Building an intuitive brand architecture in Tech
The Technology industry has been expanding rapidly over the past decade. It has innovated to create entirely new verticals, and has also grown horizontally to encompass an unprecedented breadth of products and services.
However, one thing remains consistent across nearly all aspects of technology: it exists to make our lives easier. As such, you’d expect the brand architecture to follow suit by being easy to understand, intuitive, and connected. Yet this is often not the case.
As Tech companies grow either through a merger or acquisition, a rebrand, or the expansion or addition of products and services, they often sacrifice a logical brand architecture in exchange for a speedy go-to-market, believing they’re saving time and money. But in fact, the sacrifice ends up costing more of both down the line.
When companies offer a plethora of different technologies and softwares it creates a complex ecosystem. The organization’s job is to show people how all these parts and pieces work together to create breadth and depth of products and services. This crucial step not only builds brand equity by making a company’s unique place in the market easier to understand, it also translates to more revenue and customer loyalty by means of seamless integration and stickier user experiences.
The three components of brand architecture
The process of creating an instinctive and profitable brand architecture begins with these core components:
1. Portfolio strategy
The portfolio strategy refers to the relationship between all the different brands. Here is where you will determine if you have a more unified or diversified brand, or a branded house or house of brands. Adobe, for example, leans more toward a branded house with flagship products including Photoshop, Acrobat, Illustrator, InDesign and Premiere Pro all visually aligned and unified under the Adobe parent brand.
Microsoft, on the other hand, is an example of a house of brands with several distinct product brands under one corporate name including Windows, Office, Xbox, LinkedIn, Skype, GitHub, Bing, and more.
Adobe is focused on building a unified solution that can be tailored to meet specific needs, while Microsoft has many distinct products that are specialized and targeted toward specific audiences.
2. Organizing principle and hierarchy
Your organizing principle defines the categories by which you organize your portfolio, whereas your hierarchy comprises the various levels within your portfolio. In other words, your organizing principle is your breadth and your hierarchy is your depth.
It can be helpful to view the different ways you can organize your portfolio through a who, what , where, when, why lens. Adobe adopts a “who” organizing principle (Photographers, Students and Techers, Individuals, Business, Schools and Universities), while Microsoft adopts more of a “what” (Microsoft 365, Teams, Windows, Surface, Xbox, etc.). Your organizing principle is critical to reinforcing your story and communicating who you are. The Adobe organizing principle communicates they are more of an integrated creative solution tailored to your specific needs, while Microsoft communicates more of a product-focused company. However, the large and diversified nature of Microsoft pushes more of a product focus, while each product suite has its own organizing principle.
Hierarchy plays a critical role in Tech, as there are typically many layers to software that are worth highlighting. For example, you could have solutions, product suites, individual products, features, and versions. The granular levels of tech can signal compatibility, updates, and even innovation.
Together, your organizing principle and hierarchy form a framework that allows you to define strategies and rules for when and how to brand the different levels of your portfolio.
Once you’ve established your portfolio strategy, organizing principle, and hierarchy, it’s time to decide on the naming conventions within your portfolio. This is a critical step as it often determines how simple and straightforward it is to find the offering you are looking for.
An important consideration is if your nomenclature will be more descriptive in nature, or more proprietary. As mentioned, in today’s world consumers want simplicity, and this is especially true in technology. Intuitive and prescriptive naming conventions help customers easily and instantly understand the value-add of the products and what they do, versus having to navigate a bunch of proprietary names that add extra layers to navigate.
However, it can be fruitful for companies to opt for a more innovative naming strategy when trying to elevate more breakthrough offerings or whensignaling innovation. While Apple distinguishes their incremental OS updates by a simple chronological naming convention, for every revolutionary upgrade they introduce names such as Sonoma or Ventura to signify a major leap forward. This branding strategy can generate excitement and convey innovation, though it risks confusion if not communicated properly.
Building the brain
One of the most successful tactics Tech companies use to achieve intuitive brand architecture is creating platforms. By branding the platform (i.e., the “brain”), Tech companies are able to focus brand building on a single, unified brand that also serves as a foundation for connectivity. This also helps simplicity and perceptions of customization, where you are only buying one “product” but have the ability to add on the right modules to diversify and tailor to their specific needs. This approach allows tech companies to provide a suite of related products and services under one branded platform, while leaving space to iterate on and improve individual products and applications within it.
For example, Adobe has branded the Adobe Creative Cloud as their core platform. Users can customize or choose from ready-made software bundles to fit their unique needs. Whereas a teacher may have a very different use case for Adobe than an enterprise company, they can all find solutions within the Adobe Creative Cloud platform.
Similarly, Microsoft offers the Microsoft Office platform, with software including Word, PowerPoint, Teams, and more.
Using your platform to own your space
Monigle partnered with Four Winds Interactive, SmartSpace and Poppulo when they merged in 2021 to help create their new brand . The merger challenged us to co-brand internal employee communications software and external digital signage and communication solutions.
Creating the brand architecture for the new brand came with the added difficulty of cleaning up the portfolio. The merger resulted in a lot of software serving various purposes that could be purchased separately.
The problem with this disjointed approach was that the brand was asking its customers to come in with a product mindset, tasking them to enter the company knowing exactly what they were looking for. Not only was this strategy a more difficult for customers to navigate, it also made it difficult to understand the full breadth of the portfolio which minimized the ability to cross-sell.
We worked with the team to help define a singular platform to connect all the individual offerings, coining it a Communications Experience Platform that allowed them to create and own a new category.
The platform allowed Poppulo to focus resources on building a singular, powerful brand with the ability to customize to individual needs, while also providing flexibility to expand and adapt to whatever the future might hold.
Investing in brand architecture to secure the future of your organization
A clear and intuitive brand architecture allows Tech companies to communicate their value and differentiate themselves, yet it’s too often neglected. Though it requires diligence on the front-end, investing in brand architecture saves countless headaches down the line. It fosters brand loyalty, makes integration seamless, and sets up brands for scalable and sustainable growth into the future.
Ready to create a profitable brand architecture? Let’s get started together.