Manage the Category Not the Brand

From minivans to home rentals, it pays to focus on the advantages the subcategory provides.

Two brand stories caught my eye today, HomeAway and Nissan’s Quest.

I argue in Brand Relevance: Making Competitors Irrelevant that the path to winning is to create new categories or subcategories rather than engaging in brand preference competition in established categories.

HomeAway is on the Super Bowl with an ad asking “Why hotel when you can HomeAway?” The ad shows some of the struggles to get comfortable in the cramped quarters of a hotel and showcases the space and freedom of a vacation rental. Whether the execution of the ad is effective is another issue, but the idea of creating a new category, defining its dimensions and becoming its exemplar is exactly where potential growth is at. HomeAway is a classic case study. It will be interesting to see what happens. Established brands can also focus on category management even with existing categories.

“Creating a new category, defining its dimensions and becoming its exemplar is exactly where potential growth is at.”

Nisson Quest has been also run in the minivan category pioneered by Chrysler in 1982 and joined by Toyota and Honda in 1998. As the minivan category got tired in the last ten years, brands have tried to move the category a bit away from soccer moms and toward more style and fun. In an extreme example, Ford introduced its Galaxy in the late 1990s in the UK as a vehicle that allowed business people to “Travel First Class.” Ford was trying to create a minivan subcategory very removed from soccer moms.

Nissan Quest is going the other way. It is attempting to return the category to its soccer mom routes with a 2011 model that is a bit more traditional. Its ads emphasize the functional benefits of family-friendly storage, accessibility and features. This approach can potentially make the Nissan Quest more relevant to the core minivan market, namely soccer moms.

Further, for some, it can go beyond relevant to authentic. If the subcategory is redefined to be classic soccer mom rather than something different, Nissan might enjoy some degree of authenticity. It is the real minivan.


Authenticity is gold standard for relevance. Some brands need to engage in brand preference competition to retain their relevance and market position. However, I think it is always worthwhile to look at the positioning from a category or subcategory perspective rather than only a brand point of view. It can change strategy and make communication more effective.


Brand Portfolio and Brand Architecture in Single Brand Companies

How customer-centricity can guide strategic decisions, leading to uncommon growth.

Top marketers are increasingly concerned with brand architecture and brand portfolio strategy due to increasing: M&A activity creating vast, complex and overlapping portfolios; technology convergence blurring the lines between product types and changing the way customers think about and shop the category, and cost pressures making it increasingly difficult for companies to support large numbers of products and brands.

What is the Difference Between Brand Portfolio and Brand Architecture?

The two terms are often misunderstood and so clarification can often help demystify the meaning and importance of each concept. Brand portfolio strategy aims to maximize market coverage and minimize brand overlap through the effective creation, deployment, and management of multiple brands within a company. It serves as an inward-facing tool for the organization to ensure that the company’s brands are effectively targeting all key segments within the marketplace, working together to maximize sales rather than competing against one another for customers’ attention.

In contrast, brand architecture serves as an outward-facing navigation tool for customers. It helps minimize customer confusion by laying out the product structure in a way that makes it easy for customers to find what they are looking for and to understand what the company has to offer.

How Can Single-Brand Companies Utilize Brand Portfolio and Architecture to Maximize Business Results?

While many multi-brand companies such as Unilever or RBS have traditionally been more aware of the benefits that come from optimizing their brand portfolio and architecture strategies, we believe that these concepts and practices are just as important for single-branded companies like AT&T and IBM. Single-brand companies can apply the same theories and techniques to strategically develop and present a product and sub-brand portfolio in which offers can be bundled and presented in a way that is more relevant and clear for customers. This approach ultimately maximizes business results.

Case Study: AT&T

In 2001, AT&T’s flagship “Managed Services” division was facing falling sales. It had over 12,000 offerings, the majority of which were sold to customers under the AT&T “Managed Services” brand. At this time, two major problem areas became apparent: (i) both customers and the sales force were confused by AT&T’s vast and complex offering, and (ii) customers perceived AT&T as a “ports & pipes” product company rather than a company capable of providing value-added services as the “Managed Services” name implied.

In order for AT&T to optimize its product architecture, it had to first understand what its target customers wanted from a telecommunication solutions provider. AT&T uncovered two distinct customer segments, each having fundamentally different needs and ways of thinking about telecoms solutions.

