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Brand Architecture Webinar

Brand Architecture: Finding Clarity for Your Future

Highly successful brands all have one thing in common: they have a brand promise that is straightforward, relevant and valuable, and built upon clear brand architecture. This webinar provides insight on how you can clearly and efficiently create the kind of brand architecture that provides the most value to your business and your target audience.




Good morning everyone. My name is Blake Howard and I'm the co-founder, creative director at Matchstic, and we're really glad that you're here, thanks for joining us for this webinar. It's going to be a lot of fun. And for those that don't know, Matchstic is a brand identity firm. We're in Atlanta, Georgia. We help growing mid-size companies take their brands to the next level. And most of our clients sort of fall into the category of challenger brand, which means they really need to stand out in a radical way, and they really need help clarifying their message in a relevant way. And sometimes something that robs them of that clarity is brand architecture. Brand architecture can get really messy and can be really confusing. And so we've been wanting to do a webinar for a while and we thought this would be the perfect topic to cover to start with, because it's something that we consult on a lot, but it's not always seen as that critical in brand identity and it leads to a lot of messy situations.

And we're going to talk a lot more about this today, but just as a little preface to kind of set the stage for Sarah, architecture really is the organization of a family of brands and how they relate to each other, to their audience and to the market. It's a little bit like if you wanted to build your dream home and you acquired a piece of property or you had an existing piece of property, in order to make that dream home fully stable and the best that it could be, you might have to clear the land, you might have to do some deconstruction, you might have to do some organization to make sure that it's built on a really good foundation. So that's kind of a good metaphor for brand architecture and a simple way to think about. In a beginning thought, and Sarah will talk about this as we get into it, the clarity here is more important than being clever.

So sometimes in branding you think it's about being clever, but this exercise and this conversation, it's about being clear, more than being clever. So we're excited to share some of our models, the way that we think about brand architecture and we hope that it will help you. Because we're so focused and specialized in brand identity, our work goes across many different sectors. We do a lot in non-profit, we do a lot in B2B, we do a lot in B2C as well, and you're going to see a mix of examples today. And we think that no matter what business you're in, there should be something that will help you that you can learn from, because this model prevails in different sectors. You will see a lot of different examples though that should help and paint the picture for you. 

So let me introduce Sarah. Sarah and I have worked together for almost six years, and I can say with full honesty, she is one of the smartest people I know. She's incredibly gifted at organizing and bringing order to chaos. She's done brand strategy and architecture work for a lot of different companies. A couple notable ones, Care International, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Mercy Health, which is Ohio's largest healthcare provider, Cognia, which is the world's largest school improvement organization, Spanx, AT&T, General Mills, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Glock and many more. Those are just some of the highlights. So I'm excited to let Sarah take the virtual webinar stage, and to share more on brand architecture. So Sarah, take it away.


Great. Thank you so much. Appreciate that. So like Blake mentioned, branding really is not about being clever, it's about being clear in general. And a lot of companies do find themselves with architecture problems, either by evolving slowly over time, or making decisions with unintended consequences, they find themselves having an issue with relevance with their audiences, or having duplicative efforts inside their organizations. So really brand architecture is about crystallizing your value proposition, and making sure that we're earning people's engagement and loyalty over the long term, and removing barriers to operational efficiency. So that's what we're really going to talk through today. So with that I will share. Okay. So today we're going to go through the first major consideration for brand architecture. We'll go through the second and then we'll talk a little bit about product architecture. And then that third major consideration, some common pitfalls, what we see as the solution. 

So what we hear a lot of times from clients are things like, "Well, we don't want to leave opportunity on the table." Or, "I'm really not sure who makes those decisions." Or, "Our team doesn't own that. We're more focused on growth or diversification right now." Or, "Creating individual brands for us adds credibility. It lets us kind of play with some of the big players, or making a change would be turning the Titanic." So we know a lot of best in class examples of brand architecture. I'm sure that all of you could come up with some, but the truth is that clarity is really hard, and these are some of the common traps. And I'm going to show you a quick example of a past client that we did some architecture work for. And what we saw going in was this, and so of course we tried to make sense of that for them.

