Whitepenny – Brand & Deliver
Rethinking how family-owned businesses approach branding, consumer experience, and marketing in a digital world.
By: Travis Coley, Managing Director Whitepenny
Controlling the family narrative…a conversation about the importance of investing in the family brand and the role of brand architecture.
A family’s balance sheet has multiple inputs. Assets on the family balance sheet include operating company EV, cash, land, real assets, liquid assets, alternative assets and exposure to debt, among others. Families, family offices and wealth advisors pay close attention to the family balance sheet and portfolio construction to preserve and grow wealth. However, there is one asset that is often ignored: the family brand. It lives on the balance sheet and is often hidden in plain sight inside of Goodwill. It’s also the least understood, and it is the least invested in.
Family brands (and their brand strategy) are often a ‘black box’. We hear from family leaders and advisors that…
“We are very private.”
“We don’t want to be loud.”
“The family name and business brand name are not the same.”
“We have a waiting list, that is, we sell more units than we manufacture annually…and we can’t double production, so we don’t need branding to sell more…”
And yet, during those same conversations we hear:
“We want to attract and retain the best and brightest people.”
“Our founder’s legacy and origin story are important to the family and our business.”
“Our philanthropy and our impact on the community are important to us.”
“Our business units are varied and how they align is often confusing to outsiders.”
“We are active private investors and lenders, but we are consistently sent unwanted and mismatched deal flow.”
Branding Vs. Marketing
A common misconception is that branding and marketing are the same. Branding is how a family controls its positioning, its messaging, its visuals, and how it shows up in the community. Ultimately, branding drives desired outcomes, preserves legacy, and protects and grows wealth.
Branding, brand strategy and brand architecture are not marketing. Branding doesn’t have to be loud. Branding isn’t constantly selling the family. Great branding makes every function within an enterprise, or portfolio of products and services, more efficient. Whether you’re looking to sell more product, launch new products or services, enter new markets, build partnerships, attract and retain top talent, or position for acquisitions or to raise capital, a well-positioned brand will help you to accelerate and drive the outcomes you seek.
For families, brand architecture presents unique challenges. Your family business’s brand is an asset to invest in and protect, and so is your family name and reputation. Your business name and family name may not be the same, but they are closely intertwined and each can impact longevity, opportunity, resiliency, access and wealth.
Are you Google or are you Yum Brands? Is your company a branded house like Google or a house of brands like Yum? Perhaps you’re more of a Microsoft, a hybrid. Family owned and multi-gen businesses are often forced to ask and answer this question, especially if the enterprise has grown and encompassed multiple product or service lines, or multiple sub-business units. Families that own operating companies, foundations and a family office are also smart to consider brand architecture and the interplay between these branded entities.
The importance of families having a strategic vision and a clearly defined process for brand architecture has increased significantly over the years. As brand portfolios expand and become more complex, building and managing a coherent brand architecture framework has become even more challenging for family enterprises. The internet and mobile communications have accelerated this complexity. Additional factors may include regional and global expansion, M&A, and product and line extensions. All are factors that influence brand portfolios, which in turn have a direct impact on how an effective brand architecture can be designed and implemented. Family offices, philanthropy and social impact, can further confuse the brand architecture conversation.
Well-designed brand architectures lead with strategy and are developed with a flexible, future-forward posture. It is important that families view the brand architecture development process as a key input of the strategic planning and investment process. This in turn will ensure that the family manages and positions its brand portfolio to control narrative, drive efficiencies and maximize Goodwill.
For families and family-owned businesses, this means purposefully aligning business unit brands across an enterprise, and / or aligning operating companies with family office and philanthropic foundations.
Define or Be Defined
In a hyperconnected, digital-first world, families are now forced to think strategically about brand strategy and brand architecture. The ‘black box’ approach is now the equivalent of having no plan at all. Further, there exists no absence of narrative. That is, as a family, you either control your brand position or the outside world will define your position and your brand’s worth.