  • “Product Buyers” look for specific product sets and sophisticated components and thus require a wide variety of distinct products.
  • “Solutions buyers” are less expert and seek holistic business solutions that are all-inclusive and off-the-shelf.

Armed with this insight, AT&T developed a dual-brand architecture model that presented the same products in two different ways enabling each segment to find what they were looking for. This new, restructured architecture allowed “Product Buyers” to navigate offerings by product category and type, while “Solutions Buyers” could choose between different groupings of offers that met their overall needs.

As a result, customers could more easily access AT&T’s entire product portfolio based on their specific purchasing mentality and the sales force could more easily speak about and explain what AT&T could offer. Additionally, AT&T renamed the division “AT&T Enterprise” in order to reflect the broader focus on strategic business functions.

Case Study: IBM

In the mid-1990s, like most technology companies, IBM was organized internally around product types (i.e., personal computing, software, and servers divisions) resulting in them presenting their offer in a product-led rather than customer needs-driven way. Sales with the B2B sector were lagging, as many B2B customers wanted solutions rather than separate products and services. Additionally, IBM’s “stodgy, mainframe” associations prevented the brand from resonating with B2B customers who wanted a more flexible, dynamic, services-oriented provider.

In order to become a customer-centric company, IBM rearranged its offering to be more solutions-based. They arranged their portfolio into categories that made sense to the customer, anchored around solutions by industry or functional area. Additionally, they created the “e-business” brand, which helped to address customer needs, simplify purchase decisions and improve relevance for customers. This new sub-brand also helped reposition IBM as a leading, agile, cutting-edge IT service company.

As a result, IBM grew its services business significantly—from 29% to 41% in 5 years as part of global IBM revenues.

Other Examples of Brand Portfolio & Architecture Success

Prophet has worked with global brands on product portfolio and architecture projects helping clients to become more customer-centric and thus achieve greater strategic focus and growth.

Our creativity and analytical capabilities coupled with customer insight expertise enable us to help our clients realize great business results.
For example, Prophet helped UBS translate their corporate objective into a single brand strategy, and then migrate to the new single brand worldwide, using the now well-known “You&Us” campaign. Since the announcement of the single-brand strategy, UBS’s share price has risen by 70% and UBS is one of the top 50 global brands.

Prophet helped Philips build a strong co-branding strategy. After analyzing different possibilities, a partnership with Nike was recommended. Philips has subsequently gone on to develop and successfully market a range of innovative sports technology products. This helped Philips develop desired brand associations of “stylish”, “youthful” and “leading technology.”

BP has become one of the worldwide largest energy corporations through a number of acquisitions (e.g. Aral, Amaco, Costal). In “Bringing the global brand to life”, Prophet conducted comprehensive brand portfolio work (including market-, competition- and customer-needs analyses within the respective business areas) and developed customized sub-brands for each of these. Today, these sub-brands live under the master brand BP in a market portfolio that efficiently covers the market. Between 2000 and 2003, after launching the optimized brand portfolio, BP was able to increase its profit by 32%.

Key Takeaways

  • Become more customer centric. Organize your portfolio in a customer-centric way—for instance, ensure that the portfolio strategy drives your R&D strategy rather than allowing R&D to determine how your company goes to market. Both AT&T and IBM saw strong business growth as a result of this shift in mentality.
  • Create clarity of offerings through architecture. Make sure that your product/service offering is clear to both your customers and your employees. If they are not able to understand what you are offering, it is a signal that the current architecture is not working. As the example of AT&T shows, arranging the offer in more than one way may be a viable way forward.
  • Simplify product navigation. Product portfolios that are targeted at multiple customer segments need multiple navigation possibilities—IBM has four ways of navigating through their product portfolio online to match the way different customers think about the category and purchase their products.
  • Keep your portfolio up to date. Portfolio strategy should not be static. Remember that customer needs change over time, particularly in technology categories, and new entrants change the way customers think about the marketplace.

Companies with customer-centric brand architectures and portfolios, offering clear solutions and easy product navigation and selection, will ultimately be more successful than those companies with an inside-out approach.

Prophet has worked with global brands on product portfolio and architecture projects helping clients to become more customer-centric and thus achieve greater strategic focus and growth.