And there are two kinds of main models for architecture, and I'm sure that everyone's very familiar with the idea of a branded house versus a house of brands. We always want to start with the enterprise. We can get down into the nitty-gritty of individual sub-brands of products, but the first decision is, "How do you want to architect the brands in the enterprise?" So we know these two main models, but, "Why do they make sense, and when do they make sense?" And far too many brands have far too little focus on their audience. It's actually very surprising that that is so common. But the only point of having a brand is for your audience. It's really to communicate your value, bring clarity, and establish a relationship. And people's relationship is to the brand, right? It's not to the parent company necessarily. 

Do we know what our audience needs and what they ultimately value about you?

So the first consideration that we would say is probably the most critical to understand, is why the brand is valuable to your audience.

"What functional and emotional needs are we meeting? Ultimately, what is our value proposition to our audience? Is it similar, where a branded house makes sense? Or is it disparate, where you need to have a house of brands with a variety of value propositions living within your organization?" So on the branded house side, the value is very aligned across all of your offerings. On the house of brand side, that value could be very distinct. And there are implications to either direction and trade-offs.

So here on the branded house side, you're building equity in the parent. It's all in one place, and all the offerings are subordinate to that parent. Again, you have equity in one place, obviously a lot simpler for you to manage, but any potential negativity, or crisis or setback affects the whole. And you could potentially dilute your kind of core value proposition as you broaden. On the house of brand side, the equity is built in those individual offerings which are independent from the parent. You're protected against these kinds of crises you can potentially cross-promote. So back to the P&G example, if you were a Pampers buyer, you might also be interested in Tide. So there's kind of a nice opportunity for cross-promotion, but it's very costly. There's a lot of money spent and a lot of investment made to prop up, and maintain, and invest in those individual brands and brings a lot of complexity.

So the first major consideration is the value proposition, "Do we know what our audience needs and what they ultimately value about you?" But it's really not that simple. What about all the examples that don't cleanly fit into either a branded house or a house of brands model? Here are just a few examples and there are innumerable others. 

Do you really understand how your audience categorizes you?

The other major consideration is how your audience conceptualizes or organizes your offerings in their mind, "How are they mentally categorizing who you are and what you do?" So when you have similar categories, that's where your offering is quite focused.

Where you have disparate offerings, that's where you have diversified your portfolio. So here, you can see that there are kind of four major models within that branded house or house of brands. In that bottom, we have the focused house of brands, versus the focused branded house in the bottom left. Top right is the diversified house of brands, versus top left is the diversified branded house. So we're going to talk through a few examples of these. So first, the focused branded house examples like UPS or Lego. This is a brand that plays in a single category and provides very similar value to their audiences. Whether Lego is talking about their core products or Duplo, the idea of imagination and play is critical and core to everything that they do.

The diversified branded house is where you have kind of a master brand that's built around this core kind of value proposition, but that's applied to different categories. So with Virgin Group, you can understand what they stand for, they're a little bit of a renegade brand, a little bit of a rebel feel. Their values are pretty clear as an organization. And then that's just applied to air travel, or racing, or hotels.

For a diversified house of brands. The most common example here, P&G, is where you have brands that exist across multiple categories and that multiple within those categories that provide different value. And in these cases, the parent company doesn't actually brand its own product or service, it is truly kind of an umbrella holding company. So you might ask, "Well, why would you need to have Pampers and Luvs? Why not kind of group that all in the middle, and provide kind of a common value proposition?" Well, that would actually be watering down the core value of what those actually stand for. So you have to always go back to the audience's need, "Is this a distinct need?" Where Pampers, they might be looking for more of that luxury product, more kind of dotting or careful maybe. Where Luvs says, "This is a diaper. I care more about the value that I'm going to get from a value brand." So again, the value proposition, very, very different, and connecting them could create a lot of damage. 

And then the last is a focused house of brands. So this is a brand situation that they play in the same category, but still provide very different value to their audiences. And in this case, the parent company usually does have its own branded product or service. A great example here is Apple. This is one of my favorite examples. When they acquired Beats, I think there was a big question of, "What are they going to do? Are they going to become Apple headphones?" They have chosen not to do that because, the Apple brand at this point is a lifestyle brand that really stands for connecting you in any way that you could possibly want to anybody in the world, right? It's about access. Where Beats is about shutting the world out.

It's about pristine sound. It's about closing off, and about being in your own world. So again, very, very different value propositions that warrant creating distance between the two organizations. And often you see that companies start as a single brand. That makes a lot of sense. Amazon started with books, very focused, and then you grow by either building or acquiring additional distinct brands and becoming that kind of focused house of brands, or diversifying and becoming more of that diversified branded house. And then from there, organizations kind of grow into diverse diversified house of brands. P&G did not intend to build that when it started, but through acquisition and through growth, they have ended up as a diversified house of brands.

So again, the second major consideration is, "Do you really understand how your audience categorizes you?" And then the first, "Do we really know what they value, the value proposition?" Those are the two most important considerations when building architecture. And as you can see, it's all about the audience, because without an audience, a brand really doesn't have any kind of viability at all. 


Some of you might be thinking, "How does this apply on a much smaller granular level?" Which I think we'll get to in a minute. 


So let's talk a little bit about products. So let's say that we've established our enterprise architecture and we have questions about, "Well, what about products? When do we build a brand for a product?" So again, in that kind of focused house, a branded house, we're going to use the example of Coca-Cola, the product, not the enterprise. We'll talk about the enterprise in a minute. Here, differences in preference drive new products or features, but not new brands. So as you can see, Coca-Cola Classic, Coke Zero Sugar, Diet Coke, World of Coke, they all share the same assets, they have the same guidelines. But for Coke Zero Sugar, they're going to amplify the color black in their palate. For Diet Coke, it's silver. For Coke Classic, they maintain that red. So still kind of one sweet, one family, very, very closely connected, in which case, again, you can see that there's a slight difference in preference, but the value proposition hasn't changed. It's still about a luxury, it's still about a little moment of happiness or nostalgia.

Separate brands are maintained when audience values are so different that overtly connecting them would either create confusion, or would damage existing equity. So when Coca-Cola Enterprise acquired Vitamin Water, they did not make that an overt connection, right? Because Vitamin Water stands for something very different than Coke does. It's about hydration. Fairlife Milk is about nutrients. The Simply Beverages are also about nutrients. So that idea, the value proposition, so disconnected that connecting it to Coke would feel like a real departure. But there can be various levels of connection or association within that idea of a branded focused house of brands. So where Vitamin Water and Fairlife Milk have no connection to Coca-Cola, Sprite, and Fanta do because people can understand that those have very similar value propositions, but still a different brand for probably a different audience.

So let's take a look at a lot of their brands. This is not actually all of them, if you can believe that, but you can see on the left, these brands are more connected to Coke as an enterprise, where the ones on the far right are completely not connected in any way. So now we're going to talk about, "How do you connect brands, that kind of spectrum of association or connection, within that idea of a focused house of brands?" So the only time that it makes any sense to actually connect brands in this sense, is when that association increases the value of the individual brands. So this is the Koch example. So for Sprite and Fanta, if you look at the back of the package, it's very obvious that it's connected. The trademark is held by the Coca-Cola Company where the trademark for Vitamin Water is held by Vitamin Water.

So there's actually absolutely no way to find out that they're connected without a lot of research. Then you could have a parent coexisting with a brand, but being clearly secondary. So General Mills has a little tag on their cereal boxes, but that's actually the only product they show up on. But Cheerios is still the brand that's primary. The connection is still with Cheerios, but they're getting a little bit of an endorsement there. Then you can have the parent consistently appearing in your tag. This is getting much closer to an endorsement, where Accenture Interactive is getting the credit for owning a lot of different entities. And then all the way to endorse is where the parents actually locked up in the logo. So Nestle Nesquik, or Nestle Toll House right there, very front and center almost shared equity in terms of real estate.

