Brand the Business or Brand Its Offerings?

Your brand platform and your branding strategy should dictate which.

We all know Proctor and Gamble emphasizes product brands. Tide and Crest and Pringles stand on their own. As they say in hi-tech, the company is “transparent” to the consumer.

During my time at IBM, we didn’t brand the products as such, we just named them to differentiate one from another. The brand was, and still is those three initials and all they stand for: IBM.

So which is best? The answer of course is: it depends.

I just advised the CEO of a startup software company to brand the company and make the product offerings subordinate. Why? In this case, all the offerings were directed at a specific target market. The CEO assured me that would be the constant in his strategy: to be a single-market server.

In addition, the software applications would not only be compatible, but in all likelihood would be sold as a suite or as add-ons to first-product purchases. The names of the unique offerings should, I suggested, have the same structure, and the logos and graphics should have a similar look to help with the idea of integration and compatibility. But the dominant name should be the corporate name.

On another occasion, my client was known only as a supplier of commodity-like agricultural chemicals, all sold under the corporate name. The products carried the corporate name plus a designation to identify them.

So when he desired to enter a non-agricultural market with a garden spray, I advised him to brand it on its own. Because he had no history with the garden market, either at the consumer or outlet level, the corporate name had no equity or credibility. By focusing on the product brand, he could establish product awareness without inserting another name (for instance, GetOut by ABC, Inc.) that might cause confusion or mental fatigue. In addition, by adopting or creating a product name specific to the application, it would be more likely to be relevant to customers scanning a store shelf.

The decision to emphasize one or the other is strategic in nature. It, along with many other decisions concerning branding, should be addressed soon after a brand platform has been created.

One of the functions of the brand platform is to define the basis for establishing the brand structure for a company. The brand platform should be an integral part of the business strategic planning process. I’ll discuss the components of a brand platform in future blogs.

Martin Jelsema

2 thoughts on “Brand the Business or Brand Its Offerings?

  1. How do you decide when to name a product or service and when to just use a generic descriptor after the company brand name? We just renamed our company last year and want to build recognition and awareness for that name. At the same time, every product manager wants a unique name for their product or service. Not everything gets its own name, but what criteria can we use to determine if it should have its own name or just be under the corporate umbrella as a generic descriptor (the Company service A)?

  2. Mark, your question deserves at least a chapter or two in an authoritative text book on brand management and strategy. And, yes there is such an animal: Kevin Lane Keller’s Strategic Brand Management has the best overview and methodology addressing the product/company name priority question. I suggest getting that book used from Amazon.

    But in a nutshell, Keller looks at brand hierarchy from the perspective of brand equity. Where do you want that equity to reside over time? Are things like company reputation more important because of service and support considerations? Does each product serve a separate market or market segment? Is there a “systems” approach where your sales people sell all products or are there separate sales activities? Is yours a business where price points, features, grades, etc. are important differentiators? If you have separate brands, will they be promoted as a family or will each stand on its own with its own promotional strategy and budget?

    In making these decisions, I’d first determine whether the product managers are desiring to build empires or if there are legitimate reasons for having separate brands.

    In looking at your web site, I can see that you serve four different markets but you’re promoting them equally. In this case, one very viable strategy would be to use the corporate name as THE brand name, and subbrand each product grou with descriptors relating to market segments.
    That’s my opinion, anyone else like to chime in?
    Martin Jelsema

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