You may be given the task of making an investment to get your company's brand architecture strategy right. However, brand architecture is a very broad term, and different companies have different needs at different stages of their development.

So, you need to be smart about the brand architecture assignment you scope, the skill sets of the branding firm you pick, and the requirements and expectations of the engagement.

What Is Brand Architecture?

The general definition is that brand architecture is the way in which the lines of business of a company go to market in relation to the parent brand, to one another, and possibly to co-brand partners as well.

The benefit of a brand-architecture strategy is that it clarifies those relationships, making it easier for customers and other stakeholders to easily find and differentiate a company's businesses, products, and services.

In a nutshell, brand architecture is intended to build simpler and more effective brands.

Let's consider various brand architecture scenarios.

Acquisition brand architecture

Brand architecture comes into play when you need to integrate a new business into your company. In these situations, you'll need to resolve some very strategic business issues. Related questions include...

  • Does the acquisition brand fit well with your current brand positioning and capabilities?
  • Will current and prospective customers of the acquired business feel OK about doing business under your brand name?
  • Is your company ready to implement a seamless integration—IT, cultural, marketing, costs, etc.?

Ideally, you can answer yes to these questions, and the acquired brand can smoothly become part of your family.

However, this isn't always the case. For example:

  • It may be desirable for competitive channel or other reasons to keep distance between the acquisition and your company, perhaps with a sub-brand endorsement approach rather than a master-brand approach.
  • Your company may not immediately be seen as a credible parent for what the acquisition represents
  • Internal cultural issues may need to be resolved.
  • It may take some time to migrate.

Acquisition brand architecture requires different skill sets than just creative, including:

  • Strategic business thinking—A solid understanding of your field and the ability to help you think through alternative branding models
  • Research insights—The right quantitative and qualitative tools to gain and validate marketplace points of view
  • Process expertise—The ability to guide the process through the acquisition negotiation phase and throughout implementation and activation

Corporate identity brand architecture

Though it's likely that visual identity will come into play as part of an acquisition, this is often a discrete brand architecture scenario as well. A company may feel that its look is outdated or inconsistent with new strategic direction. These assignments trace their roots back to traditional corporate identity projects, involving creative deliverables, such as logo development, lockups, typography, color selection, and others.

The necessary skill sets involved in these assignments include...

  • The ability to explore, present and demonstrate creative alternatives consistent with positioning objectives
  • Production and execution skills, including timeline management, tactics for activation and implementation across key touchpoints, and internal guidelines
  • The ability to analyze the relationship of graphic identities in their situations
  • Online experience, such as the ability to create websites and other forms of digital media
  • Trademark knowledge to avoid conflicts with existing logos in the market

Nomenclature brand architecture

The third type of brand architecture focuses on the names that your company uses.

Often, a company's brand names proliferate over time, and the need arises to simplify naming practices and processes so customers can easily understand them and so employees know how to name things in the future.

Though new names may be required to accomplish these objectives, more often nomenclature brand architecture involves knowing when and how to eliminate sub-brand names that complicate rather than clarify the portfolio.

The skill sets needed in these situations include...

  • The development of portfolio models that rationalize the need for descriptive vs. proprietary brand names
  • Name development to create meaningful alternatives, including trademark and linguistic analysis as necessary
  • Migration planning and road maps to determine when and how to retire existing sub-brands that have lost their effectiveness
  • Usability research to validate customer understand and acceptance of the new system
  • Decision trees and guidelines to avoid sub-brand name proliferation in the future

* * *

Sometimes, the three scenarios come together in a single assignment. However, this is not always the case. You need to make sure that the RFP is clear as to what is needed, and that the outside resources you use have the necessary skill sets.

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image of Jeff Lapatine

Jeff Lapatine is a strategy director in brand development for Siegel+Gale.

LinkedIn: Jeff Lapatine