Do you know your brand's existing equity and where you want to invest in the future?

So that brings me to the last important consideration, which is equity. So, "What do you do when a brand in your portfolio has considerable existing equity? And what about where you want to build equity in the future?" So we're going to take a look at Accenture a little bit more deeply to answer that question. So here's how they architect their offerings. They have four main divisions, Accenture Interactive, their traditional strategy and consulting, technology, and operations. So Interactive, the way that they describe that is this is their customer experience arm. This is where marketing meets technology within Accenture Interactive, they've made a lot of acquisitions. And so then the question becomes, "What do we do with all of these acquisitions?" So when they acquired Fjord a few years ago, it was a major acquisition for them, it was a really big deal in their space, they propped that up as their service and product design kind of specialty.

And then they have a whole set of unique agencies or firms depending on either capability or equity. So for acquisitions that maybe didn't have a ton of equity or had really duplicative capabilities, they simply got folded into the appropriate division. So you can see the example here of Adaptly, if you go to their website, it just simply says, "We've moved. We are now Accenture Interactive, find us here."

So duplicative capabilities can get folded in, but acquisitions that have their own kind of disparate category, or unique value proposition, or substantial existing equity are maintained. And I would say for now, right? We don't really know Accenture's end game, but we do know that they're getting a lot of credit. And what they've done by architecting it this way has given themselves kind of ultimate flexibility. So they can let the research tell them when or if to fold it into the parent brand, whether they want to collapse into three distinct brands under Accenture Interactive. Whether they want to maintain them as separate, but still get that credit with Accenture in the tagline, or they can divest if the performance of one of these brands drops.

So ultimate flexibility is an ultimate kind of win-win, for everybody. So the third major consideration is, "Do you know your brand's existing equity and where you want to invest in the future?"

Q&A #1

"Do startups need to think about brand architecture?"

So I would say probably not as much. Our kind of stance on startups is, "Go ahead and start up. Test something, experiment a little bit, and then go back and see if your assumptions are correct, and then build from there." So as a startup, you probably don't have a very complicated architecture scenario. You might have various products which you do need to think about how they connect back to the parent brand. So we would probably simply advise that as you're building products, or thinking about naming, or things like visual assets to keep them relatively connected so that you do have kind of flexibility in the future.

"Have you seen an example where shifting the architecture went wrong. For example, they should have done a house of brands, but then they decided to do a branded house instead?"

I would say maybe a little bit less of seeing it go wrong, but seeing the struggle for sure, I think it's a really hard decision, and this is easy for us to sit here and say, "This is the pure ideal answer. But in reality, there's a lot of emotion around various products or offerings that have been built over time, and we understand that it's tough." So I would say we've seen a lot of questioning and grappling with, "Oh my gosh. Are we really going to consolidate these two brands?” They’re duplicative. We can see that, but it's just a hard decision at times. And we also acknowledge that there is investment required, there's a cost to making these changes. So in those cases we would say, "Let's really think about the timing of this. And if we know our end goal, how do we take steps toward that, versus making a wholesale change?"

Brand Architecture Pitfalls

So we're going to talk now a little bit about some of those common pitfalls that people make in their brand architecture. So why not architect based on offering our products that makes sense to a lot of people. So here's an example where maybe that doesn't work perfectly. So Mattel is the parent brand, and people know the brand Mattel, but it doesn't necessarily have a ton of meaning. The meaning has been built into all of their individual brands. And this is a sampling. This is actually only 36 of the 234 brands that are owned by Mattel, that have their own individual identities and have to be managed independently. So we would say here, the value proposition isn't necessarily different. If you think about having 234 brands, there's going to be a lot of overlap. And so the categorization in people's minds is also a little bit messy.

