Practical brand architecture

Guest post from Anne Charbonneau, Managing Partner for France and Benelux.

Brand architecture can be a theoretical and even tortuous process. But it doesn’t have to be. Done well, it can be a valuable tool to help you grow your brand and business, with benefits for both the company and consumer (see below). In this post we look at some key learnings and essential steps for practical brand architecture, based on recent client work.

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Starting from the reality of the shelf is crucial if you want to assess how your brand range works now and how to make it work harder. It’s nice to see the ‘picture-perfect’ range that sits on the shelves in brand manager’s office, with every SKU of the brand neatly displayed next to each other. But forget this ‘fantasy range’ and picture instead the line-up that sits on your average supermarket shelf.

In a recent project for a global brand leader, we asked each of the country marketeers how many products they had on shelf in an average store. It turned out that number was 5, which is of course a fraction of the available full range. The challenge is to make your range feel comprehensive with only 5 core products, so start by drafting a picture of what this “backbone” range should be


To improve your brand architecture, you need to understand how consumers actually buy your products and shop your category. We tend to start brand architecture project by asking participants to go shopping in the category with a few consumers. There are many ways to get fresh shopper insights. For example, promiscuous shoppers (that will be most people) who shop across several brands are usually  interesting, because they will often trade-off in surprising ways, across ranges, brands, price-points, beyond what you may define as your ‘product categories. On the yogurt category we found that some consumers are totally ‘plain fans’. They never touch a flavoured yogurt, navigating instead across all sorts of plain dairy products, such as fromage frais, and different formats. These insights had to be taken into account when designing the core range.


If your brand has sub brands, you may find it more effective to park those at first and start with the core product range, ensuring it answers the fundamental category needs. Too often, we see great packaging innovation or product formula upgrades being kidnapped by sub brands, instead of being used to make the core range more relevant. So make sure your core range mix has what it takes to attract recruit and keep consumers.


Your range architecture needs to work in harmony with your brand vision. You could confuse people if your brand vision is about authenticity and your new range is based on Powerfruits and Stevia sweetener. One good exercise is to ask yourself: “If we started today from our brand vision with zero products, what product range would we bring to market?”


The next step is to use formats and sizes to tackle different occasions or target groups. U&A and home-usage insights can help you make sharper and more relevant choices of formats and pack size to answer real consumer needs. Not all your products need to come in multiple flavours and pack sizes. In ethnography sessions for a food brand, we found out that people were actually splitting in two what was meant to be single use packs. So providing additional smaller pack size for key existing SKUs was a no-brainer. And the French sugar brand Beghin Say offers sugar in easy-pour pouch packs, in addition to the normal cubes and granules.

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Once you have cleaned up your core range you can move on to sub-brands Here again, it’s worth remembering the shopping reality: sub-brands are often separated from your core range in store. They need to stand on their feet. Consumers should ‘get it’ in store without having been educated by years of TV ads explaining what the ‘concept’ is about. An example of a good sub brand execution is Pampers with “ Easy up’. It has clear and strong descriptive benefit (baby can pull it up himself) with a catchy and ownable wording.

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Your new architecture should be future-proof, with strategic spaces to accommodate potential “new babies”. To do so, make sure that your team has developed a point of view on where growth is going to come from so that you plan foe these new products. This is the time to inject your most promising innovation streams and clarify their place & role in the future product portfolio.

In conclusion, keeping in the real world can help make a brand architecture exercise useful for your brand and business, and avoid getting lost in the theory and detail.

To further explore brand architecture check out this other post.