Business development 19 June 2018

Building a successful masterbrand: Lessons from Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Kellogg’s

Initially founded it 1824, Cadbury has become a multinational confectionery company, second only in size to Mars

Masterbrands – where a specific overarching brand name serves as the main anchoring point on which all underlying products are based – offer risks and rewards to stakeholders, writes Jamie Matthews, CEO and founding partner at creative agency Initials.

The commercial benefits of a masterbrand are clear, including the ability to create deep emotional connections with consumers by establishing positive associations across an entire product portfolio.

However, there are also instances when a focus on building and promoting a masterbrand could backfire. Realising the much-desired benefits, while avoiding the dangers, requires brands to adopt the right approach for the right reasons, based on the right insight.

Who benefits?

Masterbrands are created for different reasons. Some are born out of the size, scale and depth of individual brands within a portfolio – Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Kellogg’s are good examples – and these are typically viewed as most successful by consumers. Others, such as P&G and Unilever, are the result of corporate acquisition.

Key to constructing a successful masterbrand – as with any branding challenge – is identifying and delivering on the benefit that will be offered to the consumer. For the likes of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Mars, the consumer benefit is a greater emotional connection with the product range, based on pre-existing positive associations with the hero products.

The likes of P&G and Unilever struggle to achieve this purely through brand association – instead drawing on efficacy and product quality as the thread that binds them. This can feel intangible to consumers, making it more difficult to connect with the masterbrand.

It’s perhaps not entirely surprising that reactions were mixed when Unilever advertised its corporate brand for the first time on TV in 2014. They tried to align with a cause their audience would find relevant, but it didn’t filter down to product level, so was ultimately ineffective.

Umbrella or sponsorship

A good starting point on the path to masterbrand success is an umbrella campaign or an investment in sponsorship. Cadbury’s partnership with Coronation Street represents a successful example of this – serving the brand and programme well for over a decade. Despite this success, the partnership eventually came to an end due to a series of unconnected brand-side issues, with Cadbury’s reverting to individual marketing strategies for its core brands.

This offers a lesson to businesses pursuing a masterbrand strategy – they need to honestly assess their ability to change course. The nature of a masterbrand strategy makes this particularly important given that a perceived misstep, or something perceived as not 100% genuine, could damage the entire brand.

Deliberate associations created throughout the wider brand portfolio bring risks as well as benefits. Trying to please everyone, while staying relevant to specific audiences, is no easy task.

Using heritage

Brands shouldn’t lose sight of the existing heritage of individual brands within their portfolio when creating a masterbrand. Customers will already have an emotional connection with these brands based on this heritage, and a badly executed masterbrand strategy could dilute this.

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This kind of brand equity is more important now than ever, as real resonance becomes increasingly difficult to achieve in a crowded and competitive marketplace. The value this intangible connection offers brands differs from sector to sector. Hugely relevant for low-cost FMCG goods, for example, chosen by consumers based on subconscious decisions made in a fraction of a second. Here emotion is key to sparking purchasing decisions at the required instinctive level.

However, even in other sectors, where consumers make lengthier, more considered decisions, emotion might still be the differentiator over other brands and become influential in the decision-making journey.

All about the retailer

There always has and always will be a role for the masterbrand – in consumer-focused communications such as sponsorship and occasion-driven campaigns – but this is not where its only power lies and with the proliferation of retail channels and moves to online, it is likely these scenarios will become less common.

Given omni-channel shopping habits brands should move away from viewing masterbrands primarily as consumer-engagement tools and look to how they can use them as leverage with retailers.

That’s where they can and will really make a difference in the future. The collective power can ensure distribution, incremental POS display and preferential deals. With the World Cup on the horizon, it will be interesting to see which brands will be combining the two – using their sponsorship of the event to gain traction and stand out in-store and online.

Jamie Matthews is CEO and founding partner at Initials, which works with leading brands on planning and activation including PepsiCo, Philips, Heineken, Nestlé, Fiat Group and McLaren Automotive.

Jamie is also an active member of The Supper Club, which is a leading networking group for 400 growing SMEs around the UK. He is dedicated to drawing on his own experiences to mentor and help other SME’s, providing ideas and solutions to challenges they might face to help them to move forward and grow.

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