Our creativity and analytical capabilities coupled with customer insight expertise enable us to help our clients realize great business results.


Simplifying product navigation, updating portfolios and clarifying brand architecture all work best when done through the lens of customer-centricity. Single-brand companies can use these questions to maximize business results.


Building Brands from the Inside

Start at the top with a brand boot camp, then develop strategic pilot initiatives.

No longer do forward-thinking companies view branding as merely an advertising campaign or catchy slogan. The brand is better understood as the set of expectations and associations evoked from experience with a company or product — how customers think and feel about what that business or product actually delivers across the board. As such, a brand is built from the customer’s entire experience with a company, its products and its services. And if everyone in the organization helps bring the brand’s promise to life, it’s a sure way to market success. Call it brand operationalization—an organizational discipline that’s reaping rewards for a growing number of businesses.

Itron is a good example. This Spokane-based company transformed itself in the minds of its customers from just a meter-reading company into a provider of energy marketplace data and knowledge. “We recognized that we had to shift both the position of the brand and the way in which we managed it,” says LeRoy Nosbaum, chief executive of Itron.

In doing so, the company made sure all employees were fully educated on the new brand strategy and understood how their roles would help bring the new Itron brand to life. Profit-sharing was even tied to its employees’ ability to live the brand. During the first year of the new brand focus, Nosbaum believes these efforts helped contribute to a huge jump in Itron’s stock price—from $3.70 to more than $32 a share—and an all-time high in employee morale.

Itron has built a brand-driven business in which employees across all organizational levels and functions understand and strive to uphold the brand’s promises and the goals of the brand strategies. But many companies still face the challenge of figuring out how to bring their brand to life in order to similarly fuel long-term, sustainable growth.

To build the kind of brand-based culture and discipline that fosters business growth, Itron “operationalized” its brand, bringing it to life through its people, systems, and processes. Essentially, this means moving the brand’s role and influence well beyond the marketing department so it becomes an integral part of the company’s way of doing business. Achieving that goal hinges on success within five specific brand-driven areas. (See Exhibit 1.)

Exhibit 1: Key tenets of success

  • Align brand and business strategy
  • Demonstrate commitment to brand at the top
  • Make a consistent impression with customers and stakeholders
  • Become a brand-driven organization and culture
  • Implement a measurement system

Branding Meets Strategy

Total alignment between business and brand strategy is a crucial starting point. Think about it: Strategies about customers, distribution, pricing, and communications are crucial links between business and brand strategy. Business strategy cannot be developed in a vacuum. Neither can brand strategy. The connection between them must be aligned and strengthened. If organizations hope to maximize their strategic decision making and brand-building capacity, they must understand the brand and its role within the overall strategy. is a great example of a company that achieved this alignment and assessed its business issues using the context of the Amazon brand. When customer service costs became a concern, it didn’t do the typical quick fix of cutting people or call center facilities. Rather, its team looked at the roots of the problem, evaluating the issue and possible solutions against Amazon’s brand promise of providing friendly, easy access to products at a fair price.

To keep costs low while responding to customer requests for more specificity with regard to order shipments, Amazon completely overhauled its customer service department and added more self-service components—all without cutting staff or reducing the number of call centers. The results were optimized operations, lower costs, improved service and strengthened brand relevance in the mind of consumers.

Organizations seeking to integrate their brand and business strategies may want to consider three jump-starting tactics:

  1. 1. Redefine marketing’s role. Redefining the role of the traditional marketing function means expanding beyond marketing communications activities. This can be done by upgrading the quality of people in the brand management roles within the organization, establishing new corporate brand teams, or hiring an executive team-level individual into a CMO role.
    2. Launch strategic pilot initiatives. Selecting and implementing a few highly visible strategic brand initiatives (i.e., a brand vision or brand positioning) will allow key people to experience the new “brand informed” approach. If that approach is too aggressive, another related option would be to choose a specific business problem (i.e., a distribution channel issue or an acquisition opportunity) and demonstrate how attacking the issue in a brand-informed way would lead to a better resolution.
    3. Develop a senior leadership brand boot camp. The goal here is to immerse senior leadership in the brand through a combination of outside reading, facilitated discussion, and hands-on problem-solving. This will help senior management be more effective when it comes to functioning in a brand-informed strategic environment.

