[Podcast] Designing Brand Identity (+ Brand Architecture) w/ Rob Meyerson

[Podcast] Designing Brand Identity (+ Brand Architecture) w/ Rob Meyerson

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In this captivating episode of JUST Branding, we welcome back Rob Meyerson, making history as our first returning guest.

Rob, a distinguished brand consultant and co-author of the latest edition of Alina Wheeler’s seminal work, “Designing Brand Identity,” leads us through a poignant tribute to Wheeler’s legacy and a deep dive into the essence of Brand Identity, with a special emphasis on Brand Architecture.

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We explore the book’s 6th edition and unpack the critical components of brand identity, from visual and verbal elements to the reemerging sonic dimension, articulating how a well-structured brand identity is pivotal for standing out in today’s competitive landscape.

Delving into Brand Architecture, we clarify the various models—branded house, house of brands, endorsed brands, and hybrids—highlighting their significance in aligning with a company’s overarching business strategies.

This episode is a treasure trove for anyone passionate about the craft of branding, offering deep dives and practical tips for building brands that resonate and last. 

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding. Today’s episode is extra special because we have our first time returning guest, Rob Meyerson. Rob was our second guest on the show back in 2020 where we discussed brand positioning and naming.

Today is going to be a little bit different. We’re going to tuck into brand identity with a focus on brand architecture, as well as Alina Wheeler’s book, Designing Brand Identity, which is now in its sixth edition. Sadly, Alina passed away late last year, but Rob helped see this through as a co-author.

Today, we’re honoring and continuing her legacy by sharing insights from this incredible book with you. Now, who’s Rob Meyerson? Well, Rob is a brand consultant and professional namer.

He’s an author, a podcast host and, in my opinion, an all-round nice guy with a huge passion for brand. Welcome to the show, Rob. Welcome back, I should say.

Thanks, Jacob. Thanks, Matt. It’s good to be here again.

I’m shooting for four times on the podcast, so you guys have to give me a jacket like Saturday Night Live.

Well, you’re just showing us the mug. You still have the mug from the first time.

I’m very honored to be a second-time guest.

That’s the mug with your name on it. It’s not being used as a pen holder anymore.

I washed it carefully.

Rob, you’ve been busy in these last four years. Give us a flavor of some of the other things. Obviously, you’ve written a few books, so just give us a flavor of what you’ve been up to in the last four years.

Sure. I wrote my book, Brand Naming, and we can talk about how I met Alina Wheeler, but she wrote the foreword for that book. I taught a course for Domestika on naming, which is very closely aligned to that book.

I partnered with Alina to create the sixth edition of this book. In between all those things, I’ve been managing client work at heirloom as I have been for years. So yeah, it’s been keeping me busy, but it’s all been in good fun.

How did you first meet Alina then? How did you transition to becoming a co-author for the sixth edition?

Yeah, Alina, I didn’t know her. I knew of her book, of course, and so knew of her and like anybody else in the branding industry, just thought of her as a towering figure in the industry. I believe we first talked when I reached out to ask her if she would be a guest on my podcast years ago.

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Everyone that I’ve asked has been, every guest, of course, has been very gracious, but some have that vibe of being a little high and mighty, whereas Alina is really just the most down to earth, said yes, we talked. It felt like a very natural conversation. She kept in touch.

She was just this genuine, kind person. It almost felt like she was more interested in getting to know me than talking her book, certainly, or just talking about herself. And so that’s how we first met.

And then, like I said, I believe it was after that that I asked if she would write the forward for my naming book. And that’s where we got a chance to write together for the first time. And so this sort of developing friendship and professional relationship and getting to write with each other, collaborate, bounce ideas off of each other, sort of, I assume that’s what led to her asking me if I’d like to co-author, which was a huge honor, obviously.

It’s crazy how these paths, well, how you connect the dots backwards. And just like that little spark in the beginning led you here. And that’s what I love about these, you know, running a podcast, as you would know, is that you get these connections made in these relationships.

That’s really where the value is. You can, you know, they lead places and obviously there’s much more to it than that. But yeah, thanks for sharing that.


Can you share a little bit about the book for people who may not be aware of it? I have the third edition from many moons ago. I think it’s, I don’t know when the first one came out, but you know, just what is this book about and who is it for and so forth?

Well, that’s a good place to start. The first book came out 20 years ago. So this is also the 20th anniversary of Designing Brand Identity.

