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Brand Architecture 101: Tips for a Successful Portfolio

Brand Finance
25 July 2019
  • Can a review of logos and identity alone reveal the business value building opportunities (and value at risk) in an organisation's brand architecture - current or proposed?
  • Can logo and visual identity alignment really deliver business connectivity and value generating experiences for a customer that builds demand, NPS and revenues?
  • Can a tidy up of logos really breakdown internal silos and deliver improved business integration, strategic coherence and competitive advantage?
  • Ultimately, can a review of logos and identity really assess and set a strategic course for building branded business value for an organisation from brand architecture?

When organisations look to review their brand architecture, a common approach is to focus energy and effort on 'tidying up brand and logos' at the earliest opportunity, often beginning with a brand identity audit, finding synergies to see how the brands fit together as a family (or don't), mapping customer journeys and rebadging these journeys under a single logo and identity.

There may be some light strategic analysis to support decision making but the exercise is typically logo and brand identity focused.

So why are logos and brand identity such a common focus when organisations address their brand architecture strategies?

The approach of finding quick logo synergy or fit to visually exemplify the brand relationships across a group is common - even though we know brands (and how they deliver value to an organisation) are so much more than 'just a logo'.

Yet, when many businesses consider brand architecture, logos seem to become a proxy for delivering desired organisational synergy and the main route for perceived value generation (regardless of the realities).

The exercises of logo and brand identity review has its place as a strategic focus but it can blur the true value of a complete brand architecture strategy. Sure, logos and identity are part of a brand’s toolkit, but really they are just one of a number of strategy activators.

As symbols, they may convey a sense of ownership or belonging, but in the same way that merchandise can indicate fandom, this sense can be active or passive. Logo and visual connectivity are important to brands, but of course they’re not the totality of the brand or the sole source of value.

When presented with the logo and identity review, plus a change out approach, marketing and business leaders would be well advised to pressure test with a wider brand and business value led discussion:

  • Can logo and visual identity alignment really deliver business connectivity and value generating experiences for customers? Are these experiences that build demand, NPS, and revenues?
  • Can a tidy up of logos really breakdown internal silos (that are often inherited through mergers and aquisitions)? Does cleaning house deliver improved business integration and strategic coherence, and add a competitive advantage through seamless customer experience?
  • Can a review of logos and identity alone reveal the business value opportunities (and value at risk) in an organisation’s brand architecture – current or proposed?
  • Most importantly, can a review of logos and brand identity really asses and set a strategic course for building branded business value for an organisation?

A common scenario for businesses is that this level of discussion is often sidetracked by politics, ingrained brand loyalty, or even just gut feeling alone. It's easy to be biased towards a brand that you have been building for years, especially if it's on the chopping block.

Our suggestion is to park logos and identity and to clearly position this train of thought as an enabler of strategy which follow a more comprehensive strategic assessment. To help achieve this, businesses should first consider a more complete definition for brand architecture strategy and to establish their ambition and approach accordingly:

Brand Architecture: ‘The organisation and structure of a company’s brand relationships that define and order the roles and relationships that connect them to both organisational values, business strategy and the generation of brand and business value.’

With this definition in mind, the focus becomes less about tidying up, integrating logos, and identity, and more about looking at the strengths, weaknesses, and value of the brand relationships within a portfolio.

It will be then much easier to understand the flow of equity and value between the assets in your portfolio and how they deliver (or not) to the overall business strategy.

A review of logos, visual identity, and customer journey change out may come but it’s certainly not the starting point.

We call this a 'Branded Business Value' approach to Brand Architecture strategy. The approach offers a comprehensive range of qualitative and quantitative analysis to inform strategy and decision making (not limited to the exercise of Brand Valuation alone).

We underpin the process with ‘Brand Research + Brand Valuation + Brand Strategy’ capability, the components of which can be individually applied or integrated to meet the needs of a business across a range of brand architecture scenarios. Brand Valuation, and Contribution, to Business; Brand Stretch testing; Migration Planning and Optimization; Brand Proposition Testing; Maximising the value of Trademarks and Licensing; Quantitative strategic planning are some examples.

In our experience there are some stand out stages and conditions in an organisation's lifecycle, or during design and delivery of strategy, where a Branded Business Value approach should be considered for maximum impact (and where logo and identity synergy alone will likely fall short).

The following are a few examples:

Evolution of Corporate Strategy and Vision - The Expectation for Brand Architecture

The evolution of Corporate Strategy and Vision generally activates significant review and change across a business. The review of an organisation’s brand architecture strategy and how it is managed and performs will be no exception.

