What Are Your Strategic Brands?

Some are power brands, others are niche and some have potential. Sorting them out takes strategy and discipline.

While much attention is paid to building brands, too often the brand portfolio is neglected. The result is marketplace confusion, paralysis in naming new products, under-supported brands and misallocation of brand-building resources. We need to better identify brand roles and, more particularly, distinguish between the strategic brands and their roles.

A strategic brand is one with strategic importance to the organization. It is a driver of reputation, differentiation, loyalty, sales and cash flow. Identifying your strategic brands will be a huge step toward ensuring that brand-building resources are not misallocated.

In general, there are four types of strategic brands:

Current power brands

Current power brands will be the ones currently generating significant sales and profits and projected to maintain or grow their position. Large dominant brands such as Microsoft Windows or Coke Zero would qualify, as would high-energy growth brands such as Chobani or Dove.

Future power brands

These brands are the ones projected to generate significant sales and profit in the future. Future power brands may be small or even yet to be introduced, but they earn status because of their potential and place in the portfolio of the future.

Linchpin brands

These will indirectly influence (as opposed to generate) significant sales and market position in the future. These brands are the linchpin or leverage point of a major business area or of a future vision of the firm and are likely to be branded differentiators. Hilton Rewards is such a brand for Hilton Hotels because it represents the future ability to control a substantial and critical segment in the hotel industry—travelers involved in loyalty programs.

Niche brands

Niche brands have become dominant in a profitable niche market but will not become power brands. They do have a strategic role in controlling a market that has value in generating profits and enhancing a brand’s image. It could be an upscale market entrant such as Mobil 1 or GE Monogram that provide both margin and image enhancement. Or it could be a protected niche, such as Yoplait’s Go-Gurt.

One classic problem is that future power brands and lynchpin brands get starved of resources. The current power brands and often the niche brands as well receive the lion’s share of both the budget and the organizational power. Often there is no organizational mechanism to take a total portfolio view, thus the brands of the future get starved.

“The current power brands and often the niche brands as well receive the lion’s share of both the budget and the organizational power.”

A second problem is the danger of wishful thinking from optimistic brand managers that will result in an excessive number of strategic brand nominees. The new brands and offerings become vested with substantial professional and personal commitment, which results in over-branding and too many strategic brands. The result is underfunding and an inability of the portfolio brands to become successful.


There needs to be disciplined in order to assess the brand portfolio and the new innovations and offerings that come with it. Assigning strategic brand status should be not done lightly. But when it is done, resources should be found, not only in the short term but also over time, so that all strategic brands can be successful.