Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was the beloved father of the nation. South Africans often called him by his clan name Madiba. By doing so, we made him even more personal and relevant and claimed him as our own, signaling two things: a relationship of deep commitment and respect and an affirmation of his African roots.

Names matter. They are an integral part of our identity. This also applies to trademarks. Brand names serve as heuristics that instantly call up all the associations we’ve built up over time, thereby simplifying our decision-making process. Or they should.

Whether we call each other by our first names or nicknames, people make it easier to interact with brands. They drink Nescafé, Savanna and Castle. They drive their Mercs or Beamers to shop at Woolies. They meet in teams. They party with Tassies and Klippies. They go even further and use generic brand names to describe an entire category – they write Jik in their shopping list when they put a store’s own brand in their cart. As marketers, we do our best to remind consumers to buy Nescafé Gold, Nescafé Classic, Savanna Dry, Savanna Light, Savanna Angry Lemon, Savanna Chilled Chilli, Castle Lager, Castle Light, Castle Free and the real Jik. All on a limited budget.

At the same time, brands are becoming more complex. Kantar BrandZ analysis shows that brands that depend on only one category or market have the highest risk profiles. In contrast, brands that have diversified across multiple categories not only show faster brand growth, but are also more likely to have above-average growth. An obvious example is Amazon, which operates in 15 product and service categories, transforming from a bookstore to an ecosystem that is interconnected and touches different parts of people’s lives. Closer to home, Discovery has expanded from healthcare to insurance, credit cards and banking. Retailers Clicks and Checkers have launched Clicks Baby, Checkers Sixty60 and Checkers Little Me.

What's in a name?

As brands expand, adding products and services and branching out into other categories, they gradually become a multi-layered mix of core brands, sub-brands and variants. Because we work so closely with all of our brands, it’s often difficult for us to understand how confusing this can be for consumers. The number of brands has increased by a staggering 30% between 2008 and 2018. However, brand awareness only grew by 4%, which shows that people are running out of bandwidth. Can we take a step back and simplify things?

A good starting point is to clarify and describe the relationship between the main brand and the sub-brands for yourself. Most marketers are familiar with David Aaker’s Brand Relationship Spectrum, which outlines the concept of brand architecture: the ecosystem within the brand. It consists of four main strategies. When a leading brand runs the show, we’re talking about a branded house (think BMW). When the main brand recedes into the background and is not used in branding in an obvious way, we are talking about a House of Brands, such as P&G. House of Brands consumers are often unaware that the brands are even associated with or owned by the parent brand. These are easy and obvious extremes.

Growth of South Africa's most valuable brands outpaces economy, increasing value by 21% to $34.9 billion

In between, it gets a little more complicated. Sub-brands are placed closer to the Branded House. They are an extension of the core brand and are drivers of brand equity like the Apple iPhone. Featured brands are closer to the House of Brands, while the flagship brand acts as a guarantee of quality or seal of approval, like the Nestlé halo hovering over KitKat. To further confuse matters, we have recently seen House of Brands companies such as Unilever shed their marquee status and begin to become more prominent.

​​​​​​While this may seem elementary, it can help us decide what we need to focus on in terms of investment, brand narrative, positioning and communication budget when it comes to building capital. In a branded house, as a rule, the main brand leads the narrative. When you introduce sub-brands, they share this role with the main brand. For featured brands, the focus again shifts to building equity for the featured brand.

It’s easy to see why master brand strategies are growing in popularity and why Coca-Cola and Hershey’s have moved to a Branded House strategy. The main benefit from a marketing perspective is more efficient marketing spend. By focusing on the core brand, the brand can gain clarity of association without diluting marketing efforts and resources.

What's in a name?

Some marketers pin their hopes on the halo effect of the main brand transferring associations to sub-brands and variants without showing or telling consumers what they stand for. Kantar’s analysis showed that the halo effect from advertising is not guaranteed – half of the variant ad examples showed no image shifts from halo effects. Why should the consumer care about how you organize your internal brand ecosystem? No matter how you define these relationships, people need a reason to believe and buy. You need to clarify why the brand is different and relevant to the consumer.

To go back to where we started: Make sure people know your name, who you are, and what you stand for. Your brand name competes in a hectic, fast-paced environment where people hardly have the bandwidth to remember their children’s names and end up calling them Sweetie and Darling. What will consumers call you and what will that say about their relationship with you?

Revealed: The blueprint for branding in the digital age

Kantar helps our clients build valuable brand ecosystems. Talk to us about optimizing your brand architecture and targeting your brands.

This article was first published in the Kantar BrandZ Most Valuable South African Brands 2022 report. Learn more here.

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