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Brand Bloodlines

This post below is from a colleauge at Brandimage, Michael Colton with whom I have spent many hours discussing why it is, people buy the things we design.


Understanding Variance in the Endowment of Visual Brand Equity

To most, shopping the aisles of a grocery store might seem like a rather humdrum experience—carried out in haste in order to restock the fridge and the pantry. There are an odd few, like myself, who go to the store, not to shop, but to observe behavior. No. Not of people—the behavior of the products on the shelf. It’s a Supermarket Serengeti and I a brand-thropologist. It’s a lush habitat of overlapping ecosystems each populated with brands, like species, trying to survive and perpetuate themselves into the future. Their survival depends on cunning awareness and agility in attempts to differentiate, manage brand assets and respond to competitive threats. These brand species mark their territories (as a warning to in-category predators), elaborately posture their assets to attract a mate (you, the consumer!) and even protect their fledgling sub-brands (to insure their survival into the future).

When surprisingly new product line extensions hit the shelf, it’s an indicator that its future looks bright. Perhaps the brand was truly ready to parent—resourceful enough to endow its equity towards nurturing and protecting its spitting image. Visually, the parent brand bestows favor and influence upon its fledgling product lines. To be successful, the parent brand should appear to be proudly continuing its responsiveness to consumer demands and its relevance in a rapidly changing world, while the offspring sub-brand gains the immediate time-honored, hard-earned credibility of the parent.

Simply cashing in parent brand equity in the form of an endorsement is ill advised. The supermarket is just too dangerous a place for such low-level parental care. There are too many predatory competitors and parasitic retailer brands waiting for the opportunity to prey upon the innocent and optimistic brainchild of R&D. There are certainly financial efficiencies to slotting sub-brands into endorsement-based brand architecture. However, what marketers may be forgetting is that growing a brand by introducing products line extensions is as much about defending the entirety of the portfolio and its distribution of equities as it is about making the consumer aware that there is something new from a source they know and trust.

Some growth strategies may require a stronger demonstration of parental guardianship. For example, brands intent on rapid line-expansion usually require a wholesale reevaluation of parent brand meaning and a complete rethinking of brand architecture.

Incidentally, a high level of visual consistency within a portfolio is dramatically on the rise. It’s a defensive response and an effective tactic for warding of retailer brand encroachment. The hope is that store brands will be less likely to get away with such blatant mimicry. In turn retail brands will appear to be conspicuous deliverers of cost of entry quality and manipulative intent.

There is now further evidence that threatening encroachments bring about higher levels of visual consistency. Enter the House of Brands—throwing its weight around by knitting together multiple brands within a common look. Could it be that they are now on the offensive, testing retail brands and their willingness to ante up to a higher level of value add? If so, those who rest their laurels on the endorsement strategy should take heed—this defensive posture (higher levels of visual consistency) may define the conditions for success in the Supermarket Serengeti for some time to come.

Michael Bensinger-Colton

Director of Design Strategy

Brandimage—Desgrippes & Laga