These are all toys, right? So that's a little bit tough to navigate. But they have really maintained the equity. If these are acquisitions, they've allowed them to stand on their own and kind of maintain. But let's look at an example in the same category where we would say this is a cleaner architecture situation. So Lego, and actually fun fact, you're not supposed to make Lego plural. You're not ever supposed to say, "Legos", which I didn't know that, but it's my son's favorite toy. So they have their divisions of toys, attractions, and then kind of other, but everything ladders back up to Lego, right? So you have Lego Friends, or Lego Duplo, or Legoland. But Lego is really getting all of that value, because they understand again that the value proposition is about play, imagination, and building. So they have maintained their category, they know who they are, they're very clear about that, and the equity is all getting poured back into the parent brand.

So here we would argue that this is really probably one brand, even though they have lots of different iterations or offerings under that brand. Another quick example is Sony. So here you can see just a sampling again of some of their brands. These are a few of their trademarks, things that they use in communication. This is only 20 of 945 live trademarks that are associated with electronics, so that's a lot of trademarks to have to maintain. So here we would say the value is probably pretty similar across a lot of these consumer electronics, but they've spread that value out across so many different entities that they're not really getting all of that equity as Sony. So again, category is muddy, and equity is being really diluted at that point. Versus Apple, we all know Apple. They have computing, they have their personal handheld devices and they have other, and so they're very simple naming convention of, "Mac blank", or, "iblank."

Everybody knows that those are owned entities by Apple. The value is very clear of why these products are named how they are. The categories are very clear and equity is all getting poured back into Apple. So again, here we would say this is arguably one brand. Then you might say, "Well, why not architect based on operations?" We see this a lot of times too, "Let's brand based on how our teams are set up, or how we are organized internally." So here's an example, Deloitte, and this is just one of their brands of Deloitte platforms and taking a deep dive into that one kind of angle. So once you get into platforms, you start to see other assets like FinservDEEP, Public Edge, Reimagine Platform, and it goes kind of on and on. So they have lots of trademarks, lots of proprietary approaches. And then if you take another deep dive into one of those specifically FinservDEEP, there's still even more so we would say this is a little bit messy.

They do one thing of consulting, and by kind of trademarking or branding each individual approach or each individual input into the consulting process, they're really diluting the ultimate value of what they provide, which is really smart solutions that are strategic for their clients. So versus another in their industry, McKinsey and Company. So everybody knows that they're likely at the very top of their game. So they organize their divisions by how we help clients, and they even say that. So, "We help accelerate, we help with analytics, we help design", and then they have practices where they can provide insights and a few assets, but ultimately everything stole ladders back up to McKinsey and Company. So even their divisions start with McKinsey, their assets that they want branded like their newsletter, McKinsey Quarterly, all point back to the parent company. So again, the value proposition is the same across everything that they do. They're in one category and the equity is really being poured back into the parent. So arguably one brand here.

And then, "What about our strategic direction? What about where we want to go in the future or what we value, what our vision is?" So an example here is Patagonia. So Patagonia is a very strong brand and oftentimes we actually use them as a very good example. But when you take a look at their actual brand architecture, they're introducing a lot of new ideas. So Patagonia Action Works is their brand, that's their network of environmental action groups. You have Patagonia Provisions, which is responsibly sourced food. Tin Shed Ventures is where they're investing in responsible startups. And then Patagonia Films, films on behalf of our home planet. So they do ladder back up to the mission that Patagonia really stands for and the people love them for. But as a brand architecture, the value propositions are really getting diluted. They're introducing a lot of new categories here. So that's probably the biggest issue is that they're known for being apparel. And now we're talking about investing, and we're talking about films, action groups, and food. So there's not really a clear way to mentally organize those offerings for their consumers.

