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How a clear brand hierarchy can build a better business

As a brand strategist working at a creative agency, I have had the privilege of working with many brands over the years and have learnt a lot along the way, mainly that there is always more to learn. I feel like I’m on a never ending path of discovery.

Every brand I work with teaches me something else about the value of branding. I like to dig into every facet of brand and how it’s intertwined with business strategy as well as the day-to-day operations of a business. There is no denying the value of being clear on your story, why you do what you do and how you contribute to society. But also, being able to decide where you place effort as a business, what tasks you choose to invest in, what you and your team actually do with your time, everyday. Lately I have been thinking a lot about how defining a clear brand hierarchy can help marketing and brand professionals make better decisions about where to place effort.

The older I get the more I realise the value of spending your time wisely. As Seth Godin says, ‘You don’t need more time in your day. You need to decide.’ 

It’s crucial that we make effective decisions day-to-day. Every single piece of work we invest in doing should be building our brand and our business over time.

A brand hierarchy shows how brands, sub-brands and other offerings of a company are organized and how they relate to each other.

When we understand our brand hierarchy, we can use it as a tool to make better decisions about where, what and how to focus our efforts. It allows us to take a step back from the day-to-day tasks and analyse each request through the lense of building brand salience over time.

Below are three different brand hierarchy models, understanding these models creates a really solid foundation for defining your own brand hierarchy. In practice you might create your own model different to the below. As long as it is simple and understood by all, that’s really all that matters.

As Byron Sharp states in his book How Brands Grow, ‘The real challenge of growing a brand is down to one thing: availability.’ When we talk about availability, think about mental and physical availability. The more you ask your audience to remember, the less they actually will. With this in mind, it’s really important to understand that the house of brands hierarchy is the most expensive to maintain and therefore there has to be serious strategic benefit for creating a house of individual brands.

To define your own brand hierarchy, I recommend starting with the below.  

  1. List the projects / sub-brands / content you have in your hands currently.
  2. Define and understand your key audience groups and their needs as well as your strategic focus for the next 12 months. You could have many audience groups but deciding which ones to focus your efforts on will enable you to make better decisions as a business across not only marketing but also product or service development.
  3. Define and understand the depth of your offering (products and services), with a vision for the future state of the business.
  4. Start to categorise and label your ideas, these labels could include a product or service, a content piece, a sub-brand, a project, a collaboration or cooperation or an audience.
  5. Once you have gone through the above four exercises, start to organise these into levels of importance. The sub brands and offering will feed into your brand hierarchy, but keep in mind that if you don’t have control over the look and feel then it probably shouldn’t form part of your model. The audience insights and content should support the brand hierarchy model you develop. The main question to ask yourself is: how is this supporting and building my brand long term?
  6. Use the above knowledge to define a clear set of questions and guiding principles for decision making.
  7. Once you have a draft, review it with the intention to simplify as much as you can. There is so much power in keeping things simple, especially when expecting people to use and remember it.

Some guiding principles I have used in the past include: 

  1. If it’s a project, what happens once the project ends? And what is the ongoing resource demand on my team and how does it build our brand over time?
  2. What are the components we own?
  3. Does this bring us more organic reach?
  4. Will it compound over time?
  5. If an opportunity fits within the brand hierarchy then the leadership team needs to be informed and involved in deciding whether it’s worth investing in.
  6. What other priorities do we have and what are we sacrificing to take this on?

If I can leave you with one thought it’s this. Strategy is useless if left in a drawer. The work is only done once your strategy is understood and followed by all. Your brand hierarchy is no different. But remember, buy-in takes time so be patient, be kind and be resilient.

–Megan Järvinen, Brand Strategist, Ahooy Creative

Header photo credits: Photo by Cesar Carlevarino Aragon on Unsplash