A few good brands: brand proliferation is bad for business


Focus on the brands that people understand and love. Don’t keep making news ones, writes Fred Burt

What do Coke Life and EE have in common? They’re both brands within a portfolio owned by big growth-driven parent brands. So as you think about growth in your business, it pays to think about your brand portfolio.

But growth can lead to problems. A common malaise is a proliferation of brands, sub-brands, branded lines of business, and other branded entities, many of which dilute business value. And if a business merges with another, the problem multiplies, as portfolios are combined but all-too-often not properly rationalized.

This has always been the case, but in the age of breakneck innovation, customization, and personalization that we work in today, brand proliferation has become an epidemic.

What the businesses that own the world’s most valuable brands – Coke, IBM, Google, McDonald’s, Apple and so forth – have in common is a rigorous focus on a few, well-managed and constantly refreshed brands, with additional branded elements introduced only when absolutely necessary.

I’ve seen a lot of approaches to brand architecture in my years of working with brands, and here are five tips to ensure you go about developing a brand architecture strategy that’s fit for business today.

1. Audience first –  Ask whether the audience really needs the brand in question. Work hard to strip away unnecessary brand building because it will only dilute the effectiveness of the real brands you have. And don’t worry if that means you’re only left with just your company brand, as it hasn’t done PwC or SAP too badly to put the bulk of their focus on their corporate brand.

2. Don’t just tidy up today’s mess – Set a roadmap for future success. Good brand architecture should define the future state for what the organization’s approach to branding should be. This is where I wonder about EE and BT. Surely the opportunity for BT is to combine mobile with TV, internet and fixed line telephony in a way that nobody else (yet) provides. My guess is they’ll migrate EE to BT over time.

3. Execution should follow strategy – Address the strategic or business considerations first, and then turn to executional considerations, such as naming, packaging design, or identity design.

4. Stay fluid – A common mistake I see is that businesses develop a framework that is static, defining a structure that prescribes its approach to branding, and actually prevents it from being responsive to the market context. If the market is disrupted by an innovator, you may need to break your own rules. That’s fine!

5. Be clear on the process – It’s not enough to define an end state without consideration for the actions needed to address the current problems; for the practicalities, costs and risks in taking these actions; or for the tools to manage the situation going forward.

In my experience, the senior marketers who are getting this right spend much less time debating whether or how a product or service should be branded, and much more time with the brands that really drive value.


Fred Burt is founder of Olix Consulting