Start at the Top

For the brand to become fully operationalized, the chief executive officer must demonstrate clear and consistent commitment to the brand, and this must be embraced by the senior management team. The CEO must champion the message that the brand is the responsibility of the entire organization, and senior management must support that message.

The CEO of 3M, for example, leads its branding efforts, supported by a brand management committee that’s focused on strategy. The committee is made up of high-level, cross-functional representatives, including the senior vice president of R&D, senior lawyers, and brand experts. As a result, brand involvement is extremely high throughout the organization.

In some organizations, that type of senior-level team is referred to as an executive brand council (EBC). Typically, an EBC brings together the heads of business units and functional areas to act as a team and tackle the tough brand-building issues that may arise, like the acquisition of new brands, the launching of a major new product and licensing agreements.

Kodak is among the companies that have successfully implemented an EBC. Paula Dumas, Kodak’s vice president of industry marketing, says its EBC, composed of the chief executive, chief operating officer, chief financial officer, chief marketing officer, business unit presidents, and external consultants, basically serves as a board of directors for the company’s CMO. The corporation’s annual operating plan reflects specific strategies the brand council has approved. If the company is interested in changing policies tied to the brand or wants new investments to support the brand, these requests must go through the EBC for approval. With the implementation of the EBC, Dumas says, “Brand stewardship is shared by everybody within the company.” The executive brand council ensures commitment at the top, which then filters down throughout the organization.

Stay Consistent

The CEOs of both 3M and Kodak have also recognized that, while they are the linchpins in building a brand-based culture, it takes buy-in from each employee and their consistent delivery of the brand promise across every customer touchpoint to really achieve brand-driven success.

Brand touchpoints are all of the different ways that an organization’s brand interacts with and makes an impression on customers, employees, and other stakeholders. A touchpoint is represented by every action, tactic, or strategy taken to reach a customer or stakeholder. Thus, each time a customer sees one of your ads or makes a call to the customer service center, an opinion is being formed about your brand. Each of these activities falls within the three stages of the customer experience—(1) pre-purchase, (2) purchase (or usage), and (3) post-purchase.

“Each time a customer sees one of your ads or makes a call to the customer service center, an opinion is being formed about your brand.”

Pre-purchase experience touchpoints represent the various ways potential customers interact with your brand prior to deciding to do business with your company. Each pre-purchase touchpoint interaction should be designed to shape perceptions and expectations of the brand, heighten brand awareness, and drive its relevance. They should also help prospects understand the brand’s benefits over competing brands and the value it brings in fulfilling their personal wants and needs.

Purchase or usage experience touchpoints are those that move a customer from considering your brand to actually “purchasing” it. The main objective of these points of interaction is to maximize the value prospects see in your offerings and instill confidence that they have made the right decision in choosing your brand.

Post-purchase experience touchpoints come into play after the “sale” and should maximize the customer experience. Out of all of the brand touchpoints, the ones that fall into this category are the most under-leveraged, even though they offer one of the best opportunities for businesses to drive sustainable and profitable growth. The goals of post-purchase experience touchpoints are to deliver on the brand promise, meet or exceed customer performance and usage expectations, and increase brand loyalty and advocacy.

Often, time and resource constraints keep companies from focusing on every single touchpoint and making sure they’re consistently delivering on your brand. Therefore, you will want to identify those touchpoints that drive the desired brand experience and allocate your resources against them. There are four steps to help determine which touchpoints should be leveraged:

Step 1. Identify the touchpoints that influence customer perception of your brand and then categorize them by the three stages of the customer experience. To ensure the right touchpoints are identified, it’s a good idea to ask multiple departments within your company for their input because many of these touchpoints will come from areas outside of marketing.

Step 2. Develop a deep understanding of how you’re performing from both an internal and external perspective against each of the identified touchpoints. This is crucial in achieving touchpoint alignment because this process helps you learn what affects customer perceptions of the brand and begin to recognize your touchpoint vulnerabilities vs. those of the competition. During this phase eventual touchpoint, “owners” need to get involved so they can better understand the challenges that lie ahead in getting the touchpoint to the desired end state.

