Creating a sub-brand

Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Zero logos

This past couple of weeks we’ve been talking to a couple of our lovely clients about creating sub-brands. Why to do it, when to do it – and what to be aware of. If these are questions you’re dealing with at the moment, these are our thoughts…

What is a sub-brand?

It’s an extension of your existing brand. It shares its DNA, but has an identity that’s slightly separate. A bit like a child who shares the family values and to an extent the looks – but who branches out and does something new and exciting and is able to stand on its own two feet.

Think Google as the parent brand and Google AdWords as one of its (gazillion) children. AdWords looks and feels like part of the Google family, but it does a job that the parent brand couldn’t do on its own. The same with Coca-Cola and Diet Coke – or Dove and Dove Men+Care.

Dove and Dove Men + Care

What’s the case for creating a sub-brand?

The business rationale for creating a sub-brand is to extend your current brand’s portfolio of products or services. It allows you to reach new audiences – or sell different things to the audiences you already have.

Why wouldn’t you create a sub-brand?

There are two main reasons:

1)   If you’re not entirely sure that the new offer will enhance the reputation and goodwill associated with the masterbrand, going down the sub-brand route isn’t a great idea. If the sub-brand bombs, there’s a real chance it will knock some of the shine off the masterbrand.

2)   If your brand doesn’t stretch far enough to include the sub-brand, then the better route is to create an entirely different and separate brand.

Brand stretch means more than the products and services seeming a reasonable fit. The new offer has to be right for the principles and values of the masterbrand too.

So for example, if you had a baby care brand that wanted to launch a range of maternity clothing, it might seem to be a natural extension. However, the extension has to match in terms of values too. If the baby care brand is all about fairtrade, organic materials and supporting charitable causes, the maternity wear brand will have to have similar values. If it launched with products that weren’t organic and fairly traded, that would be very likely to harm perceptions of the masterbrand.

So how do you do it?

First of all, you need to be sure that the masterbrand is rock solid. In my experience, one of the biggest reasons that sub-brands go wonky is because the masterbrand isn’t robust enough. Another way of saying this is that if you try to stretch something that isn’t strong in the first place, something’s going to break.

Then you need to do the delicate stuff – work out how to maintain your masterbrand’s values while creating a distinct identity for your sub-brand.

A couple of examples

Years ago I worked on the rebrand of Durex and the launch of the Durex Play sub-brand. The first job was to give the masterbrand the strength to stretch (sorry, you work on a brand like Durex for long enough and everything becomes some kind of double entendre). At the time, Durex was known only for “safe sex”. And that didn’t give it permission to launch products that were all about sexual pleasure. So we went through an incredibly thorough process to reposition (told you) the masterbrand so that instead of standing for “safe sex” it could stand for “sexual wellbeing”.

It didn’t abandon its core values in repositioning. Which means that any product you buy from the Durex Play range is scientifically proven to improve sexual wellbeing (and why you won’t find handcuffs or dress-up clothes in the Play range). If it had decided to offer those, it would just have become an alternative Ann Summers, and that would have diminished perceptions of the masterbrand.

But the Play range of products offers something different to the core range of condoms. It’s about warmth, healthy sex and having fun. So the visual identity moved away from the cool blues of the masterbrand and became warmer and softer… and more purply-pink. The verbal identity became more, well… playful.

Durex and Durex Play

Slightly more recently, I helped to create the sub-brand strategy for Standard Life Wealth. It was a delicate piece of work – not least because it involved Standard Life acquiring Newton Private Clients. And that places strict regulatory deadlines on when a new entity has to launch.

It also involved bringing two very different styles of investment together under one roof. This meant that the sub-brand couldn’t pin its identity on an investment style. So instead, retaining the core values of the Standard Life brand, the Standard Life Wealth sub-brand built its identity on its meticulous approach.

Standard Life and Standard Life Wealth

It sits as a strong sub-brand, under the umbrella of a strong masterbrand. It extends the range of services that the masterbrand can offer – with both masterbrand and sub-brand enhancing each other’s identity. But it also stands strong in its own right, with its own identity.

If you’d like to talk to us about branding, do give us a call. You can also find out more about our approach to brand right here.