In April of last year, we had a party with Alina and a bunch of her friends and colleagues in Philadelphia where she lives to celebrate the 20th anniversary. And this is the sixth edition. So if you do the math, what is that, every three, four, five years, I mean, it hasn’t been consistent.

It’s sort of there have been bigger gaps and smaller gaps. The book, I like to think of it as the encyclopedia of brand. It really covers a very wide range of topics, many of which are right dead center in branding, positioning and identity design, but also some things that fall a little bit outside.

There’s a section that she calls Brand Dynamics, which is like trends on the periphery of branding that will affect it. That’s one of the things that changes every year because it is driven by trends. This edition has AI in it, obviously because that’s something that we’re all talking about every day and how it is and will affect branding.

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The structure of the book though has been the same since the edition you have, Jacob. It’s three sections. The first is basics.

That’s all your fundamental definitions and examples of what things mean, what is brand, what is branding, what is brand identity, what is brand strategy and so on. The second section is process. It is a step-by-step, start with research, go through strategy, identity design, all the way up to these very tactical implementations like designing uniforms or getting a vehicle fleet to look like it’s on brand.

Then the third section is called best practices, and that is 50-ish case studies from real agencies all around the world. One of the things that we’re most proud about in this edition is we, I think for the first time, all of the case studies are new. My strong feeling was that if you own an edition like you do, or even if you own the fifth edition, that if you’re going to buy the sixth, if you’re going to spend your money on it, you should get a full refresh on those case studies.

So that now between the two books, obviously some of the content is similar because positioning hasn’t changed dramatically in the past five or six years. But now you have a hundred plus case studies to look at as examples.

Well, thank you for sharing that. And you mentioned a few new things. AI obviously is one.

What else is new in this book apart from the case studies in AI?

This is also the first time it’s had a co-author, which meant that I came in and sort of looked at each page critically with fresh eyes. I was able to suggest some changes. Alina also had a lot of ideas about things she wanted to change, get rid of.

With my background and strategy and naming, of course, I had a lot to say there. And so those sections have changed a little bit more. And then, like I said, there’s this brand dynamic section with trends.

So I mentioned AI, but also talking about VR and AR more, talking about social justice, which has been implied in previous editions, but really felt like in the past three to five years with the murder of George Floyd, with the Me Too movement, with everything that’s been happening from a social standpoint, brands have been reacting to that for better or worse. And some feel they’ve been forced to react to that. But regardless, we needed to at least touch on it.

And so we added a section for that. And then some things that just felt like they would be beneficial to have in there and weren’t for whatever reason. So added a spread on iconography, just one aspect of brand identity that hadn’t really been touched.

I thought it was important to talk about not just visual, verbal and sonic identity, but also other senses. So we talk a little bit about taste and smell and also evidence-based marketing, everybody’s favorite, you know, the Byron Sharp stuff. Let’s just call it that.

I felt that given how much is discussed in branding circles right now, it would be remiss if we didn’t talk about that as well. So there’s a spread on that now too.

Amazing. Okay. A lot to tuck into.

Before we get into brand identity, I just wanted to say that you’re doing a marvelous job marketing this book. You know, you’ve got the people inside doing the work for you, which is just so clever. You mentioned there’s 400 experts in there and you know, they all want to share that they’re inside this book.

So they’re essentially sharing that with the network. What have you learned from this process of writing the book and marketing it and so forth?

I mean, I learned so much from Alina and I’ve said this before, but you know, I mentioned just how interested she is in other people. And that one of the ways that that came across to me is when I started getting on the phone with people and saying, you know, we’d love to have you update your content in the book or add something to the book. So many people said, oh, if it’s for Alina, I’ll do it.

I’m happy to help if it helps Alina. To the point that, you know, I was like, wow, what is happening here? I mean, it’s because of her kindness and her genuine interest in other people and the way that she has gone out of her way to help other people.

And so a big thing that I learned in creating the book is just, you know, it was a masterclass in just how to collaborate and how to really sort of make it deeper than just transactional and make it really kind of caring about other people and their success. And a lot of people that are in the book and have been in the book will tell you that. It’s a real relationship that they have with Alina, not just kind of, yeah, I’ll send you a few JPEGs or something like that.

And yeah, thanks for saying that about marketing the book. I mean, we got lucky. We had Eddie Opara of Pentagram design the cover, which was amazing.

But as a result, Pentagram posted about it when we announced the publication date. You’re in the book, Jacob, of course, and so many other sort of influencers and design gurus and yeah, people with much bigger networks than I have or even than Alina had. So we hope that people will continue to talk about it and that they feel that it’s an honor to be in the book.

