Mastering brand architecture in a hyper-competitive digital era

Virgin hot air balloon

Vivaldi advisory board member Kevin Lane Keller contributed to this month’s WARC Admap report series focusing on brand architecture in today’s marketing environment. Below find an abstract of the piece:

The digital revolution and the proliferation of information, access, and feedback are forcing firms to reconsider many of their marketing practices. As Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business Professor Kevin Lane Keller writes, marketers are adopting new processes, abandoning old ones and updating others to improve their odds with consumers.

The concept of brand architecture, Keller believes, has seen several significant changes in the digital era. As it always has though, architecture must be rooted in a realistic strategy to determine the brand’s potential, its elements, and its positioning to consumers.

Even in the digital era, companies have continued to support fewer, stronger “umbrella brands,” so long as the firm can truly deliver on the brand promise in each and every category under the umbrella. Virgin, for example, has adopted a brand promise of “satisfying unmet customers’ needs,” which could be applied to virtually any category. Though strong umbrella brands are highly desirable, firms must carefully consider their brand boundaries to maintain perceived credibility and to keep from spreading brands too thin.

Brand extensions will still be attractive in the digital era but are also not without limits. Once boundaries are established, firms can plan how to best expand equity into new products and categories. Keller believes marketers must exercise caution, though, as online product feedback will kill undifferentiated brand extensions.

A glut of real-time consumer feedback also demands that brand architecture and hierarchies be as simple as possible. Product comparisons proliferate online, and consumers will benefit from an ease of understanding, both within a brand family, and among other brands.

Many of the principles of brand architecture, Keller believes, continue to apply. But a competitive digital environment is here to stay and marketers must be acutely aware of the ways in which some the rules have changed.

The full article is available on WARC here.