Discover how defining your brand architecture can help you connect with customers,
get your employees on the same page, and ultimately boost efficiency and profitability.

What are the challenges facing fast-growing brands? 
When your company is growing swiftly – especially by acquiring other businesses – your brand can often get very complicated, very quickly. With a hotchpotch of visual identities and names under one roof, and new divisions and internal politics to consider, you can soon find yourself with a brand portfolio that’s tricky to navigate and understand. With clarity and consistency so crucial to engaging with your customers, it’s time to consider your brand architecture strategy.

So what is brand architecture? 
Simply put, it’s the way your company’s offerings are organised in relation to your overarching ‘parent brand’. With a well-considered brand architecture, you’ll make better sense of your portfolio and help your teams understand how everything fits together. And most importantly, you’ll improve the way you define and communicate your business to the world.

Set up as a ‘house of brands’?  
Many large portfolio brands grow through acquisition, and often in relatively haphazard fashion. With a myriad of individual products and services, all with very little acknowledgement of the parent brand, this approach is known as a ‘house of brands’. For some businesses keeping this separation is deliberate and part of their longer term growth strategy. For other businesses, particularly those seeking to build a consumer reputation, a ‘house of brands’ approach does not maximise their value. With few common traits, and no coherent brand DNA across the business, it’s almost impossible to deliver an overarching sense of purpose and transparency that today’s customers are increasingly demanding.

Ready to move to a ‘branded house’?
Increasing numbers of large portfolio consumer businesses are switching to a ‘branded house’ approach that clearly aligns all their products and services to their masterbrand. Sometimes this is done in an overt way where the parent brand is incorporated into the product and service names (e.g Pearson). Sometimes this link is more subtle such as Unilever or Procter and Gamble which ensure their parent name is present on packaging and communications therefore providing an endorsement. By taking ownership of their portfolio and truly standing up to be counted, these businesses are now able to communicate their masterbrand’s purpose to the world. And with today’s ever-more demanding customers, this is essential to building their trust, admiration and loyalty.

Where do you start? 
First up, plenty of research. You need to understand where you want to maximise your brand value. This helps determine how closely aligned each business area is to your core brand – and this in turn ensures that you focus your efforts in the right places, building equity into the most important brands in your portfolio, and maximising the equity of your parent brand. Yet while some offerings will benefit from much closer alignment to the parent brand, others might require a little more independence and ‘breathing space’, whilst still feeling connected. It’s rarely a case of one size fits all – instead, it’s all about striking a careful balance.

What other tools will you require?
Once you’ve got to grips with the alignment of your products and services, you’re ready to develop your architecture framework. Essentially, this acts as a filter to help you accurately place each offering within a category. When your framework is in place, it’s time to develop clear guidance for each category, defining the visual identity, naming and tone of voice principles for each one. And then, finally, it’s time to implement that guidance across your portfolio.

Is it as complex as it sounds?
That often depends on the size of your portfolio, and the number of stakeholders involved. The process requires extensive internal engagement; you’ll need to bring everyone along with you, and get them enthusiastic about the benefits of alignment. And you’ll need all your powers of persuasion to defend the independence of certain individual brands, while working through the risks, and developing the implementation plans. But despite often being a huge and complex task, a well-considered brand architecture programme will deliver all kinds of positive outcomes.

What are the major benefits?
First and foremost, your masterbrand will be stronger. A branded house approach helps increase brand awareness and consideration, and delivers a halo effect for your entire portfolio. Over time, the health of your masterbrand will ultimately drive the success of your business as a whole.

Your internal culture will benefit too, as your teams align behind a common vision, instilling pride and motivation. And by understanding the whole business rather than simply their particular area, cross-selling becomes second nature for your teams, and they will spot opportunities to integrate their skills and work together more effectively and fruitfully.

Will it save you money?
Yes it will. An effective brand architecture strategy will deliver considerable cost savings and efficiencies to your business, in all kinds of ways. From decommissioning websites and unique urls, to reducing legal trademarking and IP requirements, or cutting design and marketing costs, your company will soon reap the financial rewards.

