If individual brands were not complex enough to decode, understand and manage, using and manipulating several brands at once is tougher still.
Brands are often not used in isolation. Companies use parent brands, daughter brands, sub-brands and all manner of tricks to imbue a product and a range of products with particular associations and meanings, leveraging investment in old brands into newer products.
Different ways of using brand families are used by different companies. Japanese electronic companies tend to favour strong corporate brands (Panasonic). Leading consumer goods companies (eg Procter and Gamble) tend to favour strong product-level brands. Others (eg Nestle) take a combination approach.
There are no hard and fast rules, but for companies with products that innovate rapidly, family brand names are popular (eg Walkman, ThinkPad). Where products are more stable and form part of a portfolio of similar products segmenting and targeting different consumers, product level brands are commonly used (eg Ariel, Bounce, Dreft and Tide from Procter and Gamble). These may in turn be split into sub-brands (eg Ford Focus LX, Ghia, Zetec).
Where a brand is strong, it becomes possible to extend the brand into other categories and product types - brand-stretch. For instance Fairy (P&G) was stretched from a washing up liquid to become a washing powder brand too. Immense care is needed for brand stretching so as to maintain existing brand values and to avoid diluting or harming the existing brand franchise.
On the one hand, consumers are continually having to decode this hierarchy of brands and what might be thought of as short hand and simplicity, might in fact be a recipe for confusion and bewilderment to customers. On the other hand, producers have to develop and maintain positioning, communications and messages consistently for each of the brand elements on offer which can add a significant cost and organisational overhead.
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Brand personification Measuring brand equity