We’re certainly excited to have people’s ideas and work in the book.

Yeah, absolutely. And thanks. I’m not sure if you did the layout, but you put some of my work next to some of the greats like Milton Glaser and all these huge agencies.

I’m like, I’ve made it. I’ve made it next to these guys. Thank you.

Yeah. I don’t remember saying we need to do that with Jacob squeezing between those two. But yeah, every single page, I should also mention, Alina, it was fun of saying that she didn’t do it alone and Alina and I didn’t do it alone this time.

We have a team of people working on this. I worked very closely with a woman named Robin Goffman, who is the creative director on the book. And Robin and I know every page of this book like the back of our hand because we have debated over what goes where and how much space do we need between this line and that line.

We’ve gone through these pages again and again and again.

Yeah, I’ve seen those photos that you shared behind the scenes. We had pages laid out on the ground and they’re spread out everywhere. It looks like chaos, but you’ve done a brilliant job.

Matt, I know you’ve written books. So it’s like you’re never done writing, right? You’re always editing, editing, editing.

When you think you’re done, somebody catches a comma.

It’s the hardest thing to know when to stop as well, because you can always add new things. I’m sure you’re the same. Even when you publish it and it’s out, you’re always like, oh, I can tweak that or I could change that.

I feel you’re amazing. You have to print it out, don’t you? Just stand back, particularly a design-based book.

It’s so important. It doesn’t surprise me the description of chaos that Jacob’s made up in the process, but well worth it. All the women out there are probably going to be like, Matt, shut up.

For me, probably the closest giving birth that I’ll experience. Creating something, getting something out in the world. I keep threatening to do another one, but that might happen at some stage.

It’s a painful process, right?

It is. Yes, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s painful emotionally and otherwise.

It’s not painful physically. Luckily, we don’t have to actually give birth. I can’t sign on to that.

I don’t want to get any mean tweets or comments. That was Matt.

Can I just say, obviously, we don’t have any pain or anything like that. In terms of actually putting something out in the world, it’s quite scary.

I know some people that are afraid to put a tweet or an X out, as we call it now, or something on LinkedIn. Imagine you’re going to put a book out. That is just a terrifying thought.

Thanks for doing it, Rob, for putting your neck on the line, if you like, and really pushing through those difficult bits to get us something that’s a massively valuable resource.

Thanks, Matt. I mean, yeah, it’s hard and it is nerve wracking, but it is fun for me. I mean, I’m in this business because I like creating things.

As I imagine, you guys, that’s at least part of the reason you’re in the business as well. And creating a book, it’s been my first opportunity. Well, second now to create something physical, right?

As opposed to just, you know, posting on a blog or working with a brand and giving them strategic ideas. It’s nice to have something physical to hold on to and say that, you know, we created this together. So I think it’s worth the work.

I would encourage anyone who has, you know, that real desire to do it. You have to have the desire to do it because it is hard work, but it’s rewarding. And so, yeah, I’ve heard people say they’re afraid to do it too.

I encourage you to try to get past that fear if that’s you.

One of the things I found, Rob, was that sometimes when you write long form content, it forces you to sort of check yourself and also forces you to explain things, perhaps in ways that you’ve not had to explain before because if it’s just in your brain, you just assume, you know, it’s just like, oh, that’s obvious. But it’s not obvious when you try and set something out. Were there any moments in the book where you came across something like that where you thought, right, I’ve really got to kind of work back through how I got to this point and then lay that out?

And have you got any examples of that? Because I think that would be really interesting.

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Barack Obama has a great quote about this from his own writing process. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it’s basically that, you know, writing is what forces you to think in some cases.

And yes, when I was working on the naming book, you know, I really, I wanted to make sure because you’re putting it down on paper, you want to make sure that you’re right. And so you double and triple check some things that you would just, you know, otherwise you would just say in a meeting and just if you were found out later, you were wrong, you just assume everyone will forget that I said that. But in a book, you got to be right.

So there’s that. There’s exactly what you said of thinking, you know what you think about something and then realizing as you’re writing it, that you have to find the right way to say it. And it forces you to do a little more work.

And I think that’s a great process to go through with, even if you’re just writing a blog post. This book is interesting that a lot of the writing is really short, and then it’s supported by other pieces of short writing, or quotes, or images, or diagrams, or descriptions. So it was a very different challenge, and it’s the challenge of getting everything you think down into a short paragraph.

