Here is a little branding word association game to try. Make a mental note of the first words you think of when you read the following:
Now let’s try a little mind reading. Your answers are:
- Fizzy drink
- Hamburgers or fries
How far off were we?
For those brand names, it’s an easy trick, of course. Mars, Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Ford are all famous examples of corporate brands where we strongly associate the company name with the products they sell. Even for Mars and Coca-Cola, which sell different products under different brand names, the company branding overarches all, so that it is synonymous with the things they sell.
In marketing terms, this is called Family or Umbrella Branding.
Now here are two very different examples - Unilever and Proctor & Gamble. Two of the world’s biggest manufacturers of consumer goods, and household names for sure. But what is your immediate initial association when you read those names? Food and beverages? Beauty and grooming products? Cleaning and detergents?
With these two corporate giants, second guessing the associations people make with them is much trickier. And that is because they take a very different approach to marketing to the examples above.
One Product, One Brand
Put simply, Unilever and P&G separate product branding from company branding. It is estimated that Unilever products are used two billion times every day by more than 150 million people worldwide. P&G owns and manufactures 65 different consumer brands. Yet how many of each company’s products can you name off the top of your head?
Unlike the Coca-Cola’s and McDonalds of this world, neither Unilever or P&G use their company name to promote their products. Instead, each individual product line has its own unique, stand alone branding identity, purposefully created and promoted to be distinct from the corporate identity and the other products sold by the company.
This is known as Individual Product Branding.
So why should companies the size of Unilever and P&G actively seek to keep their names away from the limelight when branding their products? For one, individual branding demands a lot of duplication of resources and effort. A company like Heinz, for example, is able to focus building awareness, trust and loyalty in a single name to sell its 57+ varieties.
For Unilever and P&G, the entire marketing and branding process has to be repeated for dozens of different products.
The difference is the range of products Unilever and P&G manufacture. They are not able to build an immediate association with a single product type the way Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Mars have done. Making and selling such a wide range of cosmetics, cleaning and laundry products and food and drink requires very different strategies targeting very different audiences
Unilever offers a good case study in the benefits of using individual product branding to target different audiences. Lynx and Dove are both cosmetic brands that could fit under a single umbrella. But as completely distinct brands, the two are able to be marketed in very different, even contradictory ways to their target audiences.
Women’s cosmetic brand Dove has won a lot of plaudits for its Campaign for Real Beauty, challenging what is widely seen as the negative effect the marketing and advertising industry has had on women’s body image. In complete contrast, men’s deodorant brand Lynx has drawn criticism for using those self same stereotypes of female beauty to appeal to its target audience of 16-24 year old males.
Which reveals another benefit of individual product branding. With an umbrella approach, a mistake can tarnish a whole business, and lead to a drop in sales across all product lines. Think Volkswagen and the impact of doctoring emissions tests for its cars.
But with an individual brand, only one product line suffers. The separation Unilever and P&G create between their product brands and with their corporate brands offers insurance against reputational damage. Even if they get it wrong with one line, the rest of the stable - and the company - remains on track.
Ultimate Creative Communications is a digital branding agency with more than 20 years experience. Take a look a tour top tips checklist to develop your brand below: