And, can it guide consumers, whether they buy online or offline?
While trying to purchase a new mobile phone online, my dad called me up for help. He had shortlisted a mobile phone brand offering several models in his budget. But he wanted to buy the ‘latest one’ and alphanumeric variant names like ‘S15’ and ‘M20’, and ‘Pro’ were not giving him the answer.
No friendly salesperson was available as a shortcut. Instead, I had to spend a chunk of my time Googling and reading reviews, to answer what should be a simple question.
How easy Apple makes it for the consumer! I am very clear that the iPhone 11 is a later and greater model than the iPhone 10.
I am a regular consumer of protein bars, and a recent convert to a new brand. In the middle of a busy work day, I quickly ordered a fresh supply online. As always, I chose the option on Amazon that offered a price discount. Only to discover, much later, that I had accidentally ordered the lower end ‘energy bar’ offered by the brand, instead of the more premium protein bar. Energy bars typically have a higher carbohydrate content, and maybe less suitable for weight watchers or people particular about intake of ‘macros’ in their diet.
Nothing in packaging, colors or brand name, indicated to me that the brand had a range including both energy bars and protein bars. When I buy the same product in retail, competition protein bars are stacked together at the checkout counter, guiding my choice.
Have you ever encountered challenges like this when buying online? If yes, then it’s a red flag to the marketer, to re-evaluate the brand architecture. This need is imperative, in the e-commerce era, where our purchasing behaviour has changed drastically. Where brand discovery is through search, and purchase happens on a small screen, through a couple of quick clicks. In this era, brand architecture, and its manifestation as brand identity and packaging, aids online discovery and purchase. It equally has the potential to mislead or confuse customers into buying a wrong product.
Brand Architecture is one of the most critical strategic decisions for a business, and it has a bearing on the route that the brand chooses to grow equity, as well as the investments it will make.
But for the marketer, brand architecture is also a consumer-facing ecosystem that helps the consumer navigate the world of the brand offerings and guides them to discover and make the right purchases. What each marketer needs to ask is – is my brand architecture optimised for the omni channel era? Will it guide consumers, whether they buy online, or offline?
There are typically four brand architecture options - The classic Umbrella Brand/branded house (Eg. Himalaya) , The House of Brands (Eg. HUL), Sub branding (Eg. Dabur) or a hybrid approach combining any of these.
Conventionally, large FMCG Marketers opted for clearly differentiated sub brands, or a house of standalone brands. For example, the vast Colgate portfolio includes sub brands like Max Fresh, Colgate Total etc. Each of them has a sharp target audience definition, brand positioning and endorser, to build the appropriate brand image and messaging for that audience segment.
But in the digital first era, many companies, especially startups, favour an umbrella brand architecture. The advantages are obvious – this approach creates a synergistic portfolio, where each new launch builds back to the equity of the mother brand. Mostly, the brands want to drive traffic to their own website, hence they seek to build awareness of the URL.
And from a business perspective, ad spends are optimally utilised to create awareness of a single brand, rather than investing in multiple brands.
We can cite many success stories of this strategy – from legacy brands like Himalaya, to recent entrants like Forest Essentials and Mamaearth.
But as you can see from the two anecdotes I shared, a simple solution for the marketer, may not always make life simpler for the consumer.
I believe that a flexible, open approach to brand architecture, can be of huge benefit to brands in these changing times. Do not ever consider that it’s done and dusted. Keep tracking consumer behaviour, learn from consumer challenges and moments of truth, and be prepared to re-calibrate if required.
There is no single ‘right’ solution. In practice, you will see that brands evolve a complex, even messy architecture, with a mix of standalone brands, sub-brands and master brand as driver/endorser. The right answer, is what works for your brand, category and your consumer demographic, at this point in time – not what worked for someone else.
Consumer insight, design thinking and technology will all play crucial roles in building modern day brand architecture. Technology presents the exciting opportunity to create a dynamic, personalised brand architecture through the user interface. International skin care brand Minimalist lets consumers choose products by skin concern or by active ingredient (for the more evolved consumer). Eventually, such brands can start offering totally personalised solutions to each consumer, at scale. This is an entirely new way to imagine brand architecture in the digital age.
The omni-channel era brings its own challenges, but also presents unique opportunities to build strong, creative brand architecture solutions based on understanding the consumer behaviour and buyer journey.
The author is a brand marketing consultant with 20-plus years of experience She is also a managing partner at Bright Angles Consulting – a consumer insight led consultancy.