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The Science and Magic of Brand Architecture

The Science and Magic of Brand Architecture

Jennifer Murtell

three multicolored buildings against purple sky

When organizing your offerings to respond to consumers’ needs, you allow them to intuitively understand how your products and services benefit their lives

Brand architecture is one part spring cleaning, one part sorcery. Architecture is organization; it’s about finding a spot for everything and putting it in its place. The process of developing brand architecture is about uncovering the deep meaning of what we have as a brand, what we can optimize, what we can leave behind and where we can grow. In doing so, we unleash a sort of magical spell that shows us the future.

I’m not being all that hyperbolic—strong brand architecture can show you the future like a treasure map. It reveals the trajectories of your innovation pipelines, your unexpected growth opportunities and your underserved but ripe-to-tap consumer segments. In short, it lays out the strategic path to visionary growth and innovation.

The Age of Endless Proliferation

In a market burdened by proliferation of virtually endless options and consumer choice, it’s easy to feel like our brands are in a constant state of reaction. Shifts in channel demands, a sea of competitive SKUs and offerings, more agile niche brands, and category demands that change faster than business can seemingly keep pace with all play a factor. Architecture helps brands break the reaction cycle. It brings their gaze up out of the weeds and elevates it toward the horizon, where future opportunities can provide brands with a needed paradigm shift—from chaotic reaction, to proactive future-facing response and category leadership.

But What Is Brand Architecture?

Brand architecture, strictly speaking, is industry language for the organizational strategic framework of a brand’s complete offering. Similarly, portfolio architecture is the organizational framework of a company’s portfolio of brands and sub-brands, products and services. Effective brand architecture creates a symbiotic and actionable system of need-states, benefits and consumer targets that help instigate more intuitive and inevitable choices in brand expression and communication strategies. These strategies can include positioning, naming systems, design assets and any other brand expressions that can be actionably informed by deep consumer insight. Importantly, brand architecture’s first priority must be to respond to the way that consumers cognitively organize themselves and the world around them.

When we organize our offerings to respond to their needs, we elevate ourselves beyond the struggle to force our products and benefits into consumers’ lives, and allow them to intuitively understand where we fit. We anticipate them, instead of chasing them. We build deep affinity and loyalty into the brand relationship and move beyond reacting. Brand architecture articulates and focuses the breadth and depth of a brand. It can provide needed clarity to your breadth of offering, assuring that well-defined need-states are met with unambiguous offerings, and that you aren’t cannibalizing other offerings in your portfolio. It can provide deeper connection points with consumers that reveal the nuanced contours of how to reach them by articulating their need-states, desired brand experiences and barriers. It eliminates overlap and carves out discrete, differentiated whitespace in the market landscape where consumers are waiting for us. 


Powerful Innovation Trajectories

In this organizational exercise, brands clarify the relationships not only between consumer and offering, but also between offerings in the portfolio. It makes transparent the benefits of both positive brand halos and the inevitable challenges of negative brand baggage. In turn, we are provided with the ability to correct, focus and optimize quickly, with a look to the future to uncover right-fit innovation for the next two, five or 10 years. We see more clearly where innovation opportunities can thrive in our brand portfolio and uncover fresh spaces where we previously didn’t see innovation trajectories at all. This structural framework provides brands a much clearer path to growth and confidence in strategic decision-making. When everything has a place, and resonates with our consumers’ needs, choices become obvious, inevitable and informed.

Consider Campbell’s Soup Company. Founded in 1869, Campbell’s is a profoundly iconic brand, so famous for its seemingly countless SKUs of condensed soups and woven into the fabric of pop culture that it was immortalized by Andy Warhol. As consumer needs and behaviors shifted and evolved over time, Campbell’s needed an organizational framework (or brand architecture) to tap into new opportunities. Their current architecture is largely organized and defined by need-states, offering soup for soup-lovers of every stripe, in any context: new and refined taste experiences include hearty, adventurous, slow-cooked and gourmet; usage need-states include portable, sippable and ready to heat; dietary need-states include low sodium, high protein, vegetarian and clean label offerings. Understanding consumer usage behaviors also unlocked new adjacent opportunities, such as their lines of sauces for skillet, slow cooker and oven cooking that better meet the convenience needs and creative aspirations of consumers who once used condensed soups in recipes.

Focusing and organizing these consumer need-states gave Campbell’s the clarity to understand where growth opportunities lay dormant, where they could right-size their offering, where future innovation opportunities can be found, and what right-fit equities, assets and hierarchy choices best differentiate and communicate with each consumer and need-state. They lifted their gaze from the weeds of SKU proliferation, up and forward to a future of opportunity.

Ultimately, the science and magic of brand architecture is about seeing the future with focus and confidence. If you have strong, courageous systems thinkers on your team, you’re already halfway there. The roadmap you create together can drive your business strategies and your innovation pipelines into a future of growth, smart strategic planning and exciting possibility.

Photo by Simone Hutsch on Unsplash.

As vice president of strategy, Asia Pacific, at Marks, part of SGS & Co, Jennifer Murtell leverages design thinking to solve business challenges, develops brand portfolio architecture, whitespace models and positioning for a variety of leading consumer packaged goods brands.