Under the Brand Umbrella: Structure, Support and Simplicity

Strategic Marketing Plan #9: Brand Architecture

How do you build a brand? With brand architecture, of course. This important part of your marketing strategy deserves some focused consideration. Where to start?

Never assume anything. Beginning there, let’s take a look at David Ogilvy’s definition of a brand. He says it’s the intangible sum of a product’s attributes, embracing the name, packaging, price, product history, reputation, and finally, the way it’s advertised. With all that riding on the back of the product, it’s important to build solid verbal architecture around it. That would be branding architecture.

Good branding architecture is built on a foundation of four philosophies:

Simple branding with a clear, concise message ensures that customers know what your product is and what it does. If your branding message is easy to understand, you won’t lose sales in translation.

Scalable branding messages set the bar high but leave room to grow. Realistically branding your products or services ensures delivery meets or exceeds your brand promise, resulting in pleased customers, as opposed to disgruntled, disappointed detractors.

Keeping your commitment, living up to your brand promise on a daily basis, is important for consistency. Brands customers can rely on to perform as expected get recommendations and repeat customers, leading to long-term brand success.

Brand architecture is built on several models and variations:

Many large, firmly established brands, with several product lines and many products in each line, elect to support the product line. Consider all the different automobile lines behind a brand like General Motors. The product lines receive the majority of attention in advertising and marketing. Rarely do you see a GM ad, but ads for Cadillac, Buick, Chevy, GMC trucks, and all the popular European lines frequent appropriate advertising and marketing sites. While the parent company is familiar, it is the product lines that define the target audience for each one.


Unlike large corporations with several product lines, new companies are probably smarter to focus on the master brand—in essence, the company name.

Establishing a name and position in the marketplace is an important milestone. Doing just that with accurate positioning statements, supported by appropriate brand architecture, builds loyalty, awareness, association, and a perception of quality.

Big Wood Ski, the company we are using as an example for this strategic marketing plan series, is a young company that would probably be best served by building brand architecture that supports the master brand/company name. While there are different lines, they are all a part of a very distinctive niche with very specific attributes.

It is imperative that Big Wood Ski earns a spot in the luxury ski marketplace. Therefore, it should structure its brand architecture with different dimensions than GM. GM delineations are focused on price and buyer differentiation; Big Wood Ski will focus on building the master brand, while lines will cater to different lifestyles.

With Big Wood Ski, the Elite Custom skis are aligned to their highest-end buyer, while the Premier Line is geared toward a more pragmatic individual. All appreciate the aesthetic and performance aspects of Big Wood Ski products.

BWS tri

Framework for brand architecture? Boom. Built. Next step? Use that brand architecture framework to craft an advertising campaign that points directly at the target audience. What might an ad that fits the above parameters look like for Big Wood Ski?

First, the ad would emphasize the master brand—in this case, Big Wood Ski. That means the dominant element in the ad is the brand—not necessarily the first thing in the ad, but the first place your eye goes on the page. Product lines would be a secondary focus, followed by attention to individual products within the lines. It would be important to focus on the positioning pillars in SMP #8: performance, tailor-made skis, functional art, and lifetime refinishing.

Creating a single ad that does all that in one fell swoop might have even driven David Ogilvy out for a three-martini lunch. If budget allows, create one ad for each of the four position pillars. If budget is tight, focus on the master brand. Period. After you’ve captured attention with a brand-centered ad, clearly and directly send that attention to the website, brick-and-mortar store, or phone to do the rest of the work.

Second, the ad should consider the Big Wood Ski primary objective, as stated in SMP #4, to become the high-end, luxury wood ski market leader over the next three years. That means designing a campaign that would reach out and grab the attention of the target market. Good luxury branding doesn’t waver. It always looks the part, delivers what it promises, and gets in the viewer’s head, continuing to drive curiosity about, and desire for, the brand or product.

Lastly, the ad should be memorable. Make it count, and don’t be boring. Stick to your mission, vision, and values as described in SMP posts #1, #2, and #3. Being clever or unusual is usually good. Going against the grain of your company’s basics is usually bad. If you’re going out on a limb, make sure your advertising lines up with your company and is not just a clever, here-and-gone retweet or repost.

For Big Wood Ski, as a young company, funds are limited, but focusing ads on master branding, with just enough tease to drive traffic to the website and just enough information to give readers reason to stay tuned, will give an advantage.

Looking at Big Wood Ski’s competition, it seems the market is tight, but that vying for the top spot is not out of the question. Relying on word of mouth, one of its biggest competitors seems to be navigating the market well. Another brand is teaming up with other luxury companies outside the ski industry, gaining an edge, pun intended, through an established luxury brand looking for a new angle. Whether it’s an automobile, five-star hotel, group of resorts, airline, or FBO, hitching your wagon to an established star is a good thing, as long as your goals are similar.

Is your company ready to brand? Do you know who your competition is? Have you done your homework, comparing and contrasting how your brand stacks up against other marketplace options? Do you know who your primary customers are? Do you live up to your product claims?

If you know these things and are prepared to move forward, gather the troops integral to your success. Start addressing ideas and plans, homing in on those that serve your clients’ needs, remain consistent with your values, and work with your business strategy. If your brand is already built, ensure your branding architecture matches the tactics and that you’ve refined it according to these guidelines.

Next up? Pricing and packaging.