Under these conditions, inorganic investments and new brand partnerships will often occur and will require a strategy for integration into the business. Current (organic) brands and brand relationships will also have a spot light turned on them and their ability to deliver to the evolving business strategy will be tested.

This environment presents opportunity for (potentially significant) brand architecture review and optimisation, and will require a strategy that extends beyond logo and visual identity review if the approach is to be respected (and not unravelled) by the C suite.

If an M&A strategy is adopted by the business to deliver its revised strategy and vision, strategic management of this pipeline within a coherent brand architecture strategy is critical if value dilution is to be avoided through the common ‘logo and identity change out’ approach. Pressure to deliver quick logo and identity synergies is often further exaggerated as M&A deal teams look for operational efficiencies post acquisitions. Immediate rebadging without consideration for strategic migrations or status quo placement of brands can present customer, brand and business performance risk which will be counter to the business strategy and value generating objectives.

The Banking and Telco sectors are rich with such examples as global and regional businesses transition their traditional strategies towards Tech, ICT and Digital. Inevitably this means the evolution of business models and the propositions offered to customers. Such a business transition can be achieved organically or inorganically under one or more brands – Either way the environment generally calls for a brand architecture strategy and program to optimise delivery against the business vision.

The role of Brand Architecture in delivering to Business Unit Strategy

In best practice organisations, the need for brand strategy (including brand architecture) to mirror and enable business unit strategy will be understood and expectations for it to do just that will be high. How the business proposes to optimally manage and extract value from its portfolio of brand relationships that arise following delivery of business strategy will need to be defined and consistently executed well beyond finding logo and visual ID synergies.

The task can become even more challenging if the business unit(s) operate across different imperatives such as ‘Core Vs. Growth’, ‘Domestic Vs. International’ and ‘Traditional Vs. Adjacent’ categories.

There may also be a requirement to connect brand architecture strategy with wider imperatives in the business strategy such as driving ‘Organisational simplification’, ‘Improving customer centricity’ and ‘Delivering cost savings’.

In such complex strategic environments, significant qualitative and quantitative assessment of brand relationships, followed by careful strategic judgement around their retention, placement or retirement, will be necessary to ensure brand architecture value is optimized (and respected by the Business Units).

A well known global telco is one example where Brand Finance was commissioned to deliver brand valuation and contribution analysis to assess the risks and opportunities of allowing a freestanding brand to enter a Masterbrand dominant brand portfolio.

In this example, the freestanding brand strategy was proposed by Business Unit executives who were leading an important growth program within the wider business strategy. Questions were raised by the Executives around the Masterbrand’s capability to stretch into their growth market and the related pros and cons of running a Multibrand vs. Masterbrand strategy as the business extended from its core.

Three main questions needed to be answered 1) Would the organization be making the right decision if it rebranded a large freestanding legacy brand held in the growth business unit to the Masterbrand? 2) As an alternative, should the business refresh and relaunch the same legacy brand to fulfil the needs of the growth business unit i.e. not use the Masterbrand? 3) And finally should a completely new brand be developed as an alternative to option 1 and 2?

The Brand Finance analysis included Brand Valuation and Business Valuation methodologies including discount cash flow modelling and performance by segment; Media spend and business uplift calculations; Wider business halo uplift calculations and synergies. The recommendation concluded there was greatest business value to be generated from use of the Masterbrand as the brand that would lead the growth business unit. The recommendation was taken into the business, debated and ultimately activated.

The use of brand licensing can also be a compelling proposition for  brand architecture strategy if a whole of a business or select business unit strategy is pursuing growth (e.g. into new geography, adjacent and non adjacent categories) but where the business can’t, or chooses not to do so under one of its own brands or under M&A terms. Virgin and its relationship with licensing partners are an example. The Virgin Group business has no or limited ownership of the underlying companies it partners with but offers the value and benefits of its brand to partner businesses for a licensing fee. Such an agreement offers branded business value growth opportunity to both organisations. Maximising the returns you can make while maintaining brand strength in your core segments requires a Branded Business Value approach to Brand Licensing.

Similarly, Brand Finance has worked with Vodafone on over 20 strategic projects - including brand licensing - and have helped the brand move from outside of the Global 500 to becoming one of the most valuable global brands.  In the licensing space, in 2007/8 the Vodafone business set an ambition to expand its global footprint while still maximising returns which included the extensive use of licensing. Brand Finance were commissioned to examine Vodafone’s franchising and licensing strategies as well as their brand architecture. Brand Finance appraised Vodafone’s licensing strategy (current + prospective), reviewed their trademark licensing and brand management, and formulated royalty rate mechanics for different brand architecture approaches.

