Yes, Master (The Only Brand Strategy for Startups)

Early stage technology companies should only implement a master brand strategy. 

Let me explain.

There is such a thing in the world called brand architecture.  Brand architecture is just a fancy and quick way of saying "this is how we are going to name our company, products, and services so that customers can find what they are looking for and understand what we offer."  There are generally two ways to go about this.

One is to pursue a master brand strategy.  A master brand strategy is one where all the companies products and services are branded with the corporate name.  For the most part this is the strategy that Google has pursued with Google Alerts, Google Blog Search, Google Calendar, Google Checkout, Google Chrome, Google Docs, Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Patent Search, and I could go on.  Yes, as Google has gotten bigger they have started buying lots of companies such as YouTube and keeping those brands and using sub-brands such as Gmail.  But for the most part they have pursued a classic master branding strategy just like Lysol. Lysol's master brand strategy is "Lysol" followed by "this is what the product does" (though Lysol is actually owned by a company called Reckitt Benckiser, but who has ever heard of them.  The dreaded secret corporate brand strategy).

Two is to pursue a sub-branding strategy.  A sub-branding strategy is one where the master brand is not reflected in the the sub or product brands.  Think Apple and their iWhatever.  iMac, iPhone, iPod, iTunes.  And Airport, Cinema Display, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, MacPro, and Mighty Mouse. They have pursued a classic sub-branding strategy much like Coca-Cola.  Coke has over 2,800 products, most with distinct non Coca-Cola company branding.

And while Steve Jobs is one of the most brilliant business people and marketers of our age, personally I think Apple's branding strategy is a bit of a mess.  And I am not alone. It's even been called sloppy. Think about that.  Steve Jobs, one of the best marketers of our age, has totally dorked a sub-brand strategy (though he did a pretty good job at Pixar).  And Apple spends $500 million annually on marketing.  Are you Steve Jobs?  Do you have $500 million to spend?  

Only one person can answer yes to both those questions. And unless you are that person do not try to implement a sub-brand strategy at your technology startup.

Implementing a sub-branding strategy is exponentially more complex.  It decreases the chance of effectively communicating your brand promise and brand identity in the marketplace, requires disciplined thought that could be better spent on more important issues, and costs more money.  It often creates confusion in the market for potential customers and partners.  It make it harder for employees to rally around what you are trying to achieve. Why make it hard?

Early stage technology companies should only implement a master brand strategy. 

February 3, 2009  |  Comments  |  Tweet  |  Posted in Marketing