The 4 C's of Portfolio Brand Building

Customer, Community, Category & Commitment: Building a strong portfolio brand can pay dividends.



“Creating effective brand portfolio strategies is one of the most difficult and critical challenges facing today’s executives. Too often, the family of brands generates customer confusion, inefficiencies, mixed opportunities, and misallocation of resource rather than supporting each other and the brand’s underlying strategy.” So says marketing guru David Aaker. Not an easy task then.

Often when thinking about portfolios, the majority of time and resource is spent on the brands within the portfolio and far less on the portfolio or franchise brand itself, which is not seen to be an asset valuable to the bottom line (more of that later). Yet the same rules of brand building apply, with the opportunity to create value for company and customers alike.

From our experience across multiple companies and portfolios, a strong portfolio brand can be created, with a number of requirements for success. We call these The 4 C's of Portfolio Brand Building: Customer, Community, Category and Commitment

Let’s take a look at each in turn:

Customer focus

It is hardly rocket science to suggest that focusing on customer need would be an important element of building a portfolio brand, but the key word here is focus. A mistake commonly made is that, as a franchise offering spans multiple brands and, therefore, potentially multiple customer needs, investments are spread thinly across multiple disparate areas. This, in turn, dilutes their impact, the brand itself and the associated brand experience.

Rather, it is important to find the common ground with customers, build a brand supported by the right partners, with a focused program to support that brand. Investing heavily in those areas of focus maximizes the chance of success and ensures optimum impact and profile of those programs. BMS have done this very well in Lung Cancer focusing on one or two core areas, linked closely to customer needs.

Intelligence is important too. After all, the ability to focus on the right areas requires ongoing partnerships with customers to conduct research on the category trends, values, and drivers. Those customer groups are more likely to share such information with you if they see the value that you bring via the delivery of focused programs. It’s a virtuous circle.

Be part of the Community

If we are honest in pharma, although we do a huge amount of good and provide a huge amount of support to the healthcare community, often this is as an external supplier, rather than as a leader and contributor within the community itself. That difference is significant.

In order to do be successful, it is important to engage actively as part of the community: operate where your customers already exist - their platforms, their events etc. - rather than attempting to force your own preferred channels. It is not something pharma has traditionally done very well. In contrast, Nike have excelled. By moving away from traditional marketing campaigns around its brand and products, in a bid to get closer to its customers, Nike has instead focused on developing a dialog with its customers, in places where its customers engage.

Linked to that is the need for a very explicit sense of humility whereby we adopt a relationship of equals with customers: being open, listening and prepared to cede control of content to trusted partners. CitiGroup have welcomed partnerships with major content providers and platforms, ceding control and allowing them to leverage their reach and expertise. For example, they partner with Huffington Post to provide compelling, valuable content to support networking opportunities.

Educate to enhance Category value

To build a strong portfolio brand, it is important to enhance the overall category value and outcomes by driving education and/or innovation.

Dell’s approach is to help people do what they do, but better. It is based on the premise that, if people get the best use out of their computer, it will ultimately make them a repeat customer. Dell has implemented a number of consumer education initiatives to empower their customers to be more knowledgeable and to get better use out of the equipment they purchase. IBM have taken a similar approach with their ‘Smarter Planet’ program.

Franchise leaders are willing to take risks (and potentially fail) too in order to meet the needs of the community and enhance the category as a whole. They are often more able to do this when the outcome is not attached to a specific brand or brands. For example, a number of pharma companies have set up charitable foundations linked to the corporate parent. As well as garnering trust, the activities of the foundation are seen by customers as enabling the organization to take greater risks as program outcomes are not tied to the short-term commercial goals of the product brands.

This takes us neatly to our final element ...

Commit holistically and in the long-term 

By its very nature, building a franchise brand requires a company to be in it for the long haul, demonstrating a long-term commitment to the category with multi-year programs. The focus of these investments should be firmly on delivering a compelling ‘above brand’ offering that adds value over and above the individual and combined product propositions and should avoid any proactive selling of a product or offering with franchise level activity.

Nike made developing a community and life time value core to its strategy in 1996 with a view to drive a long-term commitment to get closer to its customers. Since then Nike have demonstrated their commitment by making several long-term investments. BMS initiated its focus to address cancer disparities in Central and Eastern Europe in 2007 and has since been working with partners to provide psychosocial support for cancer patients and their families, as well as education, screening and expanded training for healthcare workers for nearly a decade.

But does it work for my business? 

You might be thinking that this is all very interesting but does making such major investments in the portfolio brand generate an ROI? Let’s take a look at a couple of examples I have mentioned to answer that very question:

CitiGroup identified that women were an underserved customer group in the banking sector. They took the time to understand the challenges and needs of women and developed a franchise brand and program to support them. According to Citi, their Women & Co members tend to be “stickier” customers and use 15% more products from the bank compared to even its valued Citigold customers (those with $100,000 or more in assets with the bank).

IBM launched the “smarter planet’ initiative in 2008, of which healthcare was a core element. They have communicated global challenges and been transparent in their involvement to help solve them. IBM analysts estimate that the Smarter Planet strategy has expanded their market potential by as much as 40% globally, or $2.3 Billion dollars. Since the initiative was launched in November 2008, IBM’s stock price has increased 64% against a Dow that grew just 14%.

Nike made a conscious choice to move away from classic marketing channels and to develop a community of “everyday people who engage in exercise’. They have integrated the ability to be part of that community into their products and also facilitated people sharing their activity, creating groups in the real world and content that supports their exercise goal. Analysts say the 55% growth in membership last year was important in driving sales in its running division up 30%, to $2.8 billion.

I’d say those numbers speak for themselves. Building a strong portfolio brand with synergy, relevance, differentiation and engagement will deliver value to your business.


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