Multi geography business strategy - One speed brand architecture strategy doesn't always fit all

When a business operates across multiple markets (often following a M&A programs to gain footprint in growth markets) a one size fits all approach to strategy may be a recipe for value and competitive dilution and is a recommended watch out for business leaders.

This is particularly relevant if a Masterbrand strategy is the strategic stance of a business but where that strategy needs to be executed across home (typically established or incumbent Masterbrand) AND growth markets (typically challenger Masterbrand activated through M&A programs).

In this instance, flexibility in the delivery of the strategy may need to be considered to recognise equity and value held by acquired or partner brands, the potential risk of untimely retirements and ultimately risk to business brought on by under performing brands which is counter to the business’ ambition to grow.

In this case a best practice Branded Business Value approach to architecture management will often need to consider a ‘2 speed activation’ plan:

  1. Fast: In home markets a more aggressive approach to Masterbrand adoption and dominance can often be applied assuming the parent brand holds dominant strength in organic and inorganic brand relationships. This can quickly deliver to the target monolithic strategy and begin to build consolidated brand value.
  2. Gradual: In growth markets where the Masterbrand is likely to be less mature, careful assessment of local brand relationships and the role played by the Masterbrand in these relationships is recommended

if the strategy (and its support of the growth business strategy) is to be optimised. This approach still delivers to the target monolithic strategy but at a measured pace with customer and business risk mitigation in place.

Of course in some instances, a strong brand (in penetrated markets to date) won’t require a slow placed transition as it moves into growth geographies through M&A activity. For example Vodafone as it embarked on its global expansion strategy, realised that in many markets the Masterbrand was considered superior to the local acquired brands – on network coverage, reliability and other choice drivers – despite not yet being present in the market. In these markets there was a swift opportunity for Masterbrand value uplift made possible through immediate brand retirement of acquired brands.

Brand Finance work with a number of business (ranging Global Insurers, Regional and Global Banks, Global Telcos  and Tech  companies) who  have, or are in the process of executing aggressive M&A growth programs or market defensive strategies and see a need to review and optimize their brand architectures and business ROI.

Many operate (or wish to operate) a Masterbrand strategy yet influential groups within the businesses maintain a less focused suite of brand relationships with limited strategic rationale to support retention and investment.

Brand Finance work closely with these organisations to help define the risk/reward to business value across a range of portfolio adjustment scenarios. In a number of cases this analysis (incorporating positive brand cost benefit and customer demand analysis) has recommended immediate and significant consolidation of architecture. While in some cases churn, reputation and revenue risks have been identified under such a wholesale approach, resulting in the recommendation for more gradual migrations and/or retention of other brands within a hybrid portfolio.

Seven steps to a typical brand architecture program

When considering the previously discussed business and market conditions which might prompt a review or development of a brand architecture strategy, there are typically 7 high level steps to consider when designing your program. Stages can be delivered in full or tailored to meet the individual needs of an organization.

At Brand Finance we approach each stage with a qualitative and quantitative lens and a focus on creating Branded Business Value through ‘Valuation + Evaluation + Strategy’ disciplines:

  1. Situation Analysis, Problem Definition and Scope
  2. Steering Group and Business Engagement
  3. Portfolio Analysis, Strategic Frameworks and Assessment
  4. Test and Transition Planning
  5. Foundations Design and Pilot
  6. Full Program Roll Out
  7. Performance and Maintenance Ongoing

From these seven steps, Step 1, 3 and 4 discussed below are important areas where Branded Business Value analysis and focus should be considered.

Step 1 - Situation Analysis, Problem Definition and Scope

An organisations appetite and acceptance for brand architecture review and restructure will need to be carefully managed if support and co- operation is to be given from across the business - Executive mandate can force co operation but ultimately cross business support will be required if effective execution is to be achieved ongoing.

Highlighting the strategic opportunities of brand architecture strategy and alignment to a changing business strategy, evolving business lifecycles and optimisation of business and brand execution in general can all assist with building support but there is still a job to be done to ensure the full program opportunity is clearly defined and embraced. The design and delivery of your Step 1 is an important consideration in this process to ensure an effective mandate is established, understood and sets the program up for success.

It’s here where the problem to solve and program scope are defined and the business value generating opportunity of brand architecture strategy can be maximised (or diluted). Underscoping the complete opportunity is also an important watch out that may leave value dilutive gaps in the future and cause business confusion leading to further value dilution of the strategy over time. It’s important to look at the full length and breadth of your brand portfolio and cross business relationships and to embrace the complete opportunity vs. a piece meal approach over time.

