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Is now the time for masterbranding?

News, 19 December 2016

LONDON: A masterbranding strategy may be seen as especially appropriate in the current economic and media environment, but an industry figure advises caution and suggests marketers consider the three As of ambition, audience and adaptability.

Writing exclusively for Warc, Nick Liddell, Director of Consulting at The Clearing, observes that "focusing investment on building a single, strong masterbrand at the expense of segmented sub-brands looks like a very efficient way to get more bang per marketing buck – particularly in an extremely fragmented media environment where budgets are under pressure".

A masterbrand also makes it easier for a brand to build "distinctive memory structures" and to appeal to multiple audiences; "building equity for one sub-brand won't necessarily create a halo for any other sub-brand", he notes.

The theory of brand architecture tends not to be particularly helpful when it comes to making practical decisions, however, and this is where Liddell advocates his three As approach.

"Really good brand architecture reflects the ambition expressed in an organisation's vision, purpose or promise," he says.

Coca-Cola has moved to a more centralised brand architecture but Liddell thinks this is a "fudge", given the company's stated ambition is to increase the proportion of revenue derived from no- or low-sugar products.

"If Coca-Cola is serious about tackling the sugar issue, then it would make more sense to present Diet Coke or Zero Sugar Coke as the flagship product under the Coca-Cola masterbrand, rather than the Classic Coke product," he argues.

"The point of brand architecture," he continues, "is to stretch a brand beyond a single offer with a defined set of benefits for a single audience motivated by a common goal".

But as audiences become more diverse, that may not always be possible and brands may have to develop sub-brands that appeal to each group's unique motivations; sub-brands can also enable experimentation in related or adjacent areas.

That also points to the need to be adaptable. "The ideal brand architecture balances flexibility with simplicity by employing the minimum amount of complexity necessary to accommodate your growth strategy," says Liddell.

But "there is no single 'best' approach," he added. "For every Coca-Cola there is an Alphabet" – the holding company that embraces Google and a collection of other businesses each run by its own leadership team.

Data sourced from Warc