Naming & Branding Decision Trees
The general case (PDF): Alpha Corporation Decision Tree
Great companies love creative entrepreneurial managers. Naturally, creative managers love to give a creative name to anything they make or manage, and its own logo too if they can. This can be healthy, creating new brand wealth. But unless it is controlled, it is also a recipe for brand chaos, confused customers, lowered quality impressions, excessive marketing budgets and ultimately a diminished corporate brand.
Should a proposed business (product, service or unit) be descriptively named under the corporate brand? Does it need a descriptive name with a creative twist, just distinctive enough to claim a "TM" designation? Or should it stand more freely under its own unique proprietary name, registered ®, perhaps distanced from the parent? The best answer is almost always a question of optimum balance, between the product or unit's legitimate business interests and the corporation's strategic and communications interests.
It is futile to attack such questions as merely a "logo cop," acting on self-directed principle. You need the support of clear, unarguable policy that everyone from product manager to CEO understands and accepts. The Decision Tree is a magical tool that makes this almost easy.
Fortunately, to get a good fix on the best strategic branding balance in any given business situation, there are only four or five questions that need to be asked. I think these following four question are universal... applicable in all industries. (In a multi-brand company, a fifth question can help... is the proposed offering best thought of an extension of an existing brand family? See Engelhard example, below.) And each question, as it happens, has three possible answers.
- Question 1:
Is the business [product, service, whatever] fully controlled by our management?
- Yes (proceed to question 2 ),
- No (can't use our brand! save for required legal disclosure, in small print) -- Or it's a cooperative or joint venture, under contract, in which case a separate set of brand policy guidelines [not discussed here] comes into play.
- Question 2:
Is management committed, long term, to this initiative?
- Not yet (for example it's a learning experience or market test)
- No (a rare answer... applies to one-time opportunity businesses)
- Question 3:
How do we think this business will impact our master brand?
- It will reinforce our current brand image
- It will help to expand our brand in desired directions
- Its effect on our master brand will be neutral, possibly even negative. (And as a practical matter 'neutral' is also negative, to the extent that any further stretching of the master brand will tend to dilute it.)
- Question 4:
Only then, ask how the corporate or master brand will impact the proposed business. Again there are three choices...
- Positive. The master brand will help launch/establish/support the business.
- Positive if secondary. It will help, but only if it's in a secondary role as sponsor, as ultimate parent and endorser; the business needs to feature its own 'flag.'
- Neutral or negative impact. The master brand is not an asset for the proposed product or business
And that's it. With these four questions, you can construct your own "Branding and Naming Decision Tree." Each situation, each "branch," will lead to a logical and understandable approved signature type... that is, the kind of name (and visual presence) that makes strategic sense for the offering, and its verbal and/or visual association to the parent brand. (Although there are some twenty-four possible branches, there may be only a handful of signature options, six or seven at most. Engelhard, below, offers five options.)
Why is this "tree" approach effective, in gaining support for (often) an ultimately tougher branding discipline? I think it clarifies the issue of balance, between corporate and business-level perspectives. The two 'impact' questions -- impact of the brand and impact on the brand -- are fair and reasonable. They make room for legitimate business marketing initiatives, while reminding everyone of the equally legitimate corporate reputation interests in the business's success.
A real-world example (PDF): Engelhard Decision Tree
In 2001 and 2002 Michael Williams, Senior Manager Business Communications, led a comprehensive re-thinking and redesign of the diversified Engelhard identity, to refocus it on a more unified vision of a "surface and materials science company." He was supported by my friends and associates at BrandLogic.
In 2003, with a clearer, stronger Engelhard brand in place, Mike was ready to tackle the messy nomenclature heritage of the corporation's uncontrolled creativity..."several hundred product trademarks that weren't supported with marketing resources and didn't support the idea of building equity in the Engelhard brand." The process of constructing and explaining a new decision-tree process won broad management and employee support for clearing out this underbrush, and brought order and discipline to naming-branding decisions.