Barriers and Solutions: Brand Architecture


1. Fear of Missing Out

2. Internal Dynamics

3. Desire for Instant Credibility

4. Diversification Without Consolidation


1. Strong Leadership

2. Healthy Teams

3. Trust the Research, Process & Experts

4. Frequent Strategic Assessment 


So we're going to talk through just a few additional barriers, some solutions, and then how we like to think about approaching brand architecture ourselves. So the first additional barrier's FOMO. So the fear of missing out, "I don't want to leave money on the table, I don't want to forego an opportunity that makes me nervous." But if we're not really hyper-relevant to some, we're going to be irrelevant to all. It's the kind of metaphor of a rifle versus a shotgun. Internal dynamics, so there a lot of times in big organizations we see a lot of silos, there's a lot of kind of autonomy, there's a lot of ownership, and that really restricts efficiency. So some decisions may not always be popular internally, but if you don't get alignment internally, your solution really is not going to see the light of day and provide value back to the organization.

And then there's this desire for instant credibility that people believe that having something branded or trademarked adds instant kind of credibility, versus building the value proposition apart from the brand, and then the brand stands for that. Which is really counterintuitive because if you are familiar with one strong offering, you can easily transfer that positive equity to other offerings in your portfolio. And then the last is diversification without consolidation, we've talked about this a little bit, but if you make an acquisition and you're a diversifying your portfolio, but you're not thinking about duplicative efforts, then that idea of over focus on growth adds up in terms of managing lots of brands, the complexity, and even optics for our audiences. If we're not thinking about "What does this look like about our organization to our audiences and how are we communicating with them?" So the solutions for this are really bringing strong leadership to the table, having healthy teams, really investing in healthy culture, trusting the research, the process and experts, and then frequent strategic assessment, taking a hard look at your portfolio.

And so we internally take a good hard look at our projects. And internally our research has shown that the projects where these four things are true of our clients, these are the best outcomes for them in terms of the ROI that they see from the initiative. So our approach is obviously to start with audience research. We really need to understand both the functional and emotional needs that exist in our target, "Where is their equity in their minds? What associations are made with our brands? And then how are they categorizing what we offer in their mind?" And so just a side note in that same kind of research, we've seen that clients who invest in audience research are over two and a half times more likely to report having a return on investment in terms of brand exposure and more visibility. This a second, is that we then define the ideal future.

So we create the foundational brand strategy, we want to protect ex equity that exists, optimize those associations that are positive, and really consider the investment. Again, if there's a cost to making change happen. And then the last is to implement a roadmap. So create a plan, consider the timing, and then establish standards. So, "What are the naming conventions that we're going to have moving into the future? What's our identity system, our visuals and verbals? What do we do about consolidation? Do we need to consider that? And then even doing decision mapping for future growth. What happens if we acquire X? Well, what happens if we are acquired?" So really thinking through the potential future steps and really have a plan for that in a roadmap.

So if you do have really clear architecture, other things should become clear as well. So whether brands should be connected in terms of attributes, "Do they share the color palette, like the Virgin example, typography, illustration, style, photography? How closely associated should the assets be? Do we have a little family or a little suite of products that all share the same kind of backbone? What's the brand hierarchy? How do we file trademarks? Where are they held? And then what's the naming convention for brands versus products versus assets, like an approach or a model?" So again, branding is not about being clever. Being clever is a positive and we shoot for that, but it's about clarity ultimately so that you are providing very clear value to your audience and the enterprise. 

"Any comment on how FedEx changed the Kinko's brand after acquiring Kinko's? Kinko's sort of stood for your office away from the office when you're a small business versus FedEx, which stood for getting packages, letters to someone quickly." 

Yeah. So I would say that that's a great example. We actually use FedEx quite often to highlight the difference between products. So slight preferences. I would say that the FedEx brand was about shipping things and things arriving quickly, and it still is to a great extent, but they've actually kind of broadened the meaning of FedEx with the Kinko's acquisition to be more about solutions for your kind of professionalism, I would say. So I think going back to your example of Kinko's and kind of the twitch, when we think about equity, we also want to think about negative equity, "Are there negative associations that we can change that if we change to FedEx, it signals something important to people that this is not going to be the traditional kind of bad experience that they've had in the past?"

