More than a mere diagram of relationships between brands, brand architecture is a driver of growth for your organization. This “blueprint” can clarify your offerings to customers—highlighting your products or services in a way that makes it easier for them to understand what your brand does and who you are as a company. And in cultivating this comprehension, brand architecture can subsequently encourage purchasing behaviors—whether it’s by expanding the wallet share of your current customers through cross-selling or illuminating compelling offerings that attract new customers. But to do this successfully, brand architecture must reflect how people buy, or how you want them to buy in the future. This is why it is critical to evaluate two key factors: your buyers’ journeys and your business’ go-to-market strategy.

Understanding the buyer journey

Brand architecture can’t be built in a vacuum. It first needs to consider how your main audience—your customers—interacts with your portfolio. How are they searching for solutions and how do they want to buy?

Organizing principles that drive sales

You need to understand the audience mindset when they engage with you. B2B buyers, in particular, may use the type of buyer as a lens. HubSpot anticipates this method, organizing many of its offerings around specific verticals, which leads to straightforward names, like “Marketing Hub” for—you guessed it—marketing teams and “Sales Hub,” which is targeted at sales professionals.

In other cases, clients or consumers may prefer to search directly for a specific product, search by product category, or search via industry or problem to be solved. On its website, Nike combines two of these principles in its brand architecture, first splitting products by who they’re for: men, women, or kids. Once a user moves down a level, Nike then highlights product categories, for example, groups like “clothing” and “shoes”. Schneider Electric, a global energy management and technology company, breaks down their core solutions by market—Building, IT, Grid, Plant and Machine, and Power.

Understand the full ecosystem

People often default to website navigation when seeking to understand architecture and buyer journeys. It is true that architecture has significant implications to your web experience, but this is only one channel, and you must understand the full ecosystem and the contextual nuances around each moment in the journey. This will allow you to understand which parts of the process are going well, which need to be improved, barriers to decision-making, what the critical moments are that drive choice, etc. Then you develop and architecture to not only speak to your audience, but also optimize the path to choice.

Once you have the full ecosystem mapped out, then you can translate for specific touchpoints. Going back to web as an example, brand architecture that reflects real buyers’ journeys can lead to a better digital experience: convenience through fewer clicks and clarity through a more streamlined product presentation that reflects what buyers are looking for. Collectively, those benefits drive better results for your business—increasing online sales and encouraging visitors to return to your site.

How to plot buyer journey

Uncovering the buyer journey and unlocking its potential to positively influence brand architecture can be achieved through various measures. From comprehensive surveys that enable large-scale journey mapping to quicker qualitative studies that leverage interviews from a smaller sample of customers—research is a key component in this process. Speaking with your sales teams and other customer-facing employees, analyzing your social media and other third-party review sites, and mining web data are also good alternatives if it’s not feasible to look externally for answers.

Brand Architecture inspiration that extends beyond buying habits

While there’s no doubt that the buyer journey is an indispensable input for brand architecture, not all architectures must be built solely on buyer’s needs. In certain cases, architecture can be used to elevate or highlight non-transactional services or capabilities that further a brand’s image. Whether it’s a customer service capability like Apple’s Genius Bar or a standout research and development unit, like Disney’s Imagineers, some initiatives are worth emphasizing in brand architecture to help you stand out and be recognized for other key attributes that help audiences choose you—even if they’re not traditional product offerings.

Understanding the go-to-market strategy

The buyer journey is just one part of the puzzle when it comes to inputs for brand architecture. Equally important is using your own go-to-market strategy as a compass. Whereas the first consideration helps you meet customers where they are, the second proactively shapes or encourages certain buying behavior.

Guided by a high-level vision

It starts with understanding the long-term business objectives from your leadership team. Perhaps your company’s vision is to transform from a product-based business into a services- and solutions-driven one, in the same way that many technology companies born in the hardware space are adopting the “as-a-service” model. Another scenario might be a mandate to shift from selling fewer high-margin offerings and focus instead on selling low-margin ones en masse—or vice versa. Or maybe your business is pivoting to a new type of product entirely, as Netflix did from physical DVD rentals to streaming subscriptions. These decisions inherently impact not just what you sell, but how you sell. And that’s where brand architecture comes into play.

Navigating the nitty-gritty

Beyond seeing the 10,000-foot view of your portfolio, it’s also imperative to know the detailed ins and outs of it when building your brand architecture.

This means knowing the intricacies of not only your products, services, or solutions themselves, but also the nuances of the relationships between them. First: look at the breadth of your portfolio and how everything connects. Do you have distinct categories of offerings, or are they interconnected? Are buyers typically only interested in a portion of your portfolio, or its’ entirety? Do certain offerings integrate or connect with others and some don’t? For example, if buyers typically choose individual products based on functional needs but you want to drive a more solutions-driven sale to increase both revenues and loyalty, you may want to consider an architecture that emphasizes the problems you are solving for customers, with bundles that thoughtfully bring together different aspects of your portfolio. This can help get customers to break old buying habits and think differently, which can reframe how they ultimately view and interact with your brand.

Next: consider depth. Most offerings today are comprehensive, and can include levels of families, products, features, ingredients, versions, etc. This is often where companies create complexity, often “over-branding” and making audiences work hard to understand what everything is. Most often, customers just want simplicity – say what it is. We often encounter companies that have many individual products, each with their own name and brand and individually branded features. Ideally, you want to reach the maximum number of people with the fewest number of brands. So rather than require customers to make many individual purchase decisions, you can simplify your go-to-market strategy to focus on highly level bundles and solutions that can be customized with different products and features. This is where tiering strategies also can be helpful, creating a “gold, silver, bronze” type of structure to make it easier for people to buy.

Bringing it all together

At Monigle, we have firsthand experience addressing these types of questions with brand architecture. When one of our Technology clients acquired a collection of complementary software offerings, we were ready to assess its new portfolio across all these dimensions.

Externally, the company’s buyers were craving simplicity through a unified offering. Internally, the team was aiming to create more comprehensive solutions that yielded higher margins. Once we established both what buyers were seeking across their journeys and our clients’ objectives for its own business, we were able to deliver a strong, solid recommendation: encouraging our partner to build a singular offering (a platform) that would streamline and connect its entire portfolio, but still allow for add-ons, modules, and features to enable customization and additional sources of revenue. And beyond this, we worked with their product teams to determine if bundles would be possible, creating preset configurations of the platform that are tailored to deliver on specific industry needs (i.e., a pre-set platform for schools vs retail vs corporations). This facilitated more intuitive cross-selling and a significantly easier buying experience.

Brand architecture isn’t a siloed, static deliverable. Rather, it’s a living, breathing process that must take multiple factors into account: two of the most important being your buyers’ journeys and your go-to-market strategy. With these as your foundation, you’ll be able to optimize brand architecture—ensuring it works hard not only for your customers but for your company, too.

Interested in learning more about brand architecture and how your organization can benefit from it? Reach out to us.

Gunnar Jacobs
September 27, 2023 By Gunnar Jacobs