The pros and cons of a masterbrand strategy

With high-profile brands such as Coca-Cola adopting masterbranding strategies, experts discuss why this approach could be wildly successful for some, and challenging for others

In the past few years, more and more brands have jumped on the masterbrand bandwagon, merging product offerings into one overarching campaign in an effort to emotionally connect with their customer on a more holistic level.

Experts agree there are many benefits to these campaigns. For instance, a masterbrand strategy can promote an overall emotional response associated with a particular brand. A case in point is Hershey’s ‘Hello Happy. Hello Hershey’s’ campaign, which was designed to evoke a happy, meaningful sense of family nostalgia.

A masterbrand approach has the additional benefit of efficiency. Coke’s recently launched global ‘Taste the Feeling’ campaign, for example, allows the brand to focus on multiple campaigns promoting each of its individual soft drinks.

According to Lee Naylor, managing director of marketing research and brand strategy firm, The Leading Edge, masterbrand marketing and advertising is a great way for some companies to maximise their marketing spend.

“It’s a good way to maximise your return on investment, especially for quite iconic brands, which have a lot to say about their history,” he told CMO. “Masterbrand marketing can be very powerful, when deployed correctly, because your brand can tap into those higher order emotional cues.

“You always have to take a step back and ask: How does the campaign fit in with your core brand philosophy?”

Brands are also using this strategy to remind customers of their production story. Kelloggs, which ran launched its first ever master brand campaign in the UK in 2014, used a TVC to remind people that every bowl of cereal comes from a single grain in a farm.

“It’s easy to say these brands are doing something they haven’t done before, but in a lot of instances, for instance with Coke, they’ve run these sort of campaigns on and off,” commented Brett Rolfe, chief strategy officer at creative marketing and branding agency, Naked Communications. “Kelloggs has also run different masterbrand campaigns in the past.

“At the same time, there are also lots of larger companies like Nestlé and Unilever that are quite happy in maintaining their individual product stance. There are drivers for both.”

Higher-level versus segment branding

So why would brands be more interested in masterbranding now? According to Rolfe, in an increasingly competitive, global environment, it often makes more sense to operate at such a level.

“Fundamentally with masterbrand advertising, you’re getting more economy of scale,” he said. “The challenge is you’re going to be less product specific, less audience specific and less market specific. The flip side of that is you can create larger, broader campaigns that have potentially more impact because they’re speaking about bigger ideas and more general aspirational thoughts.”

Rolfe said marketers must be mindful that a successful masterbrand campaign sits on top of an underlying robust brand strategy and a portfolio management approach.

“The companies we’re talking about tend to be more established with products that are not necessarily in areas of high innovation,” he said. “Then there are other companies like tech companies, where product innovation is occurring more rapidly, and where you need to segment your strategy to reach different audiences.”

Naylor added brands shouldn’t focus so much on a masterbrand campaign that they lose sight of individual products. “It’s not a way of saving money, but a strategy and part of using your resources wisely.”

Brand advisor to agency Bubblefish, and marketing director of SAI Marketing, Mahesh Enjeti, said a good masterbrand campaign requires a lot of deep thinking, something many brands struggle with.

“With companies small and big, the pressures and constraints sometimes get too much and you tend to do things on the run,” he said. “You need to evaluate the current equity of your brand and what you are set to potentially lose or gain by creating this new brand equity. That’s where I think marketers need to be much more strategic and at the same time, brand managers need to be more business oriented.”

Creating a new masterbrand, message and campaign, even for established companies like Coca-Cola, can cost 6.5 times more in terms of awareness, Brand &Co founder and managing director, Anthony Moulton, said, making it important to tread carefully.

“If you’re marketing lots of different products with no connection to the masterbrand, or the ‘mothership’, it takes so much longer and a lot more investment to get those brands out there,” he said. “But if your products have a strong connection to the masterbrand, it is not so challenging.

“For instance, if you’re buying an Audi A1 at around $25,000 compared to an R8, which sets you back $250,000, you’re still attracted to the brand because you know it is underpinned by Audi. You know the technology that has gone behind that $250,000 car can still filter down to the bottom end of the market.”

