Deciding whether to be a branded house or a house of brands.

Summer 2015

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By definition of the Business Dictionary, branding is “the process involved in creating a unique name and image for a product in the consumers' mind, mainly through advertising campaigns with a consistent theme. Branding aims to establish a significant and differentiated presence in the market that attracts and retains loyal customers.” A branded presence can be achieved through a plethora of channels, and in this article we aim to help businesses understand what branding is and how to approach it successfully. Furthermore, to establish when it’s right to lead with the company brand or the product brand(s) - AKA - to be a branded house or a house of brands. Beyond this, no matter what the brand revolves around, strategy is everything, and there have been many triumphs and tribulations to take note of. Make sure your branding efforts don’t fall under the tribulations category by absorbing some branding advice from Spin66 Studio founder, Charlene Moore.

In order to get a better scope of what exactly branding is, and why a company would go about one strategy over another, I turned to Spin66 Studio founder, Charlene Moore. I inquired, “what exactly is ‘the brand’”? She thoughtfully launched into a beautifully understandable definition, “branding is a thoughtfully manufactured perception to emotionally connect with the audience. This multifaceted, emotional connection is developed through a company’s vision, mission and values. It further distills down to a company’s core focus, communication strategy, voice, essence, logo, positioning, differentiators and reinforcers”.

We discussed the many processes used to develop a brand and the one exercise that popped up most often in our conversation was to determine the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (or SWOT). The brand should embrace company strengths and opportunities and combat weaknesses and threats. I asked myself, “How do you do that?”

I questioned Charlene for an answer, “in your experience, what has been the most successful strategy in branding?” She responded, “When companies are approaching brand strategy in a successful manner, everyone who’s involved is on board. If the company isn’t ready to culturally get behind the brand values, vision and mission, it becomes very difficult to make a real impact. The elements of a brand may be created by marketing but it’s everyone’s responsibility to know it and own it. Otherwise no amount of money or ad campaign will make it believable in the long term.”

Once you have a unified communication platform at every functional level of the company, your intended goal will start to resonate through all channels and audience members. If this level of unified communication does not occur, even the smallest amount of confusion regarding the branded message can dilute the brand. Over time it can completely erode the brand leading to confusion in the audience’s mind”.

I continued on this thought and inquired, “what are some branding triumphs that come to mind when we talk about successful branding strategies”?

She jumped into one of her favorite client successes.
“One of the most prominent branding examples that comes to mind is a hi-tech, b-b startup that we worked with a while back. They were definitely a branded house with a phenomenal line up of products and a formidable surrounding strategy, which we helped them assemble.

They had a lofty goal to build the brand and awareness quick enough to sell the company in five years.

This was a really great challenge in this crowded market. We were well aware of the unique advantage we had at our disposal: The CEO of the company was a very eminent figure in an industry that was quite open to taking calculated risks. We saw the hoop to jump through.

The brand we created for them evoked edgy visuals and a streetwise communication style which nicely accented their innovative technology. The vibe we branded garnered the attention we were seeking. Whether through PR, speaking engagements, trade events or the various other communication tools, the formula worked in this very serious and generally, creatively dry niche They quickly moved into the position they were in pursuit of.

We helped build up the company marketing and brand in three years. By year two they already had interested buyer parties and by year four, they were sold.”

Their marketing and brand strategy paralleled one another and they were willing to take risks. This combination makes for a successful branding effort every time in my experience.”

It’s no wonder Charlene’s favorite client branding success story is a startup story. It’s more fun to start from scratch versus rebuilding something that may have preexistent pitfalls to work around. Additionally the stakes are higher with companies that already have equity and are in the process of re-branding, because they have a lot more to lose than a startup.

Ah, re-branding, it vets the question: should we be a branded house or a house of brands? It’s one of, if not the most important question to answer when plotting a brand model strategy.

Charlene says, “It’s much easier to lead with a branded company. I believe you’ll be much more successful if you ‘brand the house’ and have your products fall under the recognized brand umbrella of your company”. This brand model leads with one trusted source and allows for countless different products that audience members will not only want to buy, but share their love of with others, because they like the company that the product came from.

Take TOMS for example. Their audience is huge and loyal. Why? Well for several reasons. Their consistent logo on every product, a quality that speaks to their followers, and a mission that the audience wants to be a part of. People buy TOMS products not because there’s nothing else like it on the market. The fact is that there are many products that are mirror images to TOMS products, most are cheaper even, but because TOMS has created an emotional connection with it’s audience, people prefer TOMS.

I want to take a moment to look at one more example that is a trick model that may appear to be a house of brands at first, but at second glance it’s actually a branded house. Giant stores that sell countless brands like; Walmart, CVS, Macy’s and Safeway, will advertise popular brands from other companies that are selling within their stores, however the forefront of the focus is always the store brand, not the product brands. So these giants’ that encompass many brands are still actually a branded house.

After speaking with Charlene, it seemed to me that leading with the company brand is usually the way to go. So I asked her if she could elaborate on why a business would decide to go the other way. She replied, “There is no wrong answer here, it’s really a matter of strategy and reasoning and in some cases, budget. It’s very expensive if you have hundreds of products or product lines and brand them all individually vs. leveraging a company brand. Unless you are at the caliber of a Proctor & Gamble or Unilever, you’ll need some great reasoning behind moving towards becoming a house of brands.”

No matter what the brand revolves around, strategy is everything and there have been many triumphs and tribulations to take note of. I had to know, “what are some of the worst branding efforts you’ve encountered?”

Charlene responded, “most commonly companies think their brand is complete when it’s really just a shell that is utilized internally as a tool and not realized externally by the audience whatsoever”. She went on to describe that this can mean many things for many reasons. When there is no corporate overview, visual guidelines or communication guidelines, external company communications get jumbled and mutated. This leads to different channels speaking out off target and off brand. Internal teams are never trained because there are no training materials, which means sales people can edit the company backgrounder and boiler plate (if you even have one) to fit audience desires or needs. Beyond sales people with no communication guidelines, copywriters with no guidelines can be even more detrimental to the brand. Messaging comes out inconsistent and all over the place. It becomes not only subject to change, but harm, constantly. With no solid foundation for communication, buyers and audience members become easily confused and disengaged with the brand.

Aside from brand guidelines being unclear, the next most damaging decision can be switching from one brand model to another. For anyone planning this, make sure there is a good strategy in place to transition and not lose customers along the way.

Remember that audience members think the product name is the company name and there is not only equity there but also trust. If you are considering this, also consider the risks and make sure to have an integrated marketing strategy that includes at least a years worth of consumer education.

An incomplete brand could incorporate just one of these problems or all of them. Make sure your branding efforts don’t fall under the tribulations category by absorbing these last tidbits of branding advice from Charlene.

“If your company is considering re-branding or starting a brand presence; it’s most important to keep an open mind and expect to hear ideas and realities you might not want to hear. Be honest with the company mission. Don’t get too emotionally attached to your company brand, because whether it’s a branded house or house of brands, it’s not about you, it’s about the offering and how you connect with your audience.”


Written by Samantha Ray