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Grant Johnson

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Is Your Brand Architecture a Foundation or a Facade?

If you haven’t revisited your brand architecture in more than a year, it’s likely what you’re building is a façade, rather than reinforcing a foundation. Because technology and innovation are inextricably linked, tech companies are continuously introducing new products and services, and in most cases, adding brands and sub-brands into their product portfolios. Over time, even a sound architecture can begin to crumble under the strain of too many overlapping brand layers.

It’s not as if tech marketers are trying to create brand disorder and chaos, it’s just that inattention to brand architecture necessarily results in inefficient brand structures. When I was at FileNet (now part of IBM), the company had already made a smart decision to consolidate disparate brand identities under the master brand FileNet. Nevertheless, after several years of acquisitions and a steady stream of product introductions, our branded house was in disarray, with five levels of brand architecture creating confusing and often overlapping messages to the marketplace.

In addition to product brand (e.g. FileNet Content Manager), the company was branding specific features (e.g. ZeroClick), technologies (Content Federation Services), even the GUI which was only evident upon product installation (i.e. FileNet Workplace). After careful examination with help from a strategic branding firm, we streamlined our brand architecture to just two levels (FileNet + Product Brand), and relegated all other competing brand identities to the descriptive level to better support and maintain a coherent brand architecture.. This process resulted in better informed sales and channel personnel and, most importantly, increased customer clarity over what we offered.

Over time, even a sound architecture can begin to crumble under the strain of too many overlapping brand layers.  Take this simple test: ask three salespersons to describe your brand architecture and hierarchy (i.e. the various levels of meaning) and see what they say. If you get three different answers, it’s probably time to evaluate your brand architecture. If you get a consistent articulation of your brand hierarchy and associated meaning, congratulations, you can rest until you next major product introduction. If you are actively involved in M&A, this is an even more critical endeavor. In this challenging economy, you need every advantage you can get in driving brand consideration and brand preference, so make sure your building upon a strong foundation and not merely erecting a façade.

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A dynamic, senior-level technology executive with a proven track record building businesses on a global basis. As Chief Marketing Officer for Pegasystems in Cambridge, MA Johnson is responsible for worldwide marketing strategy and execution. He oversees corporate marketing, field marketing, industry marketing, product marketing, marketing programs, marketing communications, analyst and public relations, and global web strategy. Previously, Johnson was the Vice President of Marketing at Guidance Software (GUID) and Vice President of Marketing and served as an officer for FileNet Corp., a $400+ million enterprise software vendor acquired by IBM in 2006. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Marketing for FrontBridge, an email management vendor acquired by Microsoft. Johnson led the company’s re-naming and re-launch, built the marketing team and delivered integrated marketing programs to support significant and sustained revenue growth. He has also served as Director of Marketing for Symantec, with worldwide responsibility for the Norton brand, and as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ethentica, an enterprise security vendor. Johnson received his bachelor of arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University. He has also published several articles on best practices in high tech marketing and co-authored the book, PowerBranding™