And that was really hard for me. I mean, just to connect the two books, I have the 40,000 word book or whatever it is on naming, and then there’s two pages in this book about naming. And so it really forces you to, what are the five most important things you can tell someone about brand naming and get that down onto a page in a paragraph in the diagram and a few examples and things like that.

So that was a very different challenge, but not necessarily easier.

Well, thank you for going through that process, Rob. Just from what you’ve shared about Alina and even now today, you can understand that she’s just a very kind, genuine, humble individual with a love and passion for brand and design and identity. So thank you for continuing that for her.

It’s my honor to do it. And yeah, we’ve talked a lot about her personality, obviously also the brilliant and creative and groundbreaking with this book that she created 20 years ago. You know, she says she created it because it was the book she wanted on her shelf.

She created it to help explain to her clients what brand was and why it was important and how to do it. You know, I started in the industry around the time that book came out. And the conversation has changed a lot since then.

Back then, I’d go into pitches and the pitch was like, what is a brand? You know, like, why is it important? The pitch we had to teach while we were pitching.

And now I feel like there’s a lot more acceptance of like, we know we need a brand, we just don’t know the right way to build it. And so this book, you know, with that as its origin makes a lot of sense. And yeah, so just obviously owe everything to Alina in terms of the success of this book.

But also I’m really proud of the changes that she and I made in this edition. She would always say it’s the best edition yet. I have a feeling she probably said that about every edition.

But you know, but it’s probably true. I mean, each edition gets better and better and better. And yeah, I’m biased, but I think this one is really, really strong.

Well, let’s tuck into it. Obviously there’s a whole book and we have to dial in a little bit here, but we’ll start with identity and then we’re going to tuck into brand architecture, something we haven’t really spoke about on this podcast. So let’s start at the top.

How would you define identity and why is it important?

So I have an official definition and it’s the cumulative expression of a brand to its target audiences. So cumulative is doing a lot of work there. I mean, it’s every single touch point, every idea that it is conveying over time and across different touch points.

And expression, meaning it’s sort of from the inside out, right? It’s how the brand is expressed out into the world and to those target audiences. It could be through a logo, of course, but also the feeling that you get, the music that you hear when you walk into the store or the hotel lobby or whatever it is.

Obviously thought about that one very long and hard, how to encompass the whole book into a sentence. It’s a powerful sentence, I should say. Let’s tuck into the core elements.

You touched on a few of them. How do they work together? How would you break these core elements down?

Well, there are a few different ways of thinking about the way you can kind of divvy up identity. Ideally, in an ideal world, it all comes back to a strategy or a small set of ideas that you’re trying to express or even a feeling that you’re trying to express, but then you can carve it up in a lot of different ways. One nice way to do it is thinking about the senses.

It can be visual, it can be verbal, so spoken or heard. It can be sonic in terms of music or different tones, and then even taste and smell. It doesn’t make sense for every brand, but for some brands, those are aspects and touch as well.

That’s one way to break it down, and we do get into that in the book. We have a visual identity spread, we have a sonic identity spread. We do have a spread on, we just sort of say, the other senses because there are fewer examples there, but that’s a way of thinking about all the different facets of an identity.

At a deeper level, when you think about what makes a great identity, there are things that you hear in the branding world, like authenticity and flexibility and consistency, and these are all aspects of identity as well, but maybe on a more strategic level.

Thank you. So, most of the time, people think about brand identity as the visuals, like 80% of it, like most of it is visuals. That’s why people think about that.

But let’s talk about verbal identity, because most people can understand what visual is. But how would you define verbal identity?

It’s all the words that are used to help express the brand. So, most people think of naming when they hear verbal identity, but there’s also messaging and voice, are the other two components that I usually talk about. So, messaging is what we say and voice is how we say it, the tone of voice or the personality that’s expressed in the words that we use.

And messaging can be us talking about ourselves in a lot of cases as a brand, or it can be talking about our customers and sort of putting them at the center of the stories that we tell about our brand. But all those things combined make up the verbal identity of the brand.

And the last one would be Sonic, which is audio brand in a way, which is probably the third most used. What are some examples there?

The classic examples, of course, are the Intel tones, ringtones that you hear and recognize and associate with different phone brands. Jingles, like a lot of insurance companies in the US at least have jingles. Fast food companies have jingles.

They’ve fallen out of favor a little bit, right? They were big in the 50s, 60s. They’re coming back a little bit more.

Now, some of that research that I mentioned out of the Aaron Byrd Bass Institute in Australia has shown that, I think it was them that did this research and showed that jingles are actually really memorable and really effective at building a strong brand. So all of those things combined, we have a whole spread. And actually, I think you guys know, is it drop music?

