10 Questions to Ask Before Developing a Brand

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So many brands, so little attention! Answer these 10 questions before getting into the fray with a new brand or sub-brand.

1. Is your target audience clearly defined? If so, is it not being reached by the master brand?

A clear target audience is critical to the success of a master brand or a sub-brand. Make sure that the master brand isn’t already reaching, or is not able to reach, your target audience before considering other solutions, and only use a data-driven approach to prove it.

2. Do you have the resources to maintain a strong separate identity?

It takes a full campaign to anchor a sub-brand in the minds of your audiences. Some businesses spend up to 50 percent of the overall master brand budget to establish a separate sub-brand. That can diminish both the sub-brand and the master brand at the same time.

3. Will the lifespan of your unit outlast the time it takes to establish a strong identity?

If the lifespan of your unit is uncertain or too short to demonstrate a return on investment, leverage the master brand for more efficient, near-term benefit.

4. Do you have a clear, long-term resource plan to ensure success?

If the lifespan of your unit is long enough to prove ROI, you’ll need significant resources to maintain a strong sub-brand over the long haul. Audiences require constant nurturing with relevant and authentic communication strategies. That takes careful planning and broad support over time.

5. Is your unit’s reputation strong enough to succeed on its own, or is it stronger than the master brand?

The identities of well known, highly ranked programs are currently being altered to line up to the master brand for greater clarity and cohesion. At many of these programs, the institution name is rising in prominence. Wharton recently changed their position to include the words “University of Pennsylvania” in its logo.

6. Is marketing and branding the focus of your unit?

We are all proud of our work and strive to demonstrate value and impact, but if communications is not your focus, or you don’t have the necessary skill sets, simply leverage the master brand. It’s already been thought through, vetted, shared, tested, and is sure to accommodate your communication needs.

...assert a unique content strategy and subtle design distinction within the parameters of the master brand, leveraging its strengths instead of competing against them.

7. Do you have clear, empirical, data-driven reasons for differentiation?

A lot of individual units within a master brand have a strong, unique internal culture and want to be heard and recognized. That’s a good thing. But if you’re not strongly differentiated by evidence-based, logical criteria, a sub-brand won’t help–it can even be destructive. If the unit truly wants to reach a broad audience constructively, they’ll do this: assert a unique content strategy and subtle design distinction within the parameters of the master brand, leveraging its strengths instead of competing against them. That will have greater, more durable impact on recognition and audience engagement.

8. Do the advantages of a unique identity outweigh the risk of misalignment with the master brand? How do you know?

Even when a sub-brand solution proves value, it may not stack up against the risks of misalignment with the master brand. Do the benefits of your sub-brand include opportunity cost? Add the start-up investment of time and resources to the cost of ownership of your new sub-brand. Does it amount to greater value than the simpler task of master brand alignment?

9. Are there special features in the market in which you operate that suggest that the master brand alone is not enough?

If you are working under the auspices of a large, institutional master brand, chances are you can leverage that scale in your favor. Deploy targeted content strategies and unique design approaches within the master brand for hyper-targeted communications for special audience segments. That works far better (and longer) than hyper-targeted brand identities.

10. Are there unique advantages to maintaining a separate identity that you don’t/can’t have with the master brand?

If your work amplifies one or more of the themes of the master brand, you’ll be able to leverage that stronger brand equity while making the master brand more vivid for specific audiences. It’s a “win win”, with less work.

Good luck with your project! Send your questions to brand@cornell.edu and we’d be happy to answer them.