Keep an eye on your brand’s blueprint

Keep an eye on your brands blueprint

Architecture is something we can all enjoy, not only for the environment it creates, but because good architecture always supports your reason for being there. Architecture should make you feel good, helping you work better, rest easier, and play harder.

Like when London Stansted Airport opened in 1991: Foster + Partners challenged the conventions of contemporary airport design, attempting to recapture the simplicity of early airport buildings by allowing passengers to walk in more or less a straight line from the roadside, through the terminal, and onwards – airside – to an awaiting plane. It was a simple idea, designed to remove confusion and make journeys easier.

Brand architecture is the same. All brands have a blueprint, although often less visible and more susceptible to change over time.

Brand architecture systems – the logic that underpins the way a brand is organised – come in different shapes and sizes. They can be designed to accommodate just one brand – what can be described as ‘monolithic’ – or to accommodate many brands and/or sub-brands, and with more or less similarity to each other. But a well-constructed brand architecture system doesn’t mean that the brands that hang off of it are all the same. The brands that the architecture supports can be as different as the market requires.

Just like in buildings, brand architecture seeks to create a coherent experience, supporting the purpose of the people using it. It allows for a greater or lesser association between its different parts in accordance with business strategy (and oftentimes politics). It describes the relationships between a business, its products, services and initiatives, both externally and internally. Brand architecture determines how an offer should be understood in relative terms, so that it can be most easily accessed.

But there’s theory and there’s reality. The fact is, that as businesses grow, brands grow too, and the likelihood of architecture going wonky increases. It is what happens over time when any building is extended, remodelled or renovated; by definition: a need was not anticipated in the original blueprint. Whether you need new bedrooms because the number of people in your household has increased, or a new airport terminal because the old one no longer meets the changing needs and demands of passengers, the choices are essentially the same: add, reconfigure or move.

But there’s a limit to how many times you can keep adding without either running out of space or degrading and confusing the experience. Eventually, reconfiguration or a move becomes necessary.

Ensuring a robust brand architecture can have significant benefits

Clarity of proposition and offer
Architecture creates the right associations, so that something people have never encountered before can be associated with things they recognise and feel positively disposed towards, increasing the chances that they will relate to and feel good about their experience of the new. So your brand’s architecture provides the underlying system and the rules that help maintain clarity.

Efficient management
A well-considered brand architecture provides a framework for both current and future scenarios, allowing you to pre-empt future need. In this way, it both accommodates and helps manage growth and change, creating efficiencies and saving time and money on unnecessary and wasted branding exercises.

Protection of investment
Most importantly, perhaps, a fit-for-purpose architecture system can help stop bad things happening to your brand. It provides a tool that allows you to say ‘no’ to your colleagues with good reason, preventing proliferation of new brands, subbrands, names and identities, which in some business cultures is endemic. So a good architecture makes brand management and guardianship easier, protecting the investment you make and the equity you build in it over time.

Make the invisible visible
Being able to see what you have got is essential. Visualising the architectural framework and mapping its component brands exposes strengths and weaknesses that can allow you to understand the extent to which the brand is operating as intended, and what corrective action might be required.

Make informed, strategic decisions
Appraisal of the existing architecture facilitates decision-making about the brand and the extent to which it is helping deliver business objectives. Visualisation provides a tool that allows for different stakeholder perspectives to be understood: why things are as they are, including underlying operational and commercial reasons, and how coherent the offer is. It also asks questions about each of the entities that make up the portfolio of brands within a business (including those that break the rules), enabling strategic choices to be made, such as how your brands could be organised differently, or removed, or new ones created.

Make a new blueprint
A remapping exercise will enable selection of an appropriate brand architecture system – or systems – and illustrate its impact. It will expose the implications of organising or reorganising the brands in your portfolio and allows for decisions to be made about each. A new architectural blueprint can help answer structural and organisational questions, and inform decisions about the way the brands and their identities should evolve.

Although mostly invisible, brand architecture is possibly one of the most important aspects of your brand.

Without a strong architectural framework all brands will inevitably develop more or less organically, unsystematically and often illogically.

While choosing to reorganise a brand’s architecture can have significant business implications, the result always makes strategic and commercial sense, and can significantly improve your ability to deliver better experiences.

So you might start by asking if your brand architecture allows people to think, feel and do the things they want and that you intend them to, or does it hamper them? Has the growth and development of your brand portfolio over time helped or hindered the way you want to be understood? And if you were planning from scratch, how far from your ideal blueprint is the brand you have built? If you can’t see it clearly, or simply have a gut feeling that it has structural problems, it might be time to call in the brand architects.

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