Yes, they did the brand info, the audio brand info this year, yeah.

Exactly, yeah. And I believe I may have connected with them through you, but they played a big role in updating the sonic identity spread in this edition of the book. So I got a lot of great ideas from them and great examples.

The example we use in the book is HBO. And this is an old example, but they’re still using it. The static screen that comes up at the beginning of HBO shows that you see and hear is something that you immediately associate with that brand.

Yep, or the Netflix, boom, boom, kind of sound like that.

Yeah, Netflix, right. Exactly.

So we have visual, verbal and sonic. They’re some of the core elements and touch and feel and so forth. But how do we combine all these together?

And what makes us strong identity, I guess?

Yeah, so Alina has always had in the book these ideals. And like I said, it’s these words that you hear usually at the end of a sentence, like every brand should be blank or should have blank. And so there are nine of them in the book.

Vision, meaning, authenticity, coherence, flexibility, commitment, value, differentiation and longevity. And so I don’t think there’s a hard and fast rule on this. I’m not a big fan of checklists and saying, you know, every brand has to have all of these things, but all of these are ideas or factors that you should be thinking about in terms of trying to build a strong brand or determining whether a brand is strong.

Longevity, obviously, you can’t manufacture that. That just comes with time, but it’s related to timelessness, which is making sure that the brand you’re building isn’t overly trendy or tied to a specific era, but that it’s something that can last. Coherence and flexibility are right next to each other and may seem like opposites, but hopefully it kind of gives you this sense, and the examples in the book give you the sense that you need to balance those two things, that you want to be consistent, show up in a similar way over time, over geography, over different products and versions of products.

But you need that flexibility sometimes to evolve a little bit or to create versions or to have, you know, we have Airbnb China in the book as a case study. They needed a Chinese name and a logo that incorporated the Chinese name, but it still had to be Airbnb. And so that’s an example of flexibility.

Well, thank you for sharing those ideals. Obviously, we can’t go through all of them today, but they are in the book with tons of examples so people can learn that. Ultimately, identity, it helps you stand out right from your competitors.

And how would a brand or someone listening today, how would they go about finding or getting an identity that helps them stand out for the right reasons?

This is where I go back to strategy. And when I say strategy, I’m going to include research as part of the strategy. And so ideally, when you do your strategy work, you’re looking at at least three things.

You’re looking at what do customers actually want? Who are they? What do they care about?

What’s the history of the brand or the objectives of the business? You’re looking at your client if you’re a consultant. And then third, you’re looking at competition.

And you’re understanding what the landscape looks like, who’s positioned in what way. And ideally, I think you have sort of an idea or a personality that sets you apart in a strategic or at a deeper level. And then you can carry that through all the way to more superficial things like just being a different color than all the competitors as well.

And if you can own things in your industry like a color, like an icon, like a sound, a sonic, like a jingle, all of these things that we’ve mentioned, that also, the more of those that you own, the more distinctive they are, the more famous they are, the more you’ll have an identity that really stands out and looks different.

I’d really like to tuck into the architecture section, because as you say, that is always an area as a consultant that I come across, particularly with bigger brands, particularly with international brands where they’re playing in different regions and where there’s multiple products, where there’s multiple services. It’s always really, really tricky, the portfolio management side of things. So, super interested in how you approach that and how the book deals with that subject.

Yeah, that’s a great point, Matt. I cannot tell you how many calls I get from other brand strategists and agencies asking me if I’ll hop on board their project when it gets to brand architecture, because it’s sort of the piece of branding that everybody loves to hate a little bit. It’s where things often get complicated.

So, just as a refresher, I like to think of brand architecture as just how brands relate to one another. It’s a really simple definition. It does imply, though, that you have to have more than one brand.

There’s not much point thinking about it if you don’t plan on ever having more than one brand. And when I say brand, that could be products. So if you have six products, you probably have six brands or at least enough of a portfolio to think about brand architecture.

The way we manage it in the book, we have a two-page spread on brand architecture. It’s one of the ones that got the biggest update this time around. I wanted to make sure that I was giving readers the most up-to-date and sort of practical terminology that’s used in the marketplace.

So believe it or not, the fifth edition, while it goes through these ideas, it does not use the terms branded house and house of brands, which I think have become standard language in our industry. They used to be sort of the slang ways of referring to things like monolithic or pluralistic, but now it’s just sort of the common coin of the realm. So I wanted to get those terms in there.

