Principled brand decisions

19 Feb 2019 by Steven Giannoulis

Decision tree v3

Developing a brand strategy means making a number of significant decisions that drive multiple aspects of an organisation. Working with clients, my aim is to agree brand principles upfront that help leadership teams and boards make sound, and consistent, business decisions.

Developing a brand strategy is often seen as developing the brand model – sometimes called the brand pyramid or brand onion. The model defines what you want to stand for and it includes things like brand essence, proposition, personality and the customer value proposition. Being clear on what you stand for informs your visual identity, marketing and communication strategies, product and service, culture programme and customer experience design.

But the brand model isn’t all of brand strategy. It’s just one of a number of significant decisions that will define the success of your branding programme. And that’s a good starting point for decision making. What will brand success look like and how will it be measured? Being clear on this will inform many of your later decisions.  

A key starting decision is whether to take a single brand or multiple brand approach. Both have pros and cons and work better in different markets and circumstances. Because an approach can’t be perfect for all situations, many companies start with one approach and then adapt it over time, sometimes resulting in a confused hybrid. 

And of course, if you make the decision to go single brand – which brand will it be? Which of the current ones or something new? If you are going multi-brand, what are the brand lines?

And then there’s brand architecture. These are decisions about how your brands are organised under an overarching approach. Getting this right impacts brand equity, brand confusion and the cost effectiveness of your marketing activities. There are a number of organising approaches to consider from pure single masterbrand, to brand extensions, sub-branding, co-branding and brand endorser requirements. At this level we are also making decisions about language and naming conventions.

As one decision often informs the next, where possible I look to develop a decision tree to help drive the process. Brand decisions often involve many decision-makers with their own business needs to fulfil. To help make consistent decisions, I always look to establish and agree a series of principles that can become the foundations for decision-making. These principles say something like “Our brand must…” and generally come about by examining six key areas:

  • Business strategy– where will future growth come from? What’s the strategy for realising  growth? The vision and purpose of the organisation and market forces.
  • Audiences– who are the audiences and what are their physical and emotional needs the brand must appeal to?
  • Competitive differentiation– how differentiated is the market and what are the opportunities to create a unique proposition?
  • Strategic strengths– what competitive advantage does the organisation have that can be leveraged?
  • Customer experience– what’s the experience customers expect and you want to create for them?
  • Culture– what does the organisation value and what behaviours does it encourage?

Often we end up with 10 – 12 principles. The trick is getting decision-makers to buy into these, and then stick to them. When we achieve this, everyone is aligned in their thinking and complex brand decisions can become pretty straight forward.