Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Marketing Strategy : The Family Brand Conundrum

Indian industrial scene is dominated by family owned businesses. It is common to see business taking up their family name /surname/patriarch's name as their corporate brand name. This phenomenon is seen globally.

The adoption of the family name as the brand name has the possibility of creating new problems in the branding context. All is well when the family stays together. But the branding problem starts when the family business splits. While the physical assets are split without much issues, often the family brand is also shared by the various groups. For example , family names like Birla, Bajaj etc are used by different business houses owned by different family members. Every group would like to take advantage of the equity of those renowned family name. But in a branding context, this can often means the dilution of the core brand equity.

While large industrial houses dealing with B2B markets are less affected by this dilution, it is the B2C brands that faces the heat most. Most of the family brands in the consumer space are now faced with a identity crisis . When the same brand name is owned by multiple owners, the brand loses its identity. Different owners will use the brand differently and in effect the entire brand will be pulled to different directions thereby diluting the core equity .

While after splitting, the family members use the same brand name to take advantage of the existing equity, they fail to see the long term effect of this multiple ownership and the dilution of the very equity which they tried to use. But when the realization dawns, they would have invested heavily in the current brand that traps them from developing a new brand.

Most of such business try to half heartedly develop a new identity by adding an additional initial or a name to the family brand . But the family name still is retained as the primary brand thus negating any chance of differential identity. Some times the brand owners try to create a new identity by some cosmetic changes like a color change or a logo change which is going to have no impact on the consumers.

In such a scenario, what is the way forward ?

In the branding context , there is no easy way. The parties involved should be courageous enough to embrace a new identity. The longer it takes , the more they invest on the existing brand and thus getting more deep into the branding trap.

The issue of the family brand name should be sorted ideally at the stage where the family business is split into different groups. One group can take the ownership of the brand and other groups can be compensated . But seldom such an agreement can be reached because every party will be wanting to take advantage of the existing equity.

Another option is to give the ownership of the brand to all the groups for a certain period of time within which they should be migrating to a new brand platform .

But it is the onus of every business groups to make sure that they have complete control over the brand upon which their business is built. The brand owners should not hesitate to create their own identity as soon as possible. The best way to do this is to create a migration plan from the existing family brand name to a new identity. One way of doing this is to change the brand name at one go. A revolutionary rebranding exercise can be undertaken.

Another option is to have a very slow migration plan.The first stage of migration will involve campaigns where the new brand name will be created as a sub-brand of the existing family name. In the campaigns, the family brand name will be prominent. The second stage will involve the transformation of the family name into an endorser brand and the new brand identity to take the center stage.

It will be difficult for the brand to retain its core equity or identity when owned by different players . The sooner the owners realize, the better their brand architecture will be in future.