Today, innovation is everywhere we look, and in this fast-paced and increasingly digital world, we don’t just embrace it – we expect it. Recognizing this, brands have jumped on the opportunity to signal to their audiences that they, too, are innovators. But when everyone’s talking about innovation, branding and messaging around it can…
When a company makes a major strategic pivot, such as M&A or entering a different category, leadership often ponders a new name, design language, and messaging. These are all important considerations, but too often one of the most crucial underlying aspects of a customer’s experience is overlooked—the company’s brand architecture. Brand architecture, or how a company structures its portfolio of brands and products for external audiences, plays a crucial role communicating business objectives, building equity, and guiding navigation. Thus, after a big change, merely retaining the same architecture—or bolting on a new solutions category—is a missed opportunity to clarify new priorities and emphasize a commitment to them.
Our client, OneSpan (formerly VASCO) was facing just this sort of inflection point; it was switching categories and incorporating a major acquisition. Although its legacy was in hardware authentication tokens, as mobile authentication became the norm, diversifying and modernizing its offerings became an imperative. It began developing a software platform that included digital authentication, biometrics, risk analysis, digital asset management, and e-signature solutions. As part of this plan, VASCO acquired Silanis, an e-signatures company, renaming it eSignLive by VASCO but thus far keeping the business units largely separate. VASCO came to DeSantis Breindel to help it boost its profile by creating a more integrated, modern story that incorporated its acquisition, left the door open for new M&A activity, and communicated its plans to become a primarily software-oriented business.
As part of our strategy, we identified the need to revisit the company’s brand architecture. But where to begin?
1. B2B brand architecture follows B2B brand strategy
VASCO had decided on a new path forward, embracing a software platform that provided a wider range of digital security and productivity services. Again and again, we heard from VASCO’s clients that such a secure foundation would allow them to build the stellar customer experiences that solidified their customer’s loyalty. We encapsulated this idea in a new brand essence: Be Bold. Be Secure. We also introduced a new company name, OneSpan, which represented the company’s ability to offer a wide portfolio of services on a single, user-friendly API called the Trusted Identity Platform.
However, despite OneSpan’s aggressive moves into the software space, our category research showed it was still communicating its offerings in the style of its legacy category: hardware. In the hardware space, descriptive naming can be unwieldy, so it’s de rigeur to use numbered product lines in its brand architecture. To illustrate, we used the example of the iPhone: it’s much easier to say iPhone 8 than “Apple smartphone with an all-glass front and back and no home button.” Following this convention, OneSpan (as VASCO) had previously used product brands and numbered models, such as the DIGIPASS GO 3 or the VACMAN controller. In fact, it had 37 different branded properties.
However, in the software space, descriptive naming was the norm as it emphasizes services over products and allows for more flexibility when introducing new versions or features. Thus, we recommended that OneSpan by and large move to what we called a “branded house model,” in which descriptively named services build equity in the corporate brand, rather than individual sub-brands. This would involve retiring most sub-brands and their respective logos.
2. Make pragmatic exceptions to the rules
Perhaps in an ideal world, companies could commit 100 percent to a B2B brand architecture model. However, in reality, there’s usually an exception to the rule—and that’s okay!
In OneSpan’s case, there were two offerings that demanded special consideration. The first was the DIGIPASS line of hardware authenticators. These products made up a large part of the company’s hardware offer, which, although not the company’s area of the focus for the future, still made up a significant portion of its revenues. The name DIGIPASS had significant equity; many potential clients were familiar with this product—but not the corporate name! Additionally, the DIGIPASS line already had a sizeable sales infrastructure that would be expensive and time-consuming to update, particularly for a product line that didn’t represent the company’s strategic growth plan. Finally, as noted above, because the DIGIPASS authenticators are hardware tokens, capturing their difference descriptively would be difficult. With all this in mind, we recommended OneSpan retain the DIGIPASS name. However, to fall more in line with the overall master brand plan, we also recommended the DIGIPASS logotype be retired and the name treated only in plain text on future communications.
3. Recognize the needs of specific audiences
The second unique case was that of eSignLive by VASCO, the company’s newly acquired e-signature offer. Although OneSpan wanted to encourage cross-selling between its e-signature and security offerings, the two generally have different purchaser audiences. Thus, to address this audience’s needs and motivations, eSignLive by VASCO had its own sales and marketing strategies and employees.
We agreed that it was important for eSignLive by VASCO to retain a certain level of autonomy, but will still wanted to move it closer to the OneSpan master brand for greater consistency and equity-building. Therefore, we recommended the division be renamed OneSpan Sign, adopt the OneSpan design language, but keep a separate-but-connected web presence and logotype. This would reinforce its relationship with OneSpan but also give it the flexibility it needed to speak effectively to its unique audience.
Lessons about B2B brand architecture
The OneSpan case illustrates the importance of reevaluating brand architecture after M&A activity. While a minor or very clearly operationally-aligned acquisition may not necessitate a change to brand architecture, a significant strategic shift often will. The structure of your portfolio of brands and offerings sends a powerful message to the market about your priorities and your future plans. Think: are you selling discrete products or a flexible suite? How important is cross-selling to your success? Where is it more important to build equity: the corporate level or the product level? These questions will guide a decision about whether or not brand architecture rationalization is needed.
While precedent may point you towards a house of brands or master brand model, it’s key to remember that just like your company, your brand architecture is unique. There will always be exceptions to the rule—your job is to find the right balance between pragmatism and idealism.
For OneSpan, the hard work paid off. The year of the rebrand, OneSpan’s software revenues exceed its hardware revenues for the first time, an important marker of transformation. The architecture strategy was even able to guide the smoothly integration of a second software acquisition, furthering OneSpan’s progress towards its goals.
To learn more about B2B brand architecture, contact us.
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