Step 3. Prioritize the identified touchpoints and determine which will have an immediate effect on brand perception and experience. Some objective screens to consider include the impact on customers’ perception of the brand; size of the gap; cost of implementation; cost-benefit assessment; the touchpoints’ ability to help the organization achieve its long-term goals and objectives.

Step 4. Implement and manage your high-impact touchpoints on an ongoing basis. At this stage, the touchpoint “owner” is now responsible for executing it as well as educating others on its value and leveraging metrics that ideally will be used in future decisions tied to that touchpoint.

GE’s technology businesses are an excellent example of brand consistency across touchpoints. It continues to invest in integrating its technology and solutions with the right level of customer care and service—particularly at the post-purchase touchpoints—to create a customer experience consistent with the company’s brand promise.

GE has positioned itself as the smartest, safest, and best overall option. To that end, Power Systems designed a comprehensive post-purchase experience to continue to reinforce its promise of being the smartest and safest. It has an account team dedicated to helping solve problems with the company’s current product offerings and regularly provides value-added services. GE continues to invest in new diagnostics, monitoring systems, and business products to help customers lower ongoing operating costs and reduce downtime. It also provides educational and technical information through the Internet, seminars, and customer conferences to maximize the brand customer experience.

Become Brand-Driven

Achieving brand-driven success requires a decided mind shift across the organization. To truly transform your company, all employees must understand the brand’s promises and their role in bringing the brand to life within their functional areas. Additionally, the organization needs to be structured to support, sustain, and develop a brand-based culture.

The first step toward this transformation involves educating the employees about the brand and inspiring them to behave in a way that’s consistent with its promise. When employees understand the brand’s rationale and its emotional components and have the tools and processes to facilitate day-to-day decision making, they’ll start to develop a lasting connection to the brand.

Even well-established brands sometimes need to refresh or realign their culture with their brand. After 7-10 years of “Just do it” and aggressive growth, Nike had hit a wall. With a depressed economy and slowing growth, Nike realized it needed to realign its employees with its brand to help get its business back on track. After reviewing some of the core beliefs about the Nike brand and how they relate to what employees do on a daily basis, Nike developed a set of maxims that communicated the Nike brand. These “Nike Maxims” included statements such as “It is in our nature to innovate,” “Simplify and go,” and “The consumer decides.” The maxims sought to build direct connections between the employees, the company, and the brand and were based on the core belief that Nike’s mission is “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” The maxims also spoke to the types of behaviors, decision-making styles and attitudes that are consistent with the Nike brand. The team executed a comprehensive worldwide rollout of this initiative through a series of events using multimedia, interactive forums, and local employees talking about how they brought the brand to life in their job.

By using examples of desired employee behavior, providing frameworks and tools for employees to use, and sharing insight and rationale behind the brand, Nike was able to reinvigorate its workforce and inspire them to live the brand.

Measure Your Progress

But how do you know if brand-building activities are working and your efforts are paying off? Internally, such efforts will have more credibility if a measure of progress is in place. The same is true for external brand-building efforts. Implementing measures to gauge brand-building efforts is the fifth step toward operationalizing the brand.

Itron, for example, was able to attribute part of its surge in stock price directly to its brand-building initiatives. How? Internally, Itron used two key metrics: tying brand-building efforts to employee profit-sharing and measuring employee morale.

To motivate employees to live the brand, management devised a reward system. In order to reach a certain level of profit-sharing, its employees had to create a plan for how they would live the brand.

One employee commented that the company’s logo wear was expensive to purchase and that many believed it was really only for those select people who attended marketing events. In response, Itron devised a plan to provide each employee with “brand dollars” to spend on logo wear so they could see and feel the new logo and brand image. Other employees came up with a plan to host “product fairs” and quarterly business meetings as additional ways to share knowledge and ensure all employees fully understood the industry and the products Itron offers.

These are just a few of the ways employees have devised to show their commitment to living the brand every day. At the end of each year, Itron evaluates its employees against its plan to live the brand to determine what level of profit-sharing they’ll receive.

Management also measures employee morale because it provides a good gauge as to whether a positive shift occurred in employees’ attitudes about, and belief in, the company and the Itron brand. Randi Nielson, Itron’s vice president of marketing, says, “Employee morale and belief in the company are higher than they’ve been in 11 years.”

