Stay tuned for the additional 10 parts of our 12 part series including the in-depth deep dives of each of the 10 steps introduced in our Part 1 introduction – you can view it here. To get these parts delivered straight to your inbox, please click here.
Like the blueprint of your home, your brand architecture is a foundational piece of your company. At first glance, this element may seem so ingrained within the bedrock of your organization that it can feel unchangeable. But like any other component, architecture is a living, breathing ingredient of your brand. And when it’s no longer working as hard as it should, it can seriously impact your ability to grow and could be time to switch it up.
So, how will you know when the moment is right to head back to the brand architecture drawing board? There are many reasons that can serve as an impetus for a brand architecture refresh, but the following five are a few of the most common:
Reason 1: Your Existing Brand Architecture Is Mired in Complexity
It’s easy to have a clear, streamlined vision for your brand architecture on day one. But over time, complexity will creep in. It’s so inevitable that this is the number one catalyst that inspires brands to revisit their portfolios.
So, how do you tell the difference between an architecture that’s simply robust and one that’s convoluted? Start by listening to feedback—both external and internal. Maybe you’ve heard your clients say, “I didn’t realize you offered that,” on more than one occasion or seen them struggling to find what they’re looking for. Or maybe your team is having difficulty managing your company’s breadth and depth themselves. If your own representatives can’t navigate this landscape, how can you expect your customers to?
Oftentimes, an overwhelming architecture will also lead to redundancies—like when two of your teams attend the same tradeshow or when two salespeople from different departments reach out to the same prospect. In these moments, your brand architecture isn’t only causing confusion; it’s actually creating inefficiencies that cost you money—and creating impressions of disorganization in the market that can lose you business. What’s more? It can lead to a silo-ed atmosphere—becoming an obstacle to the “one company, one culture” goal that so many corporations strive to achieve.
Building a Unified Culture Through Brand Architecture
Oftentimes companies strive for their culture to be a unified beacon, not a hodgepodge of various styles and working environments. Succeeding on this front is a multi-force initiative—and includes everything from DEI&B programs to the development of brand values and employee benefits. But brand architecture can also support this effort. Organizing your portfolio in a smart, easy-to-understand way will help members of your workforce better see how they are part of a bigger whole and interact more seamlessly with one another. A strong structure will enable them to recognize what role they play in the business funnel and how they should collaborate with other teams—providing more transparency across departments, promoting camaraderie among colleagues and unifying your people around common goals.
See it in action:
Conquering Complexity Via Brand Architecture
The Business: Schneider Electric, a global digital automation and energy management company
The Situation: After multiple acquisitions and organic growth over the years, Schneider Electric had a portfolio consisting of thousands of fragmented products and services, which didn’t adequately represent its IoT offerings (including both operational and informational technology) in a cohesive way.
The Solution: By elevating one of Schneider Electric’s key product brands (EcoStruxure) to serve as connective tissue across the company, reorganizing its portfolio by market, and deploying a descriptive naming strategy, the architecture become more digestible, cross-selling became more feasible, and Share of Earned Media increased by 10 points (their major brand metric). Read more.
Reason 2: You’re Joining Forces or Branching Out on Your Own
Whether your company is coming together with another or dividing its assets into a new entity, mergers and spinoffs are major events that typically merit a major rethink of your brand architecture.
Mergers and Acquisitions
In M&A scenarios, your brand architecture needs to demonstrate that the new whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In some cases, a merger is purely additive in nature—expanding on your existing capabilities by bringing new ones to the table. In other instances, there may be more overlap if the two companies joining forces deliver the same types of offerings.
In the former scenario, the challenge centers on reconfiguring brand architecture to fully capture the new breadth and depth that the acquisition has generated. In the latter, the focus is more on rationalizing and streamlining. What brands have the most equity and should be maintained? Which ones feel redundant and should be retired?
Across both, a brand architecture “renovation” helps signal change. It ensures that you’re not simply slapping two existing architectures next to or on top of one another, but that you’re truly thinking as one newly integrated organization—and telling the same story.
See it in action:
Blending Businesses Together Via Brand Architecture
The Businesses: Poppulo, a leader in internal employee communications technology, and Four Winds Interactive (FWI), a digital signage software company
The Situation: In 2021, these two companies combined to form a powerhouse omnichannel employee communications platform
The Solution: Throughout this process, helped transform the architecture of this newly merged business by determining that the Poppulo name and equity should be maintained to represent the combined organization, and creating a new, integrated platform brand called Harmony that aligns all individual offerings as modules underneath, focusing on solutions over products.
Some spinoffs are straightforward. When the entity that’s splitting from the main organization already has its own distinct portfolio with few ties to the parent brand, a spinoff can be a clean break.
But in other cases, it’s not such a smooth procedure. When the pieces separating from one another are closely integrated, the process is more akin to untangling a web. In these moments, it’s critical to understand the equity that exists across the overall portfolio to maximize brand value and minimize disruption for both the original and the new company.
