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How to stop your b2b brand family from becoming dysfunctional…

  • by Max Clark
  • 18th Apr 2019
    • Brand Creation, Branding, Strategy

A family can be a strong and united force – seamlessly joined by the gene pool to take on the world and its challenges. The same principle applies to brand families, marques brought together under a parent or ‘corporate’ brand umbrella, with each ‘family member’ focused on reaching, appealing to and fulfilling a specific product or service need.

Just like our own families, brand families can be a disparate mix of personalities, characteristics and outward appearances, each reflecting the unique values which give your business the ability to make stronger connections when engaging with different and distinct audiences.

From a new sub-brand launched to appeal to an emerging niche or segment of one of your core markets, to a new product brand introduced to focus on a particular specialist aspect of your offer. These different levels of brand lineage can often do a far better job of focusing on and relating to your consumers’ needs than the parent itself can; all while preserving the overall integrity and values of the head of the family.

The aim of a successful b2b brand architecture is to translate investment into growth for the parent brand and to protect business you have built over time under your overall brand umbrella. Sounds simple enough, yes? But as in any family relationship, occasionally things can go a little off piste and a renegade brand within the family mix can be disruptive, or at worst, have a damaging effect on your parent brand. In short, more brand ‘Shameless’ than brand ‘Beckham’. So how can you you stop your brand family from going off the rails?

Five tips to keep front of mind when planning your brand hierarchy

1. Look outside of the immediate ‘family’ for guidance

Many brand architectures reflect the internal perspective. This means that they can often be more about defining internal ‘boundaries’ for product management, rather than focusing on what works best to drive revenue and to win market share.

Decisions about what fits where can often become a highly-charged ‘political’ exercise and decisions can get emotional where ‘powerbases’ and sales commission potential are impacted. I’ve sat in many an executive level branding workshop over the years where rational thinking has been cast aside for this very reason. The market or customer perspective is rarely included in this process and it goes without saying that this should be your key driver in creating or consolidating a meaningful brand architecture.

2. Always view your brand family as dynamic and evolving and regularly touch base

No successful brand architecture remains static. As the market around your business changes, your brand(s) will need to adapt to stay relevant. Constant brand performance assessment is critical to know what’s working and what’s not (gap analysis). What’s connecting with your buying public and what’s not (perception). What’s gaining you share of market and what’s not (value proposition).

Launching a new brand can be a costly investment and I’ve seen clients reluctant to make changes to their brand strategy, when it’s obvious that their brand is out of sync with the market. But this is the world we live in – and brands need to constantly evolve to stay relevant in the minds of our consumers. Regular customer perception research programmes can help you to spot the beginnings of a brand disconnect or perception ‘gap’, before it has a much bigger bottom-line impact.

3. Think through family relationships in advance to maintain clarity

Complex brand architectures are less common in the b2b space than in the consumer space. But I’ve seen interactions between different brand managers become power plays when new brand extensions are introduced.

Some sub-brands result from the core brand being extended into new product categories, while others result from the core brand being extended into new customer market segments, so inevitably the lines can get a little blurry from the internal brand management perspective.

It’s critical to get these boundaries and responsibilities agreed from the outset, as if your brand organisation is confusing for your internal teams, this will only be perpetuated in your customer and brand communications. And confusion can quickly impact on sales, if you lose your brand followers during any transitionary period.

4. Don’t be afraid to step outside of the familial zone when it comes to brand visualisation

Often when we create new brand extensions here at Upp b2b, we need to push clients to step outside of the familiar comfort zone of the parent brand. There’s no point creating a sub-brand identity if you’re literally going to take the parent brand and simply swap the colour palette around a bit. From a design perspective, marketing teams need to consider whether a spin-off brand should retain a connection to its parent brand, or if it makes more sense to make a bold move away, creating a distinct, and standalone identity.

New brands have to be built from your customer and market needs upwards taking note of key drivers you identify, which must be reflected in any visualisation. Say you have an established and well regarded parent brand with a solid serif font typeface, and you’re looking to introduce a new sub-brand built on innovation and tech prowess. Be bold and create an identity that reflects this, and don’t dilute your thinking by being too drawn back into the ”safe’ parent brand identity. There are other ways of leveraging the parent brand reputation, when aligning the new sub-brand but it has to be relevant to the new audiences you are looking to attract.

CYBG, which owns Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, opted for a high degree of independence when launching digital banking platform ‘B’ earlier this year, following the company’s initial public offering (IPO) in February.

“The concept behind ‘B ‘was to create a fresh and stylish tech-focused brand that did not look, feel or sound like a bank,” explains CYBG CMO Helen Page. “Aimed at an affluent millennial audience, many of whom are first-time bankers, CYBG wanted the design to be free from any of the negative connotations surrounding the traditional banking sector. “CYBG has an ageing demographic, so with B we wanted to recruit younger customers,” explains Page. “So far, 50% of the people signed up to B are aged 35 or younger. Having said that, twice the number of existing CYBG clients [than we expected] have elected to move accounts to B.”

From the working title ‘Download your Bank’ the name evolved simply to B, chosen to reflect the brand’s slogan, ’Be aspirational, be inspired, be everything you can be’. Aside from the ‘powered by Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank’ tagline on the website, there is no obvious connection between B and its parent company.*

5. Keep an eye on family planning

In short, don’t over-complicate things by introducing endless new brands into your family hierarchy. Work out, do you really need to introduce a sub-brand, or do you perhaps need to shift the messaging and look and feel of an established brand that isn’t resonating as well as it used to with your audience(s)?

As soon as you start feeling the need to leverage your brand to introduce new sub-brands, you could get into a vicious circle of ‘chasing the market’, instead of building your core brand.

Arguably, American Express did this when it introduced its Gold Card. Before segmenting its brand, it was absolutely the premium brand in the credit/charge card market. After that, the premium designation was “Gold” (and later “Platinum”), which any competing brand could also offer with a similar bundle of benefits. That move openly invited American Express’ competitors to enter its premium market.

Only introduce sub-brands if their core essence, values, and service is in line with your brand. Otherwise, call them something different completely, and seriously consider if they are needed at all. No brand strategy is complete without understanding and addressing the relationships of all the brands sitting under your corporate umbrella. Failing to do so may overlook certain emerging opportunities or potential future challenges.

Sub, product and ingredient brands can help your business to thrive by capturing new market segments and introducing your wider ‘brand family’ to a wider audience. Whether it’s a new piece of technology, a quirky niche product, or a recently trademarked new process, creating a sub-brand gives b2b businesses the opportunity to extend their reach into new markets.

Many of our b2b clients are using sub-brands effectively right now, to move into a premium niche or to attract new consumers. And they are choosing on a case-by-case basis whether to leverage their connection to the parent brand, or whether breaking new sub-brand ground may be a better approach to drive sales. For advice or a free chat get in touch.

*Source: Marketing Week, 18 Jul 2016