The external perception of the brand is equally important to measure. For Itron, the metrics take on many forms, including the ongoing gathering of real-time feedback. The company also conducts year-end customer satisfaction evaluations as a way to measure progress and jump-start the next year’s brand goals.

A good set of brand metrics will enable your organization to develop the brand strategically and should follow these basic underlying rules:

  • Is it simple to use? If the data that is collected isn’t fairly straightforward, you may find that you’ll spend more time measuring the brand rather than on using the information provided by the metric.
  • Is it meaningful? To be meaningful and ultimately help improve the brand and in turn the company’s overall performance, the metric must be tied directly to either your corporate goals/objectives, or to a brand touchpoint.
  • Is it actionable? You should be able to make a business decision based on this metric.
  • Is it repeatable? The way you gather the data must remain consistent each time the metric is measured. Only consider using metrics that will need to be measured once or at most twice per year.
  • Is it touchpoint-oriented? You will need to select metrics that best measure the brand touchpoints that matter most to you. Ideally, brand metrics should be set up for each stakeholder group.

It’s important to keep in mind that, when measuring the perception and performance of your brand, the focus must be on the activities that push the organization closer to achieving its business performance goals. This, in turn, will allow you to improve the overall value of the brand. This will be effective only if the company’s brand touchpoint activities are tied directly to improving brand value.


In today’s increasingly competitive environment, businesses need to find a way to stand out from the rest of the pack. One sure way is to take a hard look at the brand and what it stands for and then make sure the structure is in place to deliver that promise across the entire organization. As the real leaders have been able to demonstrate, it pays off by creating not just a stronger brand, but a stronger business.


Brand Archetype Models: A Guide to Positioning Strategy

A company’s assets, business situation and appetite for category disruption help make the right choice.

Companies often engage in an analytical and creative process to develop or review their brand positioning, an exercise often triggered by the need to support a revised business strategy.

One of the risks they may encounter, however, is embarking on positioning development that lacks a strong enough strategic foundation. One way to offset this is by employing a “Brand Archetype” model, which helps define the space in which brands should play, providing strategic direction for the brand positioning.

The Brand Archetype model was inspired by the understanding that brand positioning is dictated by a company’s assets, business situation, and future strategy, as well as the “appetite” for category disruption.

The model has two axes:

  • Issues Addressed: This axis refers to the opportunities or issues that the brand wants to address with its positioning. These include “business issues” that are specific to the brand’s current situation, “category issues,” or situations that are typical to the category. Another, “changing the narrative,” means the positioning will address aspects that are not at the core of the current category thinking.
  • Message Focus: The second axis provides guidance on the messaging that the brand will want to pursue in its positioning. It might be around “established customer beliefs” that already exist in the category, or around “unclaimed, new territories” which are unexpected and in principle not commonly associated to the different brands in the category.

There are six archetypes that can be explored to help frame the options for positioning:

Archetype 1

In Archetype 1, a brand will invest behind a single, key driver of choice in the category. This archetype is usually present in industries with very clear and stable drivers, and is pursued by brands that can credibly own these drivers today and in the future.

Brands in this space are typically incumbent or strong leading players in their categories. One example in the U.S. is Verizon, which consistently positions its brand around the quality, reach, and superiority of its network, the key driver of choice in the industry that can be fully owned and leveraged by the category leader. In Europe, Banco Santander has been able to win in the category by consistently owning key functional such as size, number of offices, global reach and financial strength, which are increasingly important during the financial crisis.

Brands that are in the position of owning key drivers of choice in their categories should definitely develop a positioning that anchors on Archetype 1. This entails reinforcing leaderships versus trying to force an “emotional positioning” and disregarding what is really driving consumer choice.

Archetype 2

Archetype 2 involves bringing together two seemingly conflicting ideas. It is usually pursued if established category trade-offs can be upended, and by any brand that can identify these “conflicting” ideas and make them work together.

The key challenge in this archetype is making these two conflicting ideas work together in a relevant and credible way. The traditional example of brands playing in Archetype 2 would be when the soda category developed diet or light versions, as at that stage refreshing cool drinks were associated with sugar and weight gain. Bringing those two aspects together was truly differential and resonated well with consumers. A more recent example in the U.S. would be the retailer Target, which successfully proved that shopping for the best prices does not conflict with a premium, and even “stylish” experience.