So I think it's about the long term FedEx wanting to stand for something more than what they currently did, and it's also about changing kind of a negative into a positive so that they are a more valuable organization in the end. And I would say that's another good example of a transition. There was a plan with timing. They had the end goal in mind, and it was a slow change over time.

"In your work with mid-size companies and their leadership and marketing teams, do you need to educate those clients a lot about brand architecture?"

Yes, the answer is definitely yes. I think large organizations, because they're usually very complex, have a really strong hold on architecture and kind of the right answers, but it's in the middle where they may have seen a lot of growth, and they've kind of arrived at a situation where they have this smattering of things that now don't fit, or they've allowed teams to be autonomous and create brands on their own. So a lot of times actually those middle market clients are actually coming to us through somebody who's just trying to manage the process, and they're saying, "Please help me have a filter for all these requests." This person asked me yesterday for a brand and I know that it's wrong, but if it's just me saying that it's wrong, there's not a whole lot of credibility there. So they ask us to come in and apply some rigor to give them that filter that they can really use to make the right decisions based on requests that they're getting.

"How do you generally approach audience research? Focus groups seem to be the go-to, but I'm wondering if there are more effective methods?" 

I'm actually not a fan of focus groups. I think that in those situations you get group-think that happens. Some people are loud and their opinion comes through, some people hold back and don't share. So our approach is still qualitative most of the time, but we would prefer to do 30-minute kind of one-on-one interviews with people. That really helps even beyond quantitative to dig a little bit deeper, to get at that kind of underlying need. Because people aren't going to typically say, "Oh. When I'm thinking about a cell phone, I really want to be emotionally connected." But that's what happens with iPhone, at least in the beginning.

So we do qualitative usually first. We sometimes supplement that with quantitative. So that's where we're testing some of our findings to see, "What is the market size, how big are these audience groups, what is the opportunity?" And even confirming some of our assumptions. But that's really the two main ways that we like to approach the audience research at times. We also sometimes do observation. If it's a product, it's helpful to see people interact with it. So those are really the main ways.


Great. One thing just to add to that, this work is really difficult without objective data. Without doing some of that research, it can be really difficult because these organizations get into a messy architecture situation over time, and those assets become very emotionally connected to them. So objectivity is virtually lost. And so without having some sort of outside objective perspective, it's difficult to get people unstuck sometimes. So we put a big emphasis on the research as being that objective set of data to help us make better decisions. Okay. Let's see. Here's another question around books for additional reading material that you would recommend. I would personally recommend Designing Brand Identity by Alina Wheeler, not because she's on the call, but also because it's a great book and sort of our go-to textbook for years. 

How important is it from a consumer perspective to know who the parent brand is? Is there a case where parent companies want to make their association intentionally obscure?

Yes. I would say for sure. There are situations where companies do want to get a little bit more credit. So a good example of that is P&G's Olympics campaign, the “Thanks, Mom”. They have seen a lot of success with that campaign, even though they're talking about the parent that isn't actually a product of service itself, knowing that they are the backbone behind all of their portfolio adds some real weight.

And I would say a lot of times that's done to help bolster their B2B relationships, that they care more about that kind of strong financial backing of a parent company like that. But there are times where there is a lot of intentional separation. So back to the Coke example, there's nowhere on the package of a Fairlife Milk container that you see that it’s owned by the Coca-Cola company. So there's a lot of intentionality in those cases to understand the nuance in the value proposition and, "Where is there potentially some contradictory equity where you're going to create damage if there is association?" So I think both there are cases where it does make sense to highlight the parent, and then there are times where you definitely want to keep it very obscure to the consumer.

"This may be opening Pandora's box, but I'm curious to hear your perspective on how brand architecture informs product architecture."

"Going back to the Deloitte example, what is the threshold for when a product or service becomes a standalone brand, versus remaining more seamless into the overall brand experience?" 

