powerful, differentiated investment management brand is now an imperative.
Building a strong and enduring brand in the investment management business is both an art and a science. The pursuit involves two essential pieces; understanding the true and authentic identity of a firm to create powerful differentiation, and deep understanding of key audiences to unlock what they need to hear to engage. From this foundation, strong brand can grow.
For any questions, contact:
John K. Grace
President & Managing Partner
February 22, 2017 Comments Off on The Investment Management Brand Imperative
The question is… can trust be revived in a brand that is seriously damaged? Almost every year there are brands that amaze us with incredible stupidity… mostly generated by a drive for bigger sales numbers. Volkswagen not only misled consumers and dealers about emissions and gas mileage claims, but
tried to make it a small and inconsequential issue until investigators uncovered an ever-growing circle of management and leaders who actually knew exactly what was going on. [Read more →]
September 30, 2016 Comments Off on Can Trust in a Brand Be Revived?
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May 20, 2015 Comments Off on recherche rencontres lyon
Intel just created its own proprietary corporate font to be easier to read in the global digital world. They call it “Intel Clear”. A smart move in a number of ways. First, it gave them the opportunity to assess the equity in their existing font and think through whether and how much to change. Second, It caused them to think about how their critical audiences, internal and external, national and international, should perceive Intel as the communications media evolve so dramatically and rapidly.
April 8, 2014 Comments Off on Updating Intel’s Font for the Mobile Future
Inertia is an amazingly powerful force, and “reason” often proves inadequate to overcome it. Think about how hard it is to get people to move their bank accounts even when it is clearly in their financial interests. Or why nearly three-quarters of all corporate change initiatives fail, no matter how well argued, or how compelling the business case.
Human behavior is hard to change, and this is one of the biggest obstacles facing businesses selling sustainable products and services. We believe that brands are uniquely well placed to help, because they can speak two languages – reason and story. And they can leverage the unusually powerful relationships they have with consumers.
November 12, 2013 Comments Off on How Brands Can Put Us on Our Best Behavior
David Brooks, an Op-Ed Columnist at the New York Times writes a very interesting article about the differences between the use of and understanding of brands between the Americans and the Chinese. His premise is that the Chinese are not good at building brands that connect with consumers in the West despite the fact that they have the largest economy in the world. This will hinder their achievement of global economic dominance. He is right.
However, one of his notions is only partly correct and flies in the face of what great brands work hard at every day. Brooks believes that “People who create great brands are usually seeking some inner longing of their own…”. In this he is thinking about romantic notions of founder-led brands like Nike or Ralph Laruen.
What he is missing is that great business leaders spend a great deal of time and energy to understand their customers and their needs, and then address them in a way that builds an enduring relationship that can last a long time. In most cases it is the diligence and hard work requiredto build stronger relationships with consumers than competitors in every category that leads to sustainable market leadership.
Much of what Brooks writes about is very true, and he is astute to recognize as much as he does. Where he misses the mark is realizing that there is a process and method to establishing and building a strong brand that connects with key audiences that works on it’s own and is not necessarily founder led. Just look at a few minor brands like IBM, General Electric, BMW, New York Yankees, Mayo Clinic, etc. Sure each was founded by great thinkers and leaders, but they have evolved into very strong brands generations past founder longing.
Congrats to Brooks for recognizing how brand have become an engine of the Western economic growth. His basic premise is more than correct.
May 31, 2013 Comments Off on Why David Brooks Almost has it Right about Brands
In a recent Wall Street Journal article by Sumanthi Reddy on new theories about why people sweat when under stress… it made me think that there is a strong parallel with brands and how they react to difficult business situations. Scientists now believe that stress-triggered sweat plays a role in sending warning signals to people around us that something is wrong. This body odor conveys a lot of information from one individual to another.
Brands under stress can “sweat” too.
They can give off signals, much like odors, and we can sense that something is amiss. Take American Airlines as an example. They have been under stress in bankruptcy for quite a while. Not only have creditors been worried, but also travelers. So what did they do… they rebranded themselves with a new modern look. In some ways, we all smelled a rat. No, they haven’t really gotten much better… their service is as sparse as other carriers, and their equipment is not significantly better than others. So they put on some new lipstick. Now we know that it was part of a complete, quiet financial re-packaging ending up with a recent merger with US Airways. So their “stress sweat” was apparent. To some extent, this scent should be a signal for investors and creditors alike. [Read more →]
February 19, 2013 Comments Off on Do Brands “Sweat” When They are Stressed?
And if it does survive, will it ever be as strong as it was again? It’s difficult to know for sure but one thing is clear: the marketing leadership at Hostess Brands had failed to nurture a brand that is undeniably an American icon with a value far greater than it’s $68 million year-to-date revenue. After all, how many brands can invoke nostalgia like Twinkies has in recent days? How many brands have such an impact on society that they end up on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or a feature on every major news program? Not many when you consider the thousands of brands out there, and yet, the marketing leadership at Hostess Brands has done little over the past few decades to understand, let alone capitalize on the equity.
Twinkies was introduced in 1933 by The Continental Baking Company in Inianapolis to utilize the strawberry shortcake machines that stood idle when strawberries were not in season. They were originally filled with a banana flavored cream but switched to vanilla cream during WWII when bananas were rationed. It was so popular that they never switched back.
November 20, 2012 Comments Off on Twinkies is in the Emergency Room…will it live or die?
Most people today, especially those in marketing, understand the tremendous value of a great brand name. A distinctive name will get an audience’s attention, help position and distinguish a company in the marketplace, take the company into the future, offer good ROI, and galvanize employees. Many do not, however, realize just how difficult creating a unique, “ownable” brand name has become.
Name styles seem to change every decade or so. Years ago, most companies preferred – and were able to own – generic, descriptive names like International Business Machines, American Airlines, and Radio Corporation of America. Now, the trend seems to be a desire for names that are arbitrary, i.e., they have nothing to do with the business, service or product they represent. Think Apple, Java, Yahoo and Uber. (Although if you dig into the etymology of these names, you often discover they actually do have meaning to the company founders, be it an emotional connection or a favorite fruit or drink).
June 17, 2012 1 Comment