To rename or not to rename? Clients often want to answer this question early in the project. And it makes sense. A new corporate or sub-brand name is not only very exciting, it’s also a huge investment. However, for this very reason, it’s may be best to postpone a naming decision until it can be informed by research, brand strategy, and — the focus of this piece — brand architecture.

This may seem backward. How can you organize a brand portfolio if you don’t know the names of the brands? But turn the question around: how can you name a portfolio’s brands if you don’t know what they are, what they represent, and the nature of their affiliation with the parent company? This is why brand architecture needs to come first. It provides important guidance about which properties need names and how those names should be associated in the portfolio.

Defining brand architecture scope

A brand architecture strategy will determine which services or offerings should carry a sub-brand name and which should be purely descriptive. It’s the difference between Marcus by Goldman Sachs and the Goldman Sachs securities practice.

Brand architecture informs which names need to be developed (or alternatively, retained). For example, a company may choose to migrate to a master-brand architecture, opting for descriptive offering names to drive equity to the corporate brand. This decision determines the need to generate many names and or just one. Brand architecture defines the scope of the naming project before it kicks off, and helps you more accurately budget for name generation, signage, collateral updates, trademarking, etc.

One of DeSantis Breindel’s current clients is a consulting firm whose offerings have grown significantly through acquisition, leaving it with a “house of brands” that doesn’t communicate the firm’s end-to-end capabilities. Needing to tell a more unified, full-service story, the firm came to us to create a new brand positioning and architecture — and potentially new corporate and sub-brand names. After years of M&A, the firm had six legacy brands under its corporate umbrella. Would we need to develop one new brand name? Six new sub-brand names? No names at all? Brand architecture was critical to setting the scope of the naming project. Ultimately, after reviewing the equity of and synergies between brands in the portfolio, we recommended retaining the corporate name and two specialized sub-brand names, but subsuming the other four under a new sub-brand.

Guiding name generation

The value of brand architecture in naming doesn’t end with determining how many names are necessary. Brand architecture also provides important guidance for name generation, for both the corporate brand and its sub-brands. A good architecture strategy will articulate the desired level of association between named properties and the corporate brand, which has a major impact on naming strategy. For instance, if sub-brands and the corporate brand need to be closely tied, the corporate name may need to work well in an endorsement line or as the part of the sub-brand name In such cases, a long corporate name, such as that of law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel, will likely not be the optimal solution

On the other hand, if a brand architecture strategy is very simple, it allows namers to try out some of the “blue sky” names that wouldn’t work for a more complicated portfolio. While it’s not a B2B business—per se—matchmaking service It’s Just Lunch! represents the kind of “out there” name afforded by a portfolio with no or few branded services.

Providing evaluation criteria

Anyone who has completed a naming project knows that names are one of the hardest subjects on which to find consensus. No matter how hard you try to contain them, decision-makers’ personal preferences end up having influence. Keep subjective opinions to a minimum by grounding name evaluation criteria in previously agreed-upon brand and architecture strategies. Instead of asking leadership whether they “like” a name, ask them if they think it supports the brand strategy, or if it will work seamlessly in the brand architecture. Having critical brand elements in place before discussing whether or how to rename the company or product will provide an objective framework for judgment, diminishing tension and easing decision-making.

Case study: OneSpan

For OneSpan, a digital security company formerly known as VASCO, brand architecture played an especially important role in name development. Although we recommended the brand generally opt for descriptive product naming, we also identified several special cases for which a sub-brand name was justified. One of them was the company’s newly acquired e-signature offer, previously known as eSignLive by VASCO. Although our client 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, e-signatures had retained 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 we still wanted to move it closer to the master brand for greater consistency and equity-building. Thus, in our brand architecture strategy, we proposed that the e-signature offer have a unique name, but one that was closely linked to the corporate name, which we recommended be changed to reflect the company’s important inflection point.

Brand architecture became a critical part of our naming brief, a document that is used to communicate brand strategy, cultural considerations, and other guidelines to the naming team. The new corporate name had to be able to be easily adapted for the e-signature offer’s related, but unique, name.

The winning name — OneSpan — represented the company’s ability to offer a wide portfolio of services on a single, user-friendly API called the Trusted Identity Platform. But, importantly, it was also flexible enough to be attached to the e-signature sub-brand: OneSpan Sign. What’s more, the selection process was relatively painless: using pre-determined judging criteria, the leadership was able to evaluate honestly and come to a consensus more easily.

Brand architecture and naming: necessary partners

Brand architecture. Naming. It might go too far to say you can never consider the latter without the former, but for the most part this statement holds true. Brand architecture has a tremendous impact on a company’s naming strategy, particularly at the sub-brand level. This isn’t to say that when considering a rename, an entirely new brand architecture needs to be developed. However, it does mean that before embarking on most naming initiatives, you or your agency partner should inventory your portfolio to gain an up-to-date understanding of the brand architecture. Doing so will illuminate existing patterns in the portfolio whose continuation, or evolution, will be integral to ensuring coherency and consistency in the naming strategy.

To learn more about brand architecture and naming, contact us.

About the author

Howard Breindel

Howard Breindel is a cofounder of DeSantis Breindel. He works with visionary leaders across B2B industries whose companies are at critical inflection points, helping them harness the power of brand to grow their business.

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