Who can help you?
We can. At Together, we’re experts in helping brands understand the bigger picture. Pearson and THIS Institute are just two of the clients we’ve recently helped with brand architecture strategies. Get in touch to find out more and discuss how our carefully considered approach to brand architecture could help transform your business.

In search of the evergreen

October 4, 2018

Evergreen brands inhabit a special place in our hearts and minds. They are often wrapped in nostalgia and memories. They are loved; and expectations of those brands are high. Evergreen brands have permission to grow and sometimes even to change, but for owners and managers of these brands, understanding the parameters customers are willing to accept, and ensuring they keep a foothold in tradition, is crucial.

Sometimes old, sometimes new
There’s a perception that evergreen brands are older, wiser and long-established. A brand you knew as a child, perhaps a brand that even your parents or grandparents knew. Some evergreen brands certainly develop over a longer period – take Peter Rabbit or Penguin books. The fact that they are still around is testament to their strength and ongoing emotional pull. Both brands have adopted modern interpretations of key characters and attributes, have been translated to digital media, introduced to new audiences and have extended into a breadth of product areas, but they remain true to the essence of their original concept.

Other brands just seem to have the formula down and are evergreen almost from the minute they are launched. Think of The Gruffalo with it’s authenticity, honesty, a sense of longevity and purpose.

Unfortunately, the fact that a brand, new or old, has the qualities required for resilience and longevity doesn’t guarantee that they will maintain relevance and capture the long-term interest of consumers.

A changing landscape
As we’ve all experienced, brands are increasingly multidisciplinary and nimble. Brand strength used to mean a cookie cutter approach and a belief that repetition built brand awareness. Now we judge the success of a brand, not by its ability to hammer home its brand mark or name, but in its ability to be recognised without its logo. Developing a design world around a brand enables engagement with audiences on a number of levels.

So there’s the quandary, never have brands been more judged, never has the need for careful control been greater, but conversely, insatiable markets and customers have never wanted more.

It’s all about balance
So how do you infuse the personality of your brand, or the story of your business into everything you do? How do you distil, then articulate that personality in the most important tool in your kit bag of brand management – your brand style guide?

At Together, we’ve produced many guides in many formats and believe the best style guides are a balancing act of rules vs inspiration, personality vs mechanics; balancing the communication of the brand story with the technical delivery of hundreds of assets. Here are our hard won top ten tips for success:

1. Identify ‘the’ thing… take time to understand what part of the brand story galvanizes your customers and then amplify that in the design and the copy. Wherever you can – all the way through.
2. Get under the skin of brand’s audience… understand their changing needs and aspirations, track macro trends that affect their behaviour over time and have an eye on the motivations of next generation consumers. Use insights and research; both qual and quant and question throughout.
3. Know your user… who will implement the style guide? How much do they know already? What’s their role, their level of interest, their technical know-how and design knowledge? You never want to talk down but you also don’t want to leave people guessing.
4. Unify your team… licensed brands are usually managed by a very broad stakeholder group. From brand owners to agents, production companies and broadcasters to manufacturers and retailers – everyone will have different priorities, and often slightly varied interpretations of the brand. Get everyone to sign up to a common vision before you start.
5. Ensure it’s not all talk… draw up a long-list of likely end uses for the document itself. How big does the guide need to be? How many assets is just enough? A load of lovely positioning mood boards is useless for a team who need access to usable design files.
6. Reinvent the format… we personally love exploring how the structure of a guide can communicate the brand as much as its content. What are the fun ways to show the colour palette and even the page numbers?
7. .eps, .png, .psd, .tif, .jpg, cmyk, rgb… there’s nothing more disappointing than a guide which looks fabulous but doesn’t supply the right assets in the right formats for a user’s needs.
8. Respect your elders… by which we mean historical imagery, brand marks or other graphics. Treat them with reverence. By all means give things a modern twist, but only for a good reason.
9. Design systems vs asset overviews… give people kits of assets then show them in use. Create design systems with principles and rules you can articulate, rather than giving a huge array of assets without instruction of how they fit together.
10. Aftercare… don’t forget to explain the approvals and queries process!