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Brand Architecture

Bob Brock

We were in western Pennsylvania last week facilitating the creation of a university sub-brand. The institution’s core brand was launched in late 2007; now the president and senior leadership reconvened to develop a sub-brand platform for the university’s satellite campus.

The day was a great success that accomplished two things: it reinvigorated leaders’ commitment to the core brand platform and it brought the satellite campus administration on board with the overall brand strategy.

It reminded me of how crucial a clear brand architecture is to building brand equity and sustainability. Brand architecture solves two big challenges:

  1. Brand Free-for-All: In this scenario, every unit director lobbies for their own unit identity – the result is a weak core brand that is lost in a cacophony of confusing and fragmented unit identities;
  2. MegaBrand Complex: Alternately, by trying to have one single identity encompass everything you do – multiple campuses, distance ed, research centers, incubators, etc. – the brand loses meaning and focus, and ends up standing for nothing,

Brand architecture allows you to strategically manage how your organization and its various campuses, centers, schools, colleges, departments, and divisions relate to one another and represent themselves in the marketplace. It’s used to position major product/service categories with their appropriately targeted audience segments. It allows you to protect the integrity of your core brand while you maximize each unit’s effectiveness.

The result is a harmonious family of brands in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Ask yourself: Which of your units/campuses/schools should be positioned as integral components of the core brand (brand extensions)? Which should be positioned as high-profile sub-brands with their own related-yet-different messaging/personality? Which need to be positioned as independent brands so that they can stand on their own?

When you don’t have a strong brand architecture in place, we’ve seen such decisions being made – by default – by the communications manager or publications director or even a designer! Little wonder these brands fall apart at the seams. Such critical strategy questions need to be the responsibility of the senior leaders, and should be founded on solid marketplace data and analysis.

Sub-brands, for example, should meet three criteria:

  1. They should be high-profile and robust enough to create, maintain, and support a branding program of their own;
  2. The products/services they provide should be substantially different from those provided by the core brand;
  3. The primary target audiences should be different than, or a targetable subset of, those served by the core brand.

If you’re struggling with these or similar brand architecture issues, consider signing up for the July 16 online workshop: Integrating the Impossible – Managing Multiple Brands on Campus.

During the 90-minute workshop, we’ll lay out the basics of brand architecture, then walk through the specific issues facing each one of the attendees. Don’t miss it!

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