What’s in a name? -Kantar

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was the beloved father of the nation. South Africans widely referred to him by his clan name, Madiba. With that, we made it even more personal and relevant and claimed it as our own, signaling two things: a relationship of deep affection and respect, and a reaffirmation of its African roots.

Names matter. They are an integral part of our identities. This also applies to brand names. Brand names serve as heuristics that trigger all the associations we’ve built over time in an instant, simplifying our decision-making process. Or they are supposed to.

Just as we call each other by our first names or nicknames, people are simplifying their interaction with brands. They drink Nescafé, Savanna and Castle. They drive in their Mercs or Beamers to shop at Woolies. They meet on Teams. They party with Tassies and Klippies. They go one step further and use brand names generically to describe an entire category – they write Jik on their shopping list when they put the store brand in their cart. As marketers, we do our best to remind consumers to buy Nescafé Gold, Nescafé Classic, Savanna Dry, Savanna Light, Savanna Angry Lemon, Savanna Chilled Chilli, Castle Lager, Castle Light, Castle Free and the real Jick. All on a small budget.

At the same time, brands are becoming more complex. Kantar BrandZ analysis shows that brands that rely on a single category or market have the highest risk profiles. In contrast, brands that have diversified into multiple categories not only show faster brand growth, but also have a better chance of above-average growth. The obvious example is Amazon, which operates across 15 product and service categories, having grown from a bookstore to a fully interconnected ecosystem touching multiple aspects of people’s lives. Closer to home, Discovery has expanded from medical aid to insurance, credit cards and banking. Retailers Clicks and Checkers launched Clicks Baby, Checkers Sixty60 and Checkers Little Me.

What's in a name?

As brands grow, add products and services, and expand into other categories, they gradually become a tiered mix of core brands, sub-brands, and variants. Because we work so closely with all of our brands, it’s often hard for us to realize how confusing this can be for consumers. The number of brands increased by 30% between 2008 and 2018. However, brand awareness only increased by 4%, which shows that people are running out of bandwidth. Can we take a step back and simplify things?

A good place to start is to clarify and describe the relationship between the main brand and the sub-brands for ourselves. Most marketers are familiar with David Aaker’s Brand Relationship Spectrum, which defines the concept of brand architecture: the ecosystem within a brand. It is made up of four basic strategies. If the main brand runs the show, we’re talking Branded House (think BMW). If the main brand fades into the background and is not used prominently in branding, we are talking about House of Brands, for example P&G. House of Brands consumers are often unaware that the brands are even connected or owned by the main brand. These are the easy and obvious extremes.

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It gets a little trickier between the two. Sub-brands are closer to Branded House. They are extensions of the main brand and co-pilots of brand equity, like Apple’s iPhone. Approved brands are closer to House of Brands, while primary branding comes in the form of quality assurance or a seal of approval, like the Nestlé halo hovering above KitKat. To complicate matters further, we have recently seen House of Brands companies like Unilever lose their wallflower status and start to become more prominent.

While this may seem basic, it can help us decide where to focus in terms of investment, brand storytelling, positioning, and communications budget when it comes to building equity. In a brand house, it’s usually the primary brand that drives the story. When you introduce sub-brands, they share this role with the main brand. For endorsed brands, the focus is again on building equity for the endorsed brand.

It’s easy to see why master brand strategies are growing in popularity and why Coca-Cola and Hershey’s have moved to branding. The main benefit from a marketing perspective is a more effective marketing spend. By focusing on the primary brand, a brand can gain clarity of association without diluting marketing efforts and resources.

What's in a name?

Some marketers pin their hopes on the halo effect of the main brand transferring associations to sub-brands and variants, without showing or telling consumers what they represent. Kantar analysis showed that advertising halo effects are not guaranteed – half of the ad variation examples showed no image change due to halo effects. Why should the consumer care about how you organize your internal brand ecosystem? Regardless of how you define these interrelationships, people need a reason to believe and buy. You need to clarify why the brand is different and relevant to the consumer.

Back to where we started: make sure people know your name, who you are, and what you stand for. Your brand name competes in a cluttered, fast-paced environment where people barely have the bandwidth to remember their children’s names and end up calling them Sweetie and Darling. What will consumers call you and what will they say about their relationship with you?

Revealed: The brand building model in the digital age

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This article first appeared in the 2022 Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable South African Brands report. Learn more here.

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