And then we also we have some diagrams that haven’t been used before that you may have seen if you’ve ever looked at a brand architecture where you can see sort of shapes and a tree underneath them and whether the shapes match or not. So you know whether your parent brand is similar to your product brands or sub brands or not. And then we just have a lot of examples in there.

Sometimes this book, you know, as the sort of encyclopedia of brand, it can only cover so much, but it hopefully points you in the direction of where to go for more. So if we give you examples, you might then be able to look up, well, how does Marriott handle brand architecture? And what can I learn by looking at even just at their website or quotes people?

Or, you know, shows diagrams from different brands or different authors that you might be able to go and dig more into?

I think the terms branded house and house of brands, yeah, as you say, like that’s standard. And it’s kind of really relatively well understood. Perhaps we should just explain that for anyone who’s listening in, who perhaps hasn’t come across them.

So this is how I describe it. See what you think, Rob. So a branded house is like a house where every room in it, you know, that you’re in that brand’s kind of house.

So if you think of, I don’t know, Virgin, for example, if you go into Virgins, you go through the front door that’s Virgin and every room feels like Virgin. You know, got Virgin money, Virgin voyages, et cetera, et cetera. So you kind of get that.

But a house of brands is very different. It’s basically you might go take, for example, Unilever. So we take the Unilever front door, we go in, but every single room, every single brand inside that portfolio is very, very different.

And so you don’t really realize you’re in Unilever’s kind of front room. You think you’re dealing with a CIF or, you know, whatever Dove or whatever product or brand that they’re pushing. So there’s no connection.

And there’s pros and cons, isn’t there, of the different approaches. And there’s also hybrid approaches, which are really mind boggling to just kind of understand the logic behind some of those, frankly. I find that really difficult, you know, when I go into businesses and they’ve got hybrid and, you know, they’re all entrenched in their little kind of silos in one case, and then they’re really interconnected in other cases, that’s really difficult to untangle.

But that’s the kind of the basics. I was just going to throw this at you, Rob, and see what you think. The other thing I think about when I look at brand portfolio strategy, is that when you have one and it’s defined and a brand has that in place, the other kind of aspect that they can do is they can look at the brands within their portfolio and actually start to strategize around those brands.

So for example, you know, you can kind of have flagship brands, like, you know, if you said Coca-Cola is a flagship brand, it’s like the number one brand that the Coca-Cola company, you know, issues out and supports. But then you can then, for example, think about, say, Diet Coke or Coke Zero, which are extension brands from that kind of flagship brand. And so you could argue, well, Diet Coke is an extension because it goes after more of a health conscious consumer, for example.

I think that allows you and there’s a number of kind of types of brand then that you could start to look at strategically within an overarching portfolio. I just wondered if you had any thoughts on that and if you’ve ever kind of thought through that side of things, the types of brand within an overarching portfolio.

Yeah, absolutely. Great, great points and great question. I do want to just go back to your analogy.

I love the analogy of a house that you walk into and you can always tell you’re in that house. The only thing I’d flip on the house of brands side is it’s almost like it has countless front doors. It doesn’t say you’re in the front door.

It says one of those other many portfolio brands on the front door, and then you get to the back of the house maybe and realize like, oh, this is all part of the same house actually. I like that much better. Yeah, there’s no point in thinking about brand architecture unless you’re ultimately going to get down to the implications of it, where the rubber meets the road.

I usually think about visual and verbal implications. So does each of these have a different logo? How are we naming these things?

Do the names relate to one another through a word like Marriott? Marriott has Courtyard by Marriott and other sub-brands that have the Marriott name in them. But the way they’ve positioned that name is very strategic to sort of send a signal about what that relationship is or how they want you to perceive that.

Same thing can be said from a visual standpoint. To your point though, it can go even deeper. It can go into, you know, what’s our marketing spend around each of these brands or, yeah, why do we have these brands?

It’s to target different pieces of the target audience or different sort of segments. And so you can start to get into that. But yes, typically, it’s not just sort of a web of brands connected in some way.

It’s a hierarchy. There are tiers within the architecture and each tier has a definition and, you know, maybe some rules around it. What do we do with brands at this tier versus brands at this tier?

Why are we separating them that way? So it can be hierarchy, it can be groupings. Just, you know, we have all of the Coke brands over here, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, and then all of the Sprite brands over here.

So all of that, the organizing principles, that overarching idea of house of brands or branded house or hybrid hierarchy and the relationships and how we’re actually bringing those to life, that’s all part of brand architecture. It does get quite complicated.

