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The Future Of Brand Architecture PDF Print E-mail
Written by Research International   
28 Feb 2005
Bruno Botton explains what the trend towards corporate ‘umbrella brands’ might mean to a consumer public that wants superb product experiences.

This article focuses on two trends in product branding, which may at first seem disconnected: the focus on product experiences, and the growth of corporate branding.

The first is described fully in our Return of the Product study, and comes from consumers themselves. People increasingly see the product experience as a key driver of the brand relationship. The quality of the product experience is growing in importance after a couple of decades when some companies perhaps lost focus on product performance, particularly in developed markets. If true innovation is defined as product change that provides real solutions to real consumer issues, then it’s not unfair to suggest that some brands ignored this in favour of quick-fix brand extensions which lacked any longer-term impact (see Research International’s Risk! Study for a discussion of the dangers of this strategy).

Surface innovation that fails to truly innovate or differentiate can have a short-term positive impact on profits. This may be enough for a new product manager under pressure to deliver, but it can turn off consumers in the medium term, as marketing becomes a surrogate for product innovation and stops being truly effective. Our new qualitative study was full of consumers whose favoured brands had become less tasty, or less robust than they used to be – the brand promise being not supported anymore by the actual product experience. As one Belgian customer put it, “Bang & Olufsen didn’t keep their promise. It turned out to be too fragile. They pay more attention to the exterior and too little on the interior.”

Consumers buy products, and for many the product experience is by far their most important touchpoint. Before moving on, though, we should stress that, although it has been over-emphasized on occasion, the so-called softer side of the brand remains an important component of the brand alchemy. Through a brand’s emotional story, the product experience is amplified and linked to the consumer’s imaginative life – it is all a matter of balance.

The second trend I want to discuss is the development of corporate brands, which have traditionally stayed ‘behind the scenes’. Proctor & Gamble’s name is increasingly visible on many of its brands. Its main competitor Unilever also announced early last year that they would use their corporate name in customer-facing marketing activities. We could also mention Nestl?, Danone and many others, which have been historically keen to hide their wide range of branded products from consumers. Many reasons drive the decision to appear as one company under an ‘umbrella brand’. In part it is a response to a global marketplace, but the main factor is the need to rationalise marketing spend.

Another symptom of this trend is the more subtle change in emphasis between corporate and daughter brands – is it J’Adore from Lanc?me … or Lanc?me J’Adore? These changes might be actively supported by visuals and logos. Many durables brands have been implementing this strategy for a while now. The main emphasis is on the corporate name, the product brands being minor. Can you tell the name of a Nokia phone or of a Samsung CTV ? Probably not – all marketing efforts have been put behind the corporate name. The corporate brand remains; products will pass away.

The example of France Telecom, mentioned by Jean-Noel Kapferer in his book Re-Inventing the Brand, is a good illustration of this phenomenon. FT invested millions of euros in daughter brands like Ola, Loft, Mobicarte without mentioning their relationship with the mother brand. Now FT is moving back, and will be pushing its corporate brand harder in a context of deregulation.

How do these two trends connect? What impact will they have on branding practices? One of the hypotheses we could draw relates to brand architecture. Many companies have developed multi-layered and extremely complex brand architectures over the years - some for historical reasons (like brand acquisitions), some possibly due to a lack of internal cohesion or communication. The trends toward corporate branding and an emphasis on the product allow us a different perspective on what brand architecture could and should look like. They imply a simplified brand structure in which the corporate brand would directly endorse a range of product brands, with all intermediate brand levels progressively disappearing. This would clarify the offers, put the product back at centre stage for consumers, and force companies to really define their corporate brand and related values.

I’d be ready to bet on the trend for simplified brand architecture to grow over the next few years.
Last Updated ( 10 Aug 2005 )
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