Typically, this step includes reviewing the current portfolio against a strategic working hypothesis and finding areas of weakness, business strategy misalignment and opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of current brand architecture in general. Limiting this analysis to logo and brand identity optomisation alone won’t reveal the full value generating opportunity or value at risk of current architecture.

Analysis and foundations needs to be more comprehensive and should consider:

  • Is there a brand portfolio strategy established within the business?
  • What is it, is it current and meeting the needs of the business?
  • Is branded business value a key objective of the strategy?
  • What needs to happen to create a burning platform for change
    • What is the strategic working hypothesis?
  • Does the current portfolio align to business or corporate strategy?
  • How will program success be measured?

Employing Brand Strength Index, Brand Value and Business Contribution analysis during this process is especially useful. Such analysis provides comparative value-based scenarios that invite comparison and value maximisation debate and quickly shift focus away from a logo and identity discussion. Elevating the debate to a question of impact on shareholder value will set you up for success as you build executive support and sponsorship with the C Suite and across the business generally. This business case is vital for the successful adoption of something which otherwise would risk being platitudinal.

Brand Finance recently partnered a global insurance business to design and support C Suite decision making at its Situation Analysis, Problem Definition and Scope phase as it reviewed its brand architecture strategy. The business proposed a shift from a multibrand strategy towards a more dominant, value generating Masterbrand. The program of work  was conducted across multiple geographies and was underpinned by ‘Valuation + Strategy’ analysis and recommendation. The program analysed a range of risk and reward scenarios regarding the future treatment of the businesses brand relationships and the potential brand value uplift of adopting a more dominant Masterbrand. Further, what strategic brand management programs should be considered to grow brand value year on year including activation and ongoing management of brand architecture strategy; Research and insights programs required under a global Masterbrand; Strategies for managing a Masterbrand across international geographies where the brand would encounter different challenges depending on its in market lifestage.

Step 3 - Audit Framework Design & Current Portfolio Analysis

This is the opportunity to design your diagnostic approach with which to audit your current portfolio, to pressure test your working hypothesis established at Step 1, and to propose brand and business value based change.

Underpinning this stage with thinking and methodologies that support the generation of Branded Business Value is important if a shift from logo and identity auditing and change out alone is to gain traction. Actions around logos and visual identity will inevitably be proposed but only following value based assessment of the portfolio.

Using a structured and consistent evaluation scorecard supported by qualitative and quantitative analysis and decision trees are important to avoid subjective and potentially value dilutive decision making.

At a high level, evaluation of the following should be conducted for all brand relationship in scope:

  • Ownership and Control levels
  • Legislative issues which may inhibit the opportunity for change
  • Level of alignment to core business strategy
  • Strategic alignment with larger/more valuable brands in the portfolio
  • Strength including positioning and effectiveness
  • Health including Purchase funnel, attribute performance and Brand Strength Index analysis
  • Financial performance and the brand’s value and contribution to business
  • Wider considerations including forecasted M&A activity

A diagnostic of individual brand relationships, their relative strengths, weaknesses and contribution to business are target outcomes which can be sense checked against your working hypothesis and taken into Test and Transition Planning at the following Step 4.

Primary and secondary research should be considered to strengthen the diagnostic assessment. Customer choice and market driver modelling; Brand positioning and proposition effectiveness; Brand equity analysis and Brand Value and Contribution to business analysis should be regarded as priority inputs.

Brand Finance have partnered a large Middle Eastern bank over a   number of years to help grow its branded business value and to support best practice execution of a Masterbrand strategy across home and international growth markets. The Bank has invested in a significant, multi geography M&A growth program with future ambitions to further grow into Africa and SEA. Most recently Brand Finance have been asked to design Masterbrand value risk/reward assessment frameworks and to audit the Bank’s non Masterbrand relationships across performance, risk and value metrics and to recommend brand migrations and retentions accordingly.

The program recommended the transition and retirement of a suite of brand relationships currently not held under the Masterbrand. Analysis recommended current brand placements (endorsed and freestanding) had limited strategic rationale for retention, held Masterbrand equity potential if transitioned and offered brand value uplift opportunity if transitioned to the Masterbrand.

Step 4 - Test and Transition Planning

The test and transition planning phase is a critical stage to help validate your diagnostic at previously discussed Step 3 and to help manage and mitigate risk around proposed changes - It is also a critical step to strengthen your position and support with the C Suite. The testing phase can also help to remove emotional and subjective push back (and potential project slow down or diversion) from stakeholders who may see negative impact (often personal) from the changes being proposed.

