How many times have you known a product brand very well, but have no idea of the company behind it? This happened to one of our clients: their best-selling product was famous worldwide, but no one knew the name of the company who created it.
In an ideal world, a company will have a strong brand that showcases their mission, value and vision, with product brands sitting below the overarching company umbrella. The company would have a strong reputation to stand on its own and strong products as income driving forces.
In a marketing utopia, customers or supporters have an awareness and affinity to the company, which in turn strengthens their relationship to the product brands. Though (since there is no such thing as a ‘perfect world’!) this is not always the case. Even the most well-known companies and brands in the world, such as Google and Unilever, grew and developed with a different system.
If your product is more famous than your company brand, read on to find out how to solve it.
The product branding decision-making tool
Let’s be honest here, it’s far from the optimal solution when a product brand is more famous than the company brand. It’s really the company brand that should be the most prominent, as while products come and go, it’s often the intention that companies are “forever”.
While it may not be the best case scenario, it can happen because either the brand was acquired (for example Unilever and Coca Cola company brands) or due to legacy marketing mistakes in the past. In other cases, it’s simply because the company brand itself did not have the strongest messaging and marketing behind it, leading the product brand to lead the way, such as what happened to our client.
If you find yourself in the latter situation, with a great product brand but almost non-existent company brand, what do you do?
It depends on three key factors: the prospects for future product launches, the lifecycle of the existing product, and the target market of your product range.
Mowgli’s decision tree shows you to to help make the decision, broken down into four key solutions:
- Company rebrand – adapt to product
- Rebrand product – create a masterbrand
- Keep product branding – created endorced branding e.g. “powered by”
- Standalone brand – no company rebrand
Solution one: Company rebrand – adapt to product brand
Having a powerful product brand with a weak company brand can happen as a result of circumstance.
When this happens, a choice can arise on if it’s worth unifying the product brand with the company brand and deciding how to communicate this rebrand properly. One option here is to input the company brand on the product brand, meshing them together as one.
Changing the company brand is a very extreme measure and while unlikely, if the product shows great branding strength and is excellent as stand alone brand, then company brand can then be strengthened by rebranding it to the product.
Solution two: rebrand product – create a master brand
One of the best options is to create a master brand which essentially allows for a “family” of brands. Google is an excellent example of a master brand done right. Google, the company brand, owns a set of Google products e.g. Google Maps, Google Chrome, Google Translate, the list goes on.
The branding design itself is the same across the company and all brands, the same colour pallet, fonts, design. This is a powerful option as it is constantly reinforcing both the company and the brands. Essentially, having a master brand builds brand equity into your company brand, which in turn leverages the product brand.
While this option is great, it’s not always possible to do this, as it heavily depends on the industry, the products themselves and audiences.
Solution three: keep the product brand – develop an endorsed brand
Sometimes it makes sense to keep the product brands, and link them in to the overarching company brand by developing an endorsed brand. An example is a product brand that is “powered by” the company brand.
This is a great option when legacy and brand acquisition is at play. Unilever, now a powerhouse global company, with a host of stand alone product brands, is a great example of this.
Unilever grew by acquiring more product brands over time, and some of those brands were household brand names that consumers we already familiar with, as they had been around for decades. Vaseline is a product brand of Unilever – everyone knows what vaseline is, even if they were slightly less familiar with the company brand.
What Unilever did, with its string of stand alone consumer brands in various markets worldwide, was to create a company logo made up of all of the consumer brands. For years, they hadn’t linked or communicated the Unilever company brand with the product brands, until they saw the gap and opportunity and boosted the company brand, endorsing it into all of the product brands. The Unilever brand itself also underwent a boost in marketing and communications, with ad campaigns focused on Unilever going live also.
This is a large scale example, which makes clear how brand equity can boost the company brand. When a company is then in this position, it makes introducing future products a lot easier, as they will be backed by the company and also other product brands.
If the customer makes a clear connection between product and brand, the value of the company brand automatically increases too. For example, if you have an affinity to one product like Vaseline, you may then be more likely to choose another Unilever brand, such as Rexona.
When it comes to the company brand itself, it’s important to still represent the values, mission and vision to the customer through the products. The company brand itself should also speak to the customer in some way.
Will the product end its life cycle soon?
To make decisions when it comes to product branding, it’s important to consider if the product will end its life cycle soon.
Not all products are designed to be in the market for the long game. Others can’t be expended to always function forever, due to competition, technology, changes in the industry and the product itself.
When making the decision of how to best proceed with balancing the product and company branding, a key question to investigate is if the product life cycle will end soon. The company must devise it’s strategy for its only long game, and when contemplating next steps with branding, question if there is an intention to ever launch a new product again, or if the sole focus is on one only.
If the product is expected to end its life cycle soon, the best step is to get it to an optimal state as it is, recognise its place in the scheme of things, and where it will sit with new products launching in the future.
Do the products serve distinct customer solutions?
As with any marketing or branding, whether for product branding or company branding, the customer should always be at the heart of strategic decision making. In this instance, investigate who the products are serving, especially if it’s addressing a distinct customer solution or different audiences.
Solution four: Stick with a stand alone brand with no company rebrand
Sometimes there’s no need for further action in balancing the product branding with the company profile. If brands are serving radically different audiences, then stand alone brands, without side branding from a company brand, make sense. Bare in mind future planning, such as if different sectors or markets are expected to be launched into.
The product branding opportunity
There you have it, four effective solutions for solving your product branding dilemmas. As always, when it comes to marketing and business, adaptability is key. A product brand that is well known, or more known, than the company, is also validation that the product itself is succeeding. Above anything, this is an excellent opportunity to refine, develop and grow both your products and company into the future.