Stratospheric success vs standing for something

May 21, 2018
Jamie Matthews

Masterbrands – where a specific overarching brand name serves as the main anchoring point on which all underlying products are based – have clear commercial benefits. These extend far beyond their ability to encourage emotional connections with consumers by enabling the merger of multiple product offerings into overarching campaigns. They’ve been on the rise in recent years, with everyone from Virgin to Coke shifting towards masterbrand focused marketing strategies.

The stratospheric success experienced by many masterbrands can make the temptation to create and invest in growing a masterbrand of their own tantalising for marketers. When done well it can benefit products across an entire portfolio. However, in a climate where budgets are tight, and ROI is critical, brands are arguably better off dividing and conquering alone.

Standing for something 

When it comes to masterbrands, the background to how it was created in the first place is of utmost importance. Some masterbrands – usually the ones considered most successful in the eyes of consumers – are born out of size, scale and depth of individual brands. Coke, Pepsi and Mars are good examples of these. Others, such as P&G and Unilever, are born through corporate acquisition.

The million-dollar question, which needs to be answered when looking to construct a Masterbrand, is that which needs to be answered for any other branding brief – what is the consumer benefit? Where Coke, Pepsi and Mars benefit from more of an emotional brand connection with consumers based on familiarity, for the likes of P&G and Unilever, it is more of a struggle. What binds them is efficacy and product quality; things that can feel intangible to the consumer, meaning they can find it harder to connect with the masterbrand as a result. When Unilever advertised its corporate brand for the first time on TV in 2014 reactions were mixed.

The good and the bad

Creating umbrella campaigns or investing in sponsorship properties are a good place to start when building a masterbrand; Cadbury’s partnership with Coronation Street is a great example of this. While the partnership eventually came to an end due to a combination of unconnected issues brand side, with Cadbury’s reverting to individual marketing strategies for its core brands, it served both brand and programme well for over a decade.

Strategies like this create a sense of purpose for the masterbrand but must still be funded through individual brand contributions. The main risk is that if sales start to fall, the house of cards will come tumbling down for the masterbrand too. It’s the classic business challenge; the possibility for big success comes hand in hand with a danger of overreaching.

Playing to strengths

For a more guaranteed return, brands should capitalise on the already established heritage of individual brands, as customers already identify and connect with these on an emotional level. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Brand heritage is an incredibly valuable thing. These days, emotional connections with consumers are more important and challenging to build than ever. This is thanks to the distraction barrier that brands experience when trying to capture the attention of consumers in a crowded, competitive marketplace.

The reason for brands needing to build an emotional connection differs from sector to sector. For products bought on impulse it’s because they are chosen based on sub-conscious, rather than conscious decisions. They need to appeal to the instinctive instead and emotional connections are a key way to do that. This does not mean that products that demand a more invested decision prior to purchase are exempt, an emotional connection with a brand may well be the winning advantage point for consumers over a brand with less salience on that level.

Where masterbrands can make a difference is by leveraging their scale in trade to ensure their brands benefit from better deals, giving consumers a better reason to purchase. In that sense they always have, and always will be, valuable. But this approach is still only advisable in certain very specific instances, and it’s vital to avoid losing that all-important consumer connection along the way.