Archetype 3

Archetype 3 is a “high risk – high return” one. In it a brand will aim to destroy the established thinking of the category by basically commoditizing the key drivers of choice. Brands should pursue Archetype 3 if they don’t have the key assets to compete but they believe there is “another way” in their category.

Many new entrants in established categories embody this archetype. European insurer “Direct Line” has reframed the industry by basically commoditizing the product and delegitimizing the relevance of traditional drivers as the role of the agent and the need for a solid and established company behind the brand. Its brand is trying to convince consumers that car insurance is a commodity with no value added and it should therefore be acquired through a less time-consuming process and at the lowest possible price.

Established or market-leading brands find it difficult to adopt this archetype, as it usually implies a fundamental change in the dominant business model or a price war, which is achievable by new entrants but not by established players with a lot of business to lose if the category gets disrupted.

Archetype 4

Sometimes, a company can win by turning a disadvantage into an advantage. This requires the company to speak in a clear and transparent way, to recognize that it has failed and that has learned from past mistakes and re-emerged stronger and more confident. This archetype should be pursued if the brand believes that it can extract value out of apparent liability.

“The Brand Archetype model was inspired by the understanding that brand positioning is dictated by a company’s assets, business situation, and future strategy, as well as the “appetite” for category disruption.”

The re-branding of Domino’s Pizza is one such example. It has involved explicit and transparent communications of all the negative aspects that the consumer experienced and a public commitment to improving. A more subtle and emotional approach is the Chrysler corporate story, admitting that the company has “lost its way”, but still promising a comeback in a very confident way. To win in this archetype, the brand needs to be able to publically acknowledge its flaws and commit to dealing with them. That’s not easy, and it requires transparent communications, long-term commitment, and internal desire for real change.

Archetype 5

Some categories, particularly in the service sector, generate a great deal of frustration in customers. Archetype 5 focuses on solving key category pain points that are widely known and suffered by customers. This archetype should be pursued if a brand understands that customers are open to a “new way.”

In Europe, insurance company Zurich Financial has positioned its brand in this archetype. Through extensive research it found that category customers felt that the industry was not getting the basics right. In particular, customers didn’t believe their insurer would be there for them if there was a problem or accident. Building on that key industry pain point, Zurich Financial developed the “Zurich Help Point” positioning. It was implemented successfully across all the relevant touchpoints of the customer journey, ensuring that customers believed that the brand will be there for them when needed.

Category pain points are often widely understood by key brands in the market, but not addressed because they either require high levels of investment or would negatively impact sources of revenues. When a brand commits itself to addressing category pain points, it needs to be aware of the financial implications of this move. To succeed with this type of positioning, it will have to act in a way that is not natural (or the norm) to its category.

Archetype 6

The most difficult archetype to tackle is Archetype 6: investing in a driver that it is unexpected for the category. This one can be pursued if there is a white space for differentiation that extends beyond category parameters.

Identifying that white space can prove challenging. A positioning around this archetype takes considerable out-of-the-box thinking that translates into new, bold and big ideas to anchor the brand. A small number of truly successful brands have been created around this archetype, but success takes internal comfort with an idea that cannot be “proved” up front via traditional research. It requires being comfortable with a lower burden of proof and making a final decision almost entirely based on existing information and instincts. When done successfully, it represents a long-term source of competitive advantage.

Camper, the Spanish shoe brand that now has a global presence, is anchored in Archetype 6. The brand basically looked away from all traditional functional and emotional drivers in the category, and has been positioning itself around its capacity to be different. This included claims/campaigns around things like “the walking society” and “a little big company.” A better-known example is Apple, with its focus on design, simplicity, and style in a category that at one stage was dominated by hard-core technology and performance.


There is no single “right” archetype and in principle, any brand could explore positioning in any of them. That said, as the descriptions suggest, certain models may hold more value for certain types of brands than others.

Brand archetypes are a helpful intermediate guide to inform thinking about brand positioning. By understanding the various spaces in which a brand can play off its essence, attributes, and customer experiences, businesses can more easily develop and refine their brand positionings with the benefit of a stronger strategic perspective. In doing so, companies increase the likelihood that they’ll win with customers and in the market.

Michael Dunn ( is the CEO at Prophet, a strategic brand and marketing consultancy that helps its clients win by delivering inspired and actionable ideas.