To many, a brand architecture refresh is akin to “spring cleaning.” It’s a matter of opening all the drawers of your business, condensing down the different compartments, restructuring everything that’s on the shelves—all in an effort to organize and optimize.

But brand architecture is more than just an exercise in simplifying and streamlining. At its core, it’s actually a form of storytelling. As the most tangible display of what your business does, architecture is an opportunity to communicate to your audiences what kind of company you are. Are you a purpose-driven brand or a customer-obsessed one? Are you integrated or diversified? Are you a products-based business or a services and solutions enterprise? The answers to these questions and more can be instantly telegraphed through a thoughtful brand architecture.

Below, we’ve identified a few key steps to help you determine what story you want to tell through your brand architecture—and how to weave it into the way you present your offerings.

1. Start from the inside out

Building a strong brand architecture begins by understanding your brand’s own vision and strategy. This will ensure you align what you do (architecture) with who you are (brand strategy/vision). Break down your business and brand strategies into the core ideas you want to communicate. Also consider if there are any major perceptions or behaviors you want to shift that can be solved through your new architecture.

For example, Poppulo, a leading communications experience technology company, was the result of a merger between an internal comms company (Poppulo) and external digital signage and communications company (Four Winds Interactive). As a result of bringing these companies together, there was a strong desire and need to tell a functional story that communicated breadth of offerings, shifting perceptions from a siloed product company to an integrated solution for both internal and external communications. This would help the company get credit for all they do, create clarity and simplicity for customers, facilitate cross-selling, and increase company valuation.

This story ultimately led to the creation of a branded platform (named Harmony) to create a unified experience, and an organizing principle that clearly communicated the breadth of products and capabilities within that platform.

This example shows that the story you want to tell does not have to be super unique and creative – such as a functional way to show portfolio breadth – but it has to be purposeful and support your strategy.

2. Then look from the outside in

While it is critical that your architecture supports your strategy, you also must ensure it resonates with customers and will ultimately get people to choose you. External research is key to establishing the best brand architecture story. Talking with customers—past, current, and prospective—can help you better understand how they interact with your brand. This feedback will uncover what’s working today, as well as opportunities to communicate your offerings more effectively tomorrow.

Similar to Poppulo, Dow (the global leader in chemicals) also wanted to make a shift from products to solutions. Further, they needed to drive awareness for the huge range of applications they can help solve for, with customers, and even employees, getting confused about all they do and offer. When speaking with customers, it quickly became apparent that their audiences often thought about themselves based on the industry or market they are in. So, with a company as large and diverse as Dow, it was less about having the specific solution they are looking for, and more about how they can help people in similar industries. This uncovered the ability to tell a story about how Dow can apply their offerings to solve a variety of needs tailored to your specific industry.

This led to the creation of applications based on market segments. Rather than searching for individual products across siloed categories, customers can go to their market, whether electronics or mobility or agriculture, and find the many ways Dow can be a partner to solve their various needs.

3. Explore key themes

As you build your brand architecture story, it’s important to strike a balance between how you want to present yourself with how your audience wants to engage. Armed with inside-out insights of your company and outside-in data, you can start exploring key themes that appeal to everyone’s needs. During this phase, it’s important to not limit yourself, as it can be just as valuable to identify what will not work and why.

There are a couple ways you can explore these themes. The first is to simply identify key ideas that arise from both your internal and external exploration, and then testing that idea to see if you can translate into an architecture territory. For example, if you hear that customer-centricity is a critical theme we want to communicate, you might see if it makes sense to organize your portfolio by customer type. Or let’s say your brand is positioned around delivering unparalleled expertise to clients, with a vision of being the leading authority in your space. With this strategy in mind, you may consider building your portfolio around tiers of service that reflect the various levels of expertise clients might to expect to receive from you—from a more “hands-off” self-service level, where your expertise provides educated customers with peace of mind, to a more bespoke “hand-holding” tier, in which your deep knowledge and know-how supports your customers at every step of the process.

Another approach is to use a framework to guide your thinking. One such example is the “who, what, where, how, and why” framework, which assesses your offerings through these various lenses. If you want to tell a “who” story, for instance, then your brand architecture would likely be structured around different audiences—whereas a story focused on the “what” may feel more functional, highlighting your offerings according to product type or range. This provides a guide to explore a wide range of ways to organize and present your portfolio so you can quickly identify which ones do align with your story, and equally as important which ones don’t.

In this way, you’re not just marketing ideas like expertise and customer-centricity as part of your brand strategy; you’re actually building it into the very fabric of your brand’s organizing principle—one of four key components of brand architecture that we’ll discuss in depth in our next blog.

4. Find your story

After considering brand-related themes and general frameworks, you’ve covered a lot of ground ahead of laying the foundation for your brand architecture. Most likely, a number of these approaches will be viable. But now, it’s time to narrow down the options.

It goes without saying that you should eliminate anything that doesn’t overtly align or is at odds with your brand’s overarching strategy, mission, and vision. From there, you can evaluate the remaining options based on criteria such as how well they fit with your brand, how effectively they achieve the type of engagement your customers are seeking, and how well they help you achieve business and brand goals. As you do, pressure test the finalists just enough to determine whether they’re truly implementable. This doesn’t have to mean building out every branch, tier, or level of your portfolio across multiple brand architecture stories. But as long as you at least start to visualize how each narrative would impact your offerings, you’ll be able to make sure these routes have legs to stand on.

Congratulations—at the end of this process, you’ll have a winning story on which to build your brand architecture.

From here, you’ll need to develop a full architectural framework—a process we’ll detail in our next installment of this series. But having a compelling story as your cornerstone.

Interested in learning more about how brand architecture can benefit your brand? Contact us.

Gunnar Jacobs
June 20, 2024 By Gunnar Jacobs