Head of planning at brand and advertising agency, BMF Australia, Hugh Munro, saw Cadbury as a clever example of building on brand equity with a masterbrand campaign, while letting individual products live on.

“Cadbury invested heavily in product development that reinforced its positioning as a masterbrand and the credentials of the sub-brand,” he claimed. “They’ve said we know what Cadbury is all about, which is about joy, but we need to build on that. As a result, the company looked into Marvellous Creations to build on its brand equity.”

Keep the message clear and simple

In a world rich in media and ad content, experts also agree a lot of brands forget the power of a clear and simple strategy, instead overloading customers with too many messages.

“In any strategy, you need to keep it relevant to three things – your brand attributes, the personality and the brand essence,” Moulton explained. “But rather than looking at the brand essence and reinforcing, a lot of brands get lost in lots of different messages. Great brands just position two or three key brand attributes, because the market just can’t keep up with all the messages.”

With a career in marketing and branding spanning over 40 years, Enjeti has been involved in a number of masterbrand campaigns and believes it is critical to tread carefully when releasing any new strategy.

“Don’t introduce too many variations, or you will confuse your customer,” he said. “The consumer has limited capacity to be able to absorb all these variations and they have a selected perception. Some of these issues seem to be ignored by marketers, which is concerning because there is just so much messaging out there.

“The question is: How do you actually get this core message across to the consumer while maintaining this diversity of brands?”

Another contributing factor is increased fragmentation of media and social channels, which make it less straightforward to target meaningful segments.

“Brands can look at a masterbrand level on one level, but also consider a more segmented strategy that is very tactical and much more individual, personalised and intimate,” Rolfe said. “That middle layer of particular campaigns for particular audiences using traditional means is what we see disappearing in favour of these two strategies.”

For Munro, masterbranding it is not necessarily about having a consistent campaign across fragmented channels, but getting your positioning right.

“The whole idea of media fragmentation leads this temptation of trying to do something in every channel,” he said. “But there’s a real trap that you can call into where you start to dilute the potency of your brand because you go after a masterbrand campaign that tries to reach all of today’s fragmented segments.

“You need to be more selective with your media channels, especially if you have really strong sub-brands. Because the other misnomer is that different media channels access different people.”

Connect emotionally with your customer

What experts all agree on, ultimately, is that a successful masterbrand campaign needs to evoke a strong and powerful emotive response in customers.

“Connecting emotionally with your customer is almost everything,” Moulton said. “Compared to siloed product campaigns, masterbrand campaigns aim to create the vision of one unified brand that connects with customers on an emotional level, so they tend to be more emotionally and lifestyle driven than product driven.”

According to Moulton, a masterbrand campaign is about inviting customers to a portfolio or suite of products that connect with one consistent brand philosophy. One brand his agency has worked with is Louise Vuitton Moet Hennessy, which owns six or seven top champagne brands.

“Dom Perignon, has a completely different personality targeting an older more sophisticated marketer than compared to say, Moet, which is targeted to a much younger market,” he pointed out. “But customers are buying into that portfolio of brands because they all evoke a feeling of luxury that people want to be identified with.”

Masterbrand campaigns can work particularly well if the company name is also incorporated in the product name, like Coke and Hershey’s. But for Enjeti, less seasoned players will need to keep the core essence of each brand at the forefront of their strategy.

“I think these [masterbrand] campaigns are actually more difficult to manage, because every single decision will rub off on that dominant brand,” he added. “You need to go to the core essence of your brand and find ways to emotively communicate that core ethos in everything you do. It’s all about managing your campaign holistically and bearing in mind the long-term vision of the brand.”

Top tips for a top masterbrand strategy

Lee Naylor, managing director of marketing research and brand strategy firm, The Leading Edge, provides several key pieces of advice on adopting a masterbrand approach:
  • Tap into what resonates emotionally with your customers
  • Tug on your customers’ heart strings - but keep it real
  • Align your campaign with the heritage and philosophy of your brand in order to tell your story connection to your customer in more powerful ways
  • Understand what your customers want and expect from your brand

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