Customer testing (negative perceptions, churn and value at risk) around the proposed changes; Risk/Reward assessment; Value creation and Value at risk; Brand Stretch capability can all be considered at this stage.

A global tech challenger business recently undertook a significant review of its mutibrand portfolio in response to its evolving business strategy and drive for One Team business efficiency and simplification. A number of co and endorsed brands had been organically developed over time  and we’re subjectively favoured by a number of influential groups within the business. A working hypothesis was developing around the business that a number of these brands lacked unique customer and quantifiable business value in their current state and adopting a Masterbrand strategy would be more beneficial to the business. A case needed to be built to persuade the C Suite to act.

On the reverse, Brand Finance partnered with a food delivery business in the US who was considering how to re orientate the company to fight off a recent entrant that was well financed and growing. The business had acquired a competitor to eliminate this competitor from the market, acquire customers and combine product development and investment budgets around one, single brand. Brand Finance’s analysis considered
the impact of marketing spend on awareness for the parent and acquired brand. It became clear the parent brand’s marketing spend was far more effective at driving lower level purchase funnel health. Based on this analysis the consolidation of the acquired brand was supported.

However, Brand Finance also analysed the impact of the acquired brand and its products on parent brand customers. Analysis revealed a material % of current customers (including regular/high value customers) wouldn’t use or probably wouldn’t use the acquired brand and therefore represented a parent brand customer churn risk if a Masterbrand strategy was immediately adopted. Analysis also showed the acquired brand had a stable of customers who were not aware of the parent brand - Retiring the acquired brand would therefore risk customer loss for the Group.

The risk/reward assessment countered the initial hypothesis that the parent brand held greater equity and strength in market and that greater business value would be achieved through immediate retirement of the acquired brand under a Masterbrand strategy. The recommendation concluded a more calculated and slow migration strategy including parent brand endorsement was recommended to allow for equity transfer, risk dilution and ultimately business efficiency over time.

Brand Architecture Strategy - Quick Tips to set your program up for success

1. Growth of Branded Business Value

The end goal of all Brand Architecture programs:

  • Logos and identity synergies are an enabler and not THE strategy.
  • Ensure strategic narrative ties success to Branded Business Value.
2. Full and ongoing execution of strategy is often dependant on support and sponsorship of your Steering Committee:
  • Strategy delivery will likely be limited if marketing is the only voice that is heard.
  • Ensure your steering committee represent the strategically important areas of the business, are influential within the C Suite and experienced in delivering or sponsoring change in the business.
3. Consult and socialise heavily during strategy development

Then remove democracy at execution phase:

  • Brand architecture programs can be political and sensitive
    • To avoid execution blocks ensure chain of command is clear and mandated execution is non negotiable.
  • Secure early top down endorsement and sponsorship for your strategy - Start with the CEO or Head of Corporate Strategy if you can.
4. Remove subjectivity and emotion at every stage:
  • Underpin your process and decision making with business strategy alignment rationale, customer testing and brand and business value generation financials.
5. If pursuing a Masterbrand strategy across home and growth geographies – Be patient:
  • When operating across multiple geographies consider the relative life stage of your Masterbrand in growth/challenger vs. home/dominant markets.
  • Varying migration speeds may be required when plotting a value generating path over the short, medium and long term.
6. Strategy is activation:
  • Don’t stop at strategic recommendations – Ensure complete activation guidelines are developed, mandated, embedded and governed.
  • Underpin your activation guidelines with a Branded Business Value narrative.
7. Keep the business updated on activation and management progress:
  • Build ongoing senior leadership performance tracking and reporting into your plan.
  • Include Business and Brand Value metrics in your scorecard.
8. Reduce the risk of a strategy unravelling:
  • Unless the strategy is effectively embedded and governed on an ongoing basis there is a risk the activation of the strategy may unravel over time.
  • Be ready to call on your Steering Group if required.
9. Effective Execution of Strategy – Process and system is important:
  • Ensure your strategy, activation and governance guidelines are embedded across the business at key decision points where brand architecture is up for debate.
  • Ensure you have a voice at key cross business meeting points across organic and inorganic growth pipelines. M&A deal teams are important partners.
10. At all stages remember Tip 1!
  • The greatest cross business support and executive sponsorship will be achieved if your strategy and management is underpinned by growth of Branded Business Value.
  • Stakeholders will find it difficult to argue with a what’s right for business rationale.

About the Author

Brand Finance is the world’s leading independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy. Headquartered in the City of London, we are present in over 20 countries.

For more than 20 years we have helped companies and organisations of all types to connect their brands to the bottom line.

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