Yeah. I think it does get messy, and that's why we always want to start with the enterprise and get that ironed out first, because then there are always a lot of questions about, "What do we do about individual brands?" And as you can see from the Coca-Cola company example, once they have Sprite and then they have Sprite, zero sugar, they have Sprite Cranberry, they have Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero Sugar. So there is oftentimes a lot of equity that can be built around a suite of products. Maybe ask the question one more time, Blake.


Just around brand architecture as it relates to products and, "When should a product be branded? When should it not?" Specifically the Deloitte example, "When should one of their key offerings become branded and when should it not?"


Yeah. That was the part that I wanted to make sure I touched on. We actually do see oftentimes, especially in service businesses, that clients want to create a brand around a part of their process, or maybe one of their inputs. So Deloitte is a really good example of that. We had another consulting client that had a lot of various databases. They were all ultimately databases, but they had individual brands, like 13 of them, where they're all doing very similar things. And ultimately we would say that, "If it's not an indeliverable, if it's not the solution, if it's not the ultimate value, you can talk about it. You can maybe give it a name, it doesn't need a brand though."

So I would say that a brand must have a unique value proposition for a specific audience that sits in a particular category. So kind of back to those questions, I think ultimately it needs to stand up having its own value proposition from anything else in the portfolio. If it doesn't, it's a part of the process. If it's a model or an approach, it doesn't need a brand. And sometimes that's also hard.


Yeah. And I would say more times than not, we are encouraging people to sort of de-brand and un-brand, and to pull it back versus create new brands. It's much, much more rare for us to say, you really have an opportunity to create a brand here. We're usually helping clean up a mess and sort of scaling it back.


Which seems a little counterintuitive for a branding firm, right? What we do is create brands, but oftentimes it is also deleting brands.

"Do you ever recommend changing or altering a product to align more with the brand architecture and value proposition?"

I would say if it's somewhere in the middle ground, you either need to make a product more different and then stand it up as its own unique brand, or make it more similar so that it has the same or close enough of a value proposition. So again, back to the Coke example, the ultimate value proposition is about having a moment to yourself. It's a luxury in your day to get a little bit of happiness, a little spark. There might be some people that prefer no sugar, or the diet flavor, or to get a little kick of a sugar high or caffeine high. But I would say yes, that you want the ultimate core value proposition to either be very similar, or different enough that you can prop up a separate brand.

"In regards to user versus customer, does the brand value hold equal from each group?" So this is kind of getting into the difference between maybe just someone experiencing your product versus an actual customer.

First of all, yes. So there are often-times buyers that are different from users. So like Toys, right? Back to the Lego example, I'm the buyer, my son is the user. So you certainly have to make a very clear value proposition to both so that the influencer or the user is asking for the item, or pushing for that purchase to happen. But it has to also make sense to the buyer. So it is a lot to juggle sometimes, but that's why we like to think of multiple audiences. Usually for a core brand, we like to have two kinds of core audiences, where in that case we would say the buyer is really the primary, but you have to also think about that secondary influencer or user, because they are important in the decision as well. So great question.

"Kind of building off of an earlier question about focus groups, is there an approach with respect to timing that brands should take to reevaluate their initial audience research? Or should it just happen organically? What are your thoughts around timing, cadence, and rhythm?"

I would say if you're going to do kind of an initial push of audience research and you feel good with that level of confidence in that research, you could revisit that maybe every couple of years. Your audience probably isn't going to shift dramatically in that time. But we would also say that you could probably have mechanisms in place to keep your finger more on the pulse of your audience on a more consistent basis. Whether that's using a platform where you do social listening, or it's doing some surveys just to understand satisfaction or loyalty, but really kind of keeping more of a finger on the pulse. Maybe even having a panel of consumers that provide some input at times, is probably the best way to understand how well you're kind of performing against those needs.


Awesome. Thanks Sarah. Well, that's a wrap for us everyone. Thanks so much for joining. Hope you found this information really valuable. You can always check us out more at You can email us with questions.