See it in action:
Establishing New Entities Via Brand Architecture
The Business: (new name not yet announced), a life sciences and diagnostics company
The Situation: In 2022, PerkinElmer divested three of its legacy business units (applied, food, and enterprise services), so it could focus more fully on greater areas of growth: specifically, life sciences and diagnostics. PerkinElmer needed to identify the equity and associations of the enterprise brand as well as the many sub-brands underneath to fully understand the implications.
The Solution: The PerkinElmer name was more heavily associated with the legacy businesses—so this moniker followed the spinoff, while the remaining business agreed to adopt a new name in the future. And since the remaining offerings were mixed and matched from legacy businesses, a new architecture was needed to communicate the breadth and depth of the new entity clearly and simply.
Reason 3: Up, Up, and Away—Organic Growth Is Overwhelming Your Organization
Growth doesn’t usually happen overnight. Sure, it can be fast and transactional: the result of strategic M&A decisions. But often, it’s gradual—occurring in small, incremental steps.
This organic growth can have an insidious effect on your brand architecture. At first, your portfolio may expand slightly from moment to moment—stretching the limits of your architecture, but not rendering it obsolete.
However, over time, these changes stack up. Your architecture may begin to resemble an ill-planned building, with different-sized additions and wings haphazardly tacked on to accommodate new tenants. Whether this transformation is sparked by the development of a breakthrough offering or product lines, a new sales approach, or co-branding partnerships, when your architecture reaches this level of complexity (as we discussed in section 1), it’s time to give it a second look.
How Brand Partnerships Influence Architecture
Partnerships are a fantastic opportunity to accelerate your business. But communicating these partnerships can add a tricky dimension to brand architecture. After all, how do you name these co-branded offerings? Which logo should lead? What’s the best way to integrate these collaborations into your own list of products and services? Co-branding carries its own unique complexities—and should be thought through thoroughly in the context of your existing portfolio to ensure you are maximizing impact and minimizing risk.
Reason 4: You’re Pioneering a Fresh Approach
In the world of business, pivoting is a common move—allowing enterprises to revolutionize the way they sell or make a radical leap into new industries. But when a big decision like this is made, it also brings with it bigger implications for brand architecture.
Executing a new business strategy can take many different forms. One of the most frequent is the switch from selling products to solutions, focusing on higher value and higher margin sales that also increase share of wallet. This happens extensively in the tech world, moving from hardware or software to integrated platforms (often times Saas). In these cases, firms go from delivering a tangible set of products to implementing and maintaining those products as an integrated service for their clients—fundamentally changing the way they operate and sell. New sales models also include the shift from one-time purchases to subscriptions (think: Disney selling DVDs to Disney+) or from marketing products individually to integrating them as bundles. Jumping into completely different terrain—as Amazon has done from bookselling to broader ecommerce and cloud computing to the health and wellness space with its acquisitions of Whole Foods and One Medical—also falls into this category.
Shifting business strategy often occurs because of changing competitive and market dynamics, or perhaps a new CEO coming in with a new vision. Regardless of the reason, you brand architecture must adapt alongside the new business strategy—or run the risk of diluting it entirely and leaving customers confused. Brand architecture is the most tangible representation of what you do and offer, so if your business strategy shifts, your architecture needs to shift to signal change to your audiences.
Reason 5: You Want to Meet Your Customers Where They Are
Companies that don’t consider their customers won’t survive. After all, these are the people who drive your business. As such, their behavior should drive yours—specifically around your brand architecture.
So the question becomes: How do clients search for and buy your products? Are they looking based on price? By location? By a need the product fulfills? Or by product category? Understanding the principles that they use to navigate will enable you optimize how you organize and structure your portfolio—while also enabling specific goals, like cross-selling.
Take the financial services industry, for example. Trends have shown that customers are seeking more of a “one-stop shop” experience when it comes to their banking, investment, credit, and insurance needs. At the same time, many firms in this space want to advertise the full breadth of their offerings to facilitate cross-selling. This has led some to adopt a “life-stage” approach to organizing their portfolios. When prospective clients can see everything these companies offer in relation to moments that are relevant to them—like “buying a house” or “getting married” or “having a baby”—the buying experience becomes more convenient. And then the companies can use this broader structure to advertise a wider range of products at once. Health care is another great example. Rather than individual locations of care, consumers are demanding a much easier and more integrated system of care. This is why you are seeing much larger health systems that emphasize the full continuum rather than individual locations, which the architecture needs to reflect—specifically, adopting a more unified branded house rather than a house of brands.
Brand architecture isn’t just an organizing system. It’s a fundamental building block that influences everything from how your organization is perceived externally and internally to how you sell your products and beyond.
Something this impactful should always feel intelligent and intuitive, strategic and savvy. If your business has encountered one of the situations mentioned above, it’s probably a good time to reevaluate the way your portfolio is arranged. So stick with our series—or better yet, reach out. We’d love to help you help you make the most of your brand architecture.