When the brand competes against itself

What happens when you have multiple identities within a single organization, each one competing for dominance? From a brand perspective, there are several brands housed within a larger brand, and each one wants to express itself as the main brand. This leads to competing messages that end up confusing the audience or canceling each other out.

Essentially, you can look at this as a brand architecture dilemma. Brand architecture refers to developing an optimal strategic relationship between multiple organization names. The goal of brand architecture is to create maximum “brand equity”—meaning the added value the brand name brings to the product or service beyond its functional value.

There are three types of brand architecture:

  • Monolithic: The corporate name, or “master brand,” is stamped on all products and services offered – like Starbucks.
  • Endorsed: The corporate name endorses sub-names – like Polo by Ralph Lauren.
  • Freestanding: The corporate name is a holding company and each product or service is individually branded – like Procter & Gamble and Tide.

The monolithic solution to the problem is to combine all the brand equity from all entities into a single brand, called by a single name. Organizationally, this means that the culture of each brand has to change to become one single entity. This is extremely difficult, maybe even impossible, if you have an entrenched subbrand.

The endorsed solution is to lend a master brand name to each sub-entity but let them retain their own organizational identities. The culture has to change less, because it is acknowledged that each entity takes a different approach, but there still has to be a common thread or theme tying all the sub-brands together into the main brand. If the sub-entities have a really strong identity, even this can be difficult.

The freestanding solution is to reserve the master brand name for a holding shell, and allow each subbrand to go forth and prosper on its own. This means that there are multiple missions with multiple cultures, and the subbrands may even compete against each other.

Keep in mind that there is no one right way to respond to a situation like this, but it is important to address the issue through one of the strategies above.