All good.

There’s one more, though, like, endorsed brands, right?

That’s right.

Sony, PlayStation or Polo by Ralph Lauren.


The nuances of how they’re positioned, both visually and verbal, play a significant role in the architecture and structure, right?

That’s right, yeah. Endorsed, yeah, Courtyard by Marriott, that I’ve mentioned a few times, is endorsed because that buy is kind of your little signal there. But Oreos, if you look at the box or the bag, it’ll have the Nabisco in the corner usually, which will signal that that’s endorsed by that brand.

So that’s kind of a nuance. And then hybrid, you mentioned Matt, it can be really confusing. I think of that as just sort of anything between house of brands and branded house.

So Coca-Cola is the name of the company, but also the name of one of the products. And so that is technically a hybrid. On the other end of the spectrum, you might have a company that is really a branded house like Virgin, but they have just one or two outliers.

And often that’s because they acquired a brand that is really strong with a specific segment and they just want to keep that around. Sometimes it’s just a matter of time before they roll that into their branded house. But sometimes you end up with hybrid architectures just for a short amount of time as well.

Yeah, the M&A side of things, the merger and acquisition is usually where I come across it. I’ve got a client at the moment, I think they’ve acquired about six different companies with six different products, as in products in the last year. And so you can imagine the chaos of that.

One of the biggest things I think when that happens is the cultural side, because people feel like they work for the product. And if you go in and change things too quick, it can have a detrimental effect on the teams running those brands, if you like. And so a lot of time has to be taken to A, come up with a portfolio strategy, B, explain it, get leadership on board so they can explain it, and then get everybody to understand why that’s better for customers.

And ultimately, that’s what you want to do. You want to make it easier and clearer for customers to be able to purchase, I would suggest. But there we are.

Anyway, yeah, thanks. That’s fantastic. I just love bouncing ideas around with you and stuff.

So awesome to geek out on portfolio structures. What do you think about all that, Jacob? Do you ever kind of get involved in that kind of stuff?

Occasionally, it’s not as often these days working with smaller businesses. It’s generally when they’re much larger that these problems come in. But I did have one more question for Rob around like, how can these businesses actually align the strategy and objectives with their brand architecture?

How do they go about doing it?

I think it comes back to what I mentioned earlier that the research that you do in the strategic phase of a project needs to include understanding what the brand is about and what the business is all about. So what are the objectives of the business? What’s the vision for this?

And we could get into the weeds on this too, because it can affect every single decision you make with brand architecture. But deciding whether or not to build one strong brand that you want to last a really long time versus building sort of niche product brands that work for really specific segments and stand for really different ideas is a business decision, you know, ultimately, that’s going to be brought to life through brand architecture and through brand identity. And so it’s really just the way to tie them together is, I think, just having those conversations, getting really, really real about what your expectations, what the potential is, and making sure that you plan ahead.

I mean, you mentioned, Jacob, not doing as much brand architecture with smaller companies, and that’s true to a degree. I mean, the problem I see a lot of big companies, they’re just dealing with proliferation. They’ve got way too many brands, too many names.

It’s getting confusing. A lot of times it’s because of M&A, but sometimes it’s not. With smaller companies, I think the issue sometimes is just not thinking ahead and thinking, you know, we’re only ever going to have one product, so let’s just name the whole company after the product.

And then they have a second product that’s very different and realize now we need two names, and it’s gotten weird all of a sudden. I’m sure we could cite examples of even pretty big companies now that sort of name themselves after their first product, and it’s weird. So I think just planning ahead is a big part of it as well.

Yeah, as you were thinking, I was realizing that I actually do a lot of naming for products underneath a brand, and making them relate back to their core brand name. So for example, Apple has iPhone and iMac and everything, and that all relates back to Apple, but it’s not necessarily Apple Phone, it’s Apple iPhone. So they have this nomenclature about them that they can use.

So that’s what I have done with clients in the past is they have their core name, but their products relate back to the name. So customers always know that it’s from them, and that’s been done in different ways such as an eye in the front or whatever it may be for that particular brand.

Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s a great example. It’s interesting watching Apple change before our eyes from the eye blank strategy to now Apple Watch, which everybody assumed was going to be the eye watch.

I don’t know if you remember, but that was always what people called it in the press before it came out, and then it came out and it was the Apple Watch, and they seem to be kind of moving in that direction, partly just because I think it’s a lot easier to implement. It’s easier to… they actually have had some legal trouble getting the eye blank names, and it’s also become so overused in sort of pop culture and sort of knock off things to be eye blank.

