Marketing is really going to have to prove its worth over the next
decade. Consumers have more money, are more confident and promiscuous in
their purchasing and are more aware of their needs as they pass through
life stages. Our children are far more brand-literate and brand-wise
than we were. Even eight-year-olds have decided which companies and
brands are relevant to their future lives.
What chance does the sub-brand have in this climate? The truth is that
most sub-brands are losing the war of attrition. For too many, marketing
has failed to make the difference. Their plight is not helped by the
fact that their corporate umbrella brands are losing their wars too.
Which have the same profiles, reputations and loyalty they once enjoyed:
Shell, Heinz, Clarks, Crosse & Blackwell? None really. Big companies
seem to have fewer people charged with overseeing and improving the
identities of both corporate and sub-brands. Those which do, have
succinct and meaningful corporate attitudes, such as Kellogg,
McDonald’s, Sainsbury’s (although the latter’s is waning somewhat) and,
at the smaller end, Club Med.
The real winners tomorrow will be the companies that do something about
changing consumer attitudes today. Marketing-led companies are rightly
re-appraising their portfolios because the harsh reality is that there
is inadequate support for their primary brands, let alone secondary
That we’ve ended up with too many sub-brands is not really surprising,
with companies innovating for years. Perhaps they also got too clever in
their tactics, assuming that consumers understood, or even needed, their
new sub-brands. Midland Bank’s Orchard and Vector were examples: too
complicated and unnecessary. They are now back on track with Midland and
‘The listening bank’.
All brands need to have single-minded propositions and not all-things-
to-all-consumers identities. They need saliency, appeal and
accessibility. Saliency is vital: if you are not on the shopping list
you won’t be bought. Appeal means not just being attractive but being
really desirable. Accessibility takes on real meaning for people moving
through life stages. Having your corporate and sub-brands accessible to
them, keeping them relevant, is vital.
Companies with single-minded equities will be best equipped to achieve
this. ‘Helpful’ for the Halifax, ‘care’ for Boots and ‘value for money’
from Asda. Their sub-brands can feed off these properties, embellishing
the mother brand through their campaigns. But companies will have to
work umbrella branding strategies harder to under-pin sub-brands.
Corporations like Reckitt & Colman, with complex sub-brand portfolios,
need to explore ways in which their names can add value to company, sub-
brand and new-product-development activities.
However, it is no longer enough just to be admired as a company or sub
brand; there are too many of them now. You have to be desired too. This
alone will sort the marketing men from the boys over the next decade.
Andrew Mitchell is managing partner of Mitchell Patterson Aldred