But yeah, those are different ways of…

An eye watch sounds like a spy cam.

Yes, well, yeah, but remember what everybody said iPad sounded like, and yet here we have iPad and we’re super comfortable with that name now. So names have a way of sort of working better than you might think they would at first.

Yeah, it just takes some time to get used to. People don’t like change.

I think the important thing is to have a strategy, right, that at least internally that everybody understands because that’s the biggest problem I see when, as you sort of say, there’s silo teams making decisions or leadership teams that are not aligned. And then chaos reigns. As you said, Rob, thinking ahead, but doing that in a strategic way, documenting why we’re naming things the way we are, why we’re structuring our business and our offer and our product portfolio the way we are.

Making, like you said before, making those rules around the tiers and starting as you mean to go on, getting those down. Just so important from a strategic perspective.

Yeah. Before I went out on my own and started Heirloom, I was head of brand naming and brand architecture at HP. And when I got there, it was 300,000 people spread all around the world.

And for a, I don’t know what it was, five to 10 person brand team based in headquarters to even know what all the brands were was near impossible because it could change on a daily basis. Somebody in Asia, you know, somebody anywhere in the world could quote unquote launch a brand. And they’re basically going rogue and they may not even know that they’re doing that, that they’re doing anything that we wouldn’t approve of.

They may not know that we exist as a brand team. So much, I mean, anybody who’s ever worked on the client side on a brand team knows that so much of it is about communication and sort of internal confidence building. Hey, we’re here, we exist, and here’s what we do, and here’s why it’s important.

But yeah, absolutely. You get big enough and it gets chaotic and it can be tough to rein it in. And so the more you can put some of these guidelines and rules in place early, you know, you don’t have to do it on day one of a startup, but you got to kind of catch yourself before you start to row so much that it’s too late.

That’s what I never understand about, you know, monitors and printers, how they have these model numbers and that’s the product name. And it’s like 10 digits and it’s like HP 1007.3. And like how are people meant to understand that?

And then another model comes out. It’s just chaos. And no digging at HP, but some of their model numbers as well.

I agree. I agree. Don’t blame me.

Don’t pin that on me. Simple is better, I think. And I used to joke that my job there was actually the head of not naming, because a lot of what I did was people would come to me and say, hey, we need a name for this new thing.

And my first thought would always be, does it really need a name? Does it really even need to be kind of a separate thing? Or can it just be a different version of an existing thing?

And I hate to cite Apple again because we all cite them too much, but Apple has done a pretty good job of you have the iPhone 14 and then there’s like six versions of it. And everybody understands that the brand there is iPhone made by Apple, but you can select your specific version. Whereas at some companies, every single version will be a letter, two numbers and another letter.

And it’s not done for customers at that point. You’ve started naming things for yourself and that’s when you’ve stepped into a dangerous territory from a naming standpoint.

That is such a great point. Companies tend to do that, don’t they? They do stuff from their own perspective because they’ve got departments or silos or they’ve merged or acquired a different business.

And then it’s from their perspective. And we’ve always got to make sure that we, I guess, as brand builders, kind of make sure we’re trying to look at this from the customer’s perspective. But as I said before, you’ve got to make it easy, guys, for customers.

You know, there’s poor customers, you know, those pesky things that we need. Let’s put them at the forefront of our thinking because if we don’t, then sure enough, if a competitor makes it more convenient, easier to understand, easier to purchase, then you’re going to be at a disadvantage very quickly.

Yeah, rule one of marketing and just as much branding is look at it from the customer’s point of view.

I think that’s a perfect note to end on. We have covered a lot today from Alina to the book, to architecture, well, not architecture, brand architecture. So the last question, Rob, is where can people find Designing Brand Identity and how can people connect with you?

Sure. So the book is available on Amazon. You can find it there at other major retailers.

You can also go to dbibook.com to learn a little bit more, see some of the book and links to retailers. And then to learn about me, you can just go to robmeyerson.com. And from there, you’ll see some of the other stuff that I’m working on.

Amazing. Thank you so much, Rob. It was a pleasure to have you back for the second time.

We’ll maybe get there soon.

Yes. Can’t wait. Can’t wait.

Thanks for inviting me.

We’ll get a picture with Jack right now and then, you know, be ready for this.

Start working on the embroidery. I can’t wait to put that on on my fourth time back